Religion vs Relationship

So two weeks ago, I had a conversation with my pastor that started with the statement “I am very angry with God”. And after about a 15- 20 minute rant about why I was angry, she prayed with me and I went on my rather morose way! And for the past two weeks I have been thinking, “well I put that out there, God and so now its your move” and for the past two weeks I have been wondering how both God and I will get past my confession and back into relationship. Yesterday as I was getting ready for church, I heard a sermon playing on the TV from a preacher I had never heard before and he started by saying, “people are the angriest they have ever been” and that piqued my interest and then God in his special way managed to speak to me through all my anger. So here is what I learned:

  • Lesson #1- Look underneath the anger
    • The preacher in a very dramatic reenactment described Naaman’s journey to healing from leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-8:15) . When Elisha had asked Naaman to get cleansed in the Jordan river his immediate reaction was anger. One would think that for someone who had travelled all the way for healing, he would have been more excited that he did not have to do something so arduous but no…Naaman turned away in anger. Now Naaman was a highly regarded and valiant soldier, a man’s man and his current state was a far cry from the success he had achieved in life. There was a great chasm between what Naaman’s expectations of the life of valiant soldier should look like and his current experience. And this chasm was filled with anger and rage. As the preacher said, success has a way of sedating us to think that we do not deserve any form of suffering and perhaps this was the state of mind of Naaman who expressed anger at the instructions to go and wash in the Jordan river. Two weeks ago, in unburdening about why I was so angry with God, I had shared with my pastor how I felt God could not be trusted. I was angry because I have spent a greater part of my life in service to God in one way or another and did not feel that God was treating me fairly with the adversity and unanswered prayers I have recently encountered. And guess what? I am not alone! Many Christians are asking God questions like, “why did I lose my loved one?” “why did I get Covid?” “why did you not prevent my marriage from falling apart?” “why didn’t the healing come when I prayed?”… and so on and so forth. As the preacher said so astutely, our everyday success has a way of sedating us into thinking that we do not deserve our suffering and the truth of that statement hit me hard. I have asked myself if my whole relationship with God had been built on the notion of reciprocity – that because of the things I have done in service of God that somehow I deserve God to give me everything I ask for. Two weeks ago, my pastor suggested that I reflect on what I have anchored my faith to- whether my faith and trust in God was tethered to the fact that my whole family has been serving Him faithfully and so felt like God owed us something for our service. I have spent the past few weeks thinking about this and have uncovered something really valuable which I share in lesson #2.
  • Lesson #2- What is your faith anchored to?
    • In exploring why I have been so angry, I have ruminated on what my trust is anchored in and came to the conclusion that my pastor was on to something. Over the years, I have built my faith and trust in Jesus based on the things He has done for me. The answered prayers for provision and providence, the many times of deliverance from accidents and ill health, the times I have experienced God’s grace have served to increase and grow my faith in God and in His abilities. However, my faith has not been anchored to more than that. For example, instead of building my faith around the fact that God is a healer which is His character, His essence, I have built faith around his acts of healing- so not on who He is, but what He does. And while God’s many acts helps to build faith, anchoring my faith on His actions alone is not a sustainable way to develop trust in a relationship. So in keeping with this example, during those times when God chooses not to heal me or my loved ones, my faith gets shaken because there is a gap between my expectations and my experience. In reality, whether or not God chooses to heal in a particular instance does not, and should not change the fact that He is a healer. In many ways, I have become like the Israelites of old who sought God for his mighty acts and so that was all God was to them. However, this was not the case with Moses. Even though Moses got introduced to God through his acts (the burning bush), he grew in relationship to the point where he knew God and communed with Him as friend with friend not because of what God could do, but because of who he is. Think about this:

He revealed his character to Moses and his deeds to the people of Israel (Psalm 103:7 NLT).

Psalm 103:7 NLT

So through all my anger, God managed to reach at the crux of what was bothering me and not only that, He has brought me into a place of deeper relationship with Him- just like He did for Naaman. When God got through to Naaman past all his anger, He not only brought healing to the leprosy but also healed his heart. This year I have experienced new dimensions of God and I find that the more I lean into it, the more it feels like my life is falling apart. And the more my life falls apart, the more it falls into place. So before I sign off, I leave you with this thought: Religion says God I did this so now it is your turn to do that but Relationship says God I trust you. so which one do you have? Religion or Relationship?

