Hello again. It’s been a while. January 2019 is so welcome, isn’t it?
Although I haven’t written anything for 6 months, I have been thinking about what I would write if I could. I expected to be able to write at least one or two posts over the fall, but life threw things in the way. I just read a couple of the last blog posts (Moving Summer and I Know Better). I noticed they both had the theme of expectations even though they were written months apart. Expectations still pose a problem for me, and I am being challenged to consider my beliefs, the desires of my heart, and my actions and reactions.
Here’s an example of what I mean.
My attitude was a bit sour this past Fall. I was angry and frustrated about not being able to set up the house properly before the semester started. I have been increasingly fearful about our plans to move overseas next summer and my ability to get a job where I don’t know anyone, fresh out of school, and with no experience. And, we had to put our big dog down due to a sudden and unexpected health issue even though he should have lived several more years. He’s the fourth dog, all different breeds, where we’ve had to do that. I allowed circumstances to pull me under into a sense of desperation and defeat.
It’s time to deal with that properly.
I’ve noticed there’s a trend in choosing a word for the year. The thing I’ve been thinking about this last semester is Belief. And more specifically, what does it look like to live out what I believe? I have been struggling with what I believe about God’s grace and love for me, right now, even when I act petulantly and faithlessly. Perhaps you can relate. I think God’s grace is something we think we understand, but allowing that grace to fully saturate our lives and relationships can be a sticking point. I invite you to join me as I see what God shows me through this particular lesson.
The verse that began this theme is this:
John 6: 29 Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (NLT)
This statement by Jesus challenges all kinds of inherent beliefs I have about my responsibilities and the way I choose to live and engage with others. When I became a mom, I knew I had the privilege to raise and influence my children for a limited period of time. I took my responsibility seriously, and I tried to do all the right things. As a wife, I tried to support and honor my husband in a way that would please God and help us grow closer spiritually. I prayed over my marriage, my children, my relationships with my parents and siblings, our many moves, my husband and his work, and even my children’s friends. I attended and led Bible Studies, church services, volunteered at VBS and youth activities, did Bible studies at home, and tried to set a good example for what loving and believing God looks like expecting that all this love and doing good stuff would result in my family wanting to experience God in the same way. I love doing all those things!
Here’s the thing – my expectations haven’t been realized. And I don’t know if they ever will. Meaning, I don’t know if my children and husband will ever want to be as devoted and engaged that same way. So the thought occurs to me – Does their not wanting to be as involved in church mean I failed in setting a good enough example of love, forgiveness, and kindness? I can tell you, I know where I’ve failed. Even in all my attempts in doing things right. I have and continue to fail again and again.
I hear God whisper, “My grace is sufficient for you.” But do I believe this?
So, when I don’t see the expected fruits of my labor, then my perseverance in doing good is weakened, and I feel worn out. I don’t have the heart to keep going. I stop praying. I stop having those amazing quiet times where God is speaking to me, encouraging me. I think about all the ways that I messed up, didn’t pray well enough, acted in doubt instead of faith, was impatient, and I take on the responsibility for what’s not right – according to my expectations.
Again, I hear God whisper, “Lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” and “God knows the heart of a man.” And I think, I believe this, but look . . .
I mix guilt with a little bit of truth, and I feel even more defeated. I know God loves me. I know I have received salvation and grace for later. I know I have asked for forgiveness, and that God forgives. I know I am a child of God, but I must not be (good, faithful, obedient, fill in the blank) enough because I don’t see the fruit from my labor. Inherent in that belief is that although I’m forgiven, grace doesn’t apply to my life at the moment, and I am still responsible for the fallout of my faithless actions.
God patiently reminds me, “Without me, you can do nothing,” and that “He is faithful, even when we are faithless.”
Do I really believe that? Is that the truth? Or are my failures so significant, that God can’t redeem and restore what I’ve broken? If I believe and act as if the results of my messed up attempts at life and love can’t be fixed, then I am saying that my sin is bigger than God’s redeeming love and salvation through Jesus Christ. Basically, I’m saying God’s grace doesn’t apply to me