Yours Truly

P.s. here is the sermon I listened to: https://elevationchurch.org/sermons/the-cost-of-going-off/

Advent Calendar day 20: God of Possibilities

In my last post I shared about a meeting I had over the weekend with a few friends and how that really encouraged me. During this time, we got to reflect on the year and a theme one of my friends focused on was the fact that nothing is impossible with God. As I reflected on my year, I realized many areas of my life where I had let God take control of but there were other areas where I had relied heavily on my own abilities or had placed my confidence in others only to be disappointed. I know cerebrally that God can do the impossible but sometimes by my actions, I had declared that there were things even God could not help me with. By not entrusting those problems with God and trusting Him for solutions, I had unconsciously decided that those problems were too big for God. In today’s reading, I was reminded of a hymn we used to sing in Bible study over 20 years ago:

…for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.

2 Timothy1:12

Through out the year, have there been things in your life that you have excluded God from simply because you don’t want to bother God with that? Or have you ever felt that He is too big for your small problem? or He has answered too many prayers and you don’t want to be greedy with one more request? Well Paul reminds us that God is able to take care of whatever we entrust to Him regardless of how big or small. He is the God of possibilities.

Yours Truly

P.s. Thanks Nathan!

Lean not on your own understanding

Have you found that some scriptures are quoted so much that they almost become cliche? One such scripture for me is a childhood favorite:

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. Prov 3:5-6 KJV

I get the general concept of that scripture. It seems self-explanatory until you try to operationalize it! What does it mean to trust in God with all your heart and not lean on your understanding in a practical way? This week God showed me an example of this from a story in the bible. Let me paraphrase it for you:

So Solomon was married to 700 wives and had 300 concubines and almost all of these brought their foreign and detestable gods into the marriage. They gradually turned Solomon’s heart from serving God  and so God told him that the kingdom of Israel will be divided and his son would rule one tribe. On the flip side of the coin a man named Jeroboam was minding his business one day strutting about in his new robe and a prophet approached him and ripped his coat into 11 pieces representing the tribes of Israel, gave him 10  of the pieces and told him God had chosen him to rule over 10 of the tribes of Israel. God promised to make his kingship a lasting dynasty like he had promised David. What an honor it must have been! This position however came with  a warning from God; that he walked in obedience to God and did what was right by obeying God. But after he became king he got insecure. He forgot the promise of God. He forgot about his incredible appointment to kingship through a series of God-orchestrated events and he did the one thing which no one should do when feeling insecure or afraid: he thought to himself.

Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam. After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people came to worship the one at Bethel and went as far as Dan to worship the other. 1 Kings 12:26-30 NIV

He did not trust that God who had brought him that far was capable of sustaining him in that position but rather he leaned into his own knowledge and schemes. He devised ways he could keep himself secure in that kingship forever and in the process he lost it all.

This week I am reminded that trust in God means having unshakable confidence in the One who has promised that He will fulfill His word to the letter. In these times as the world goes through turmoil, I have so many uncertainties and insecurities about my future. But God is faithful. It is very important for me to lean more into him and farther away from my own understanding and schemes or plans. I need to fully trust that the promises God has made regarding my health, my family, my job, my career, my finances, the totality of my existence will surely come to pass and my expectations will not be cut be cut short.

So my encouragement to you today is “what has God said concerning you? What assurances do you have from His word?” Lean in to Him fully trusting and not on your own understanding.

Yours Truly.

…Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil

referencing The Lord is my Shepherd…

I have always thought of this scripture to mean being a perilous state that could lead to physical death like having an illness, driving in a bad winter storm etc. And while the promise of God to be with us rings true, I recently heard a sermon that encouraged me to extend my understanding of this scripture. Shout out to Pastor Kirk Cowman

David experienced the valley of the shadow of death in ways that are more real and relatable than the proverbial valley of the shadow of death so let’s look together at David’s experience from 1 Samuel 21:10-15.

David was having such a hard time of life. David the future anointed king of Israel, the champion of the young men and the darling of the young women, the one who people sang about in folklore was having a hard time. King Saul was trying to kill him. David was so desperate he ran away to the home of his mortal enemy Goliath. In Gath, the people recognized him and fearing for his life, he pretended to be insane. No truer depiction of the shadow of death! This is how he described his experience in his own words:

O God, have mercy on me, for people are hounding me. My foes attack me all day long. I am constantly hounded by those who slander me, and many are boldly attacking me. They are always twisting what I say; they spend their days plotting to harm me. They come together to spy on me—watching my every step, eager to kill me. Psalm 56: 1-2, 5-6 NLT

Your experience may not be that you are running away from a king but this could easily be your state of mind in a toxic workplace where it feels like everyone is out to get you. Or if you have a neighbor or roommate bent on making life a living hell. Or unfortunately, sometimes the conditions in a church or marriage can spark such emotional feelings of walking in the valley of the shadow of death. But listen to what David says in spite of how he feels:

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? Psalm 56: 3-4 NIV

Wow! David is in the camp of his enemies…. literally at death’s door and his confession is “I will fear no evil”. He has so much confidence and trust in God’s ability to deliver and save. His trust is the antithesis of any fear he must feel. It gives him the confidence to say:

On this day, one of the darkest days of my life because the valley of death has cast a shadow on my life, I will walk before God in the light of life (Psalm 56: 13 NIV Interpretation mine)

I pray that we truly come to the place where our trust is without borders that even in the face of adversity we remain unwavering. David’s trust was grounded in the next statement the psalmist makes in Psalm 23: 4 “For you are with me” 

Stay tuned for the next lesson where we delve into this phrase “for you are with me” a little deeper and be intentional in trusting God even in your darkest valleys: the valleys of the shadow of death!

 

…He leads me beside still waters

referencing The Lord is my Shepherd…

One of the most soothing things in nature is the sound of water- a gentle stream, a rushing waterfall, a bubbling brook. This verse about still (quiet) waters evokes thoughts of a calm and peaceful place. There are 3 lessons I’d like to share from this scripture:

The first is our need for water. Our shepherd realizes the need to quench our thirst and He makes provision for this. He draws us to himself because in Him is a fountain of living [life-giving] water. Of the thirsty he says:

… “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega–the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. Revelations 21:6-7 NLT

Of course this is not a physical thirst. It is the thirst for life, the thirst that creates a void and longing in us; a void we are ceaselessly trying to fill with “stuff”. Jesus says, “Drink of the water I give and you’ll stop your meaningless wandering and searching. Drink of the water I give and I’ll give meaning and purpose to your life.” He says, “Drink and not only will your life have meaning, you’ll have eternal life.”

…but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life. John 4: 14 NASB

The second lesson is in the word “leads”. The hebrew words for still waters mean restful water. Our Shepherd wants to lead us to the place of rest and of peace. So many times when my life is in turmoil, I try to solve my own problems and bring myself peace and relief from the situations that plaques me. But today the word leads stands out to me. God wants to lead me. He wants me to take my hands off of my life and give Him control and for me that’s a difficult thing! I need to be in control of every situation. I have backup plans for my back up plans. In this moment I am convicted by this song:

Just a whisper of your voice can tame the seas
So who am I to try to take the lead
Still I run ahead and think I’m strong enough
When you’re the one who made me from the dust
When did I forget that you’ve always been the king of the world?
I try to take life back right out of the hands of the king of the world
How could I make you so small
When you’re the one who holds it all
When did I forget that you’ve always been the king of the world
~Natalie Grant (King of the World)

In the world today there are so many ‘leaders’ even though God only asked for followers. God wants to lead us to the ever elusive peace we seek. God wants to bring us to a place of rest and refreshing. Our shepherd wants to still and heal our minds and hearts with His life-giving water.

The third and final lesson is in the word “still”.  I read this online and it is my sentiments exactly:

Our lives are so fast-paced that we battle continual physical and mental exhaustion, trying to keep up with never-ending demands. We’re constantly stimulated by social media, advertising, school programs, church events, and our own inner clamor. This frantic pace is exhausting! Even our “quiet time” is anything but quiet, as we run through one spiritual task after another until we can check it off our list with satisfaction. Our bodies sit but our minds race, and the idea of stillness seems almost alien. There’s so much to do, and so little time. Surely God understands.

But hear what God says about that:

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it. Isaiah 30:15 NLT

If we want to experience true intimacy with God, we need to learn to quiet the noise around and within us and enter into His stillness and rest. So what does it really mean to be still before God?

All the scriptures I read about stillness point to having trust and confidence in God. This trust helps me not to fret when others around me seem to be doing better than I am and I am just bidding my time (Psalm 37:37). This trust lets me let go of my backup plans for my backup plans and give God control (Exodus 14:13). Being still means I wait patiently for God to make the next move (Psalm 40:1, Habbakuk 2:1). Sometimes though, being still means I rebuke the voices in my head and say, “Quiet!, Be still!”(Mark 4:39). And other times it means I turn off all distractions like my phone and TV and spend time with God’s word unhindered (Mark 6:31).,.

Stillness is definitely not inactivity or stagnation. Quiet waters are still flowing albeit gently. When we are still before God, that is when He works His salvation and fights for us (because we are not getting in His way!)

Dear reader, as you purpose to be intentional, let the Shepherd lead you to peace and rest… Drink of the water He gives and be still and see the salvation of the LORD ( Exodus 14:13; 2 Chronicles 20:17). The problems, the hurdles, the challenges, the fears, the anxiety, you see today… you’ll never see them again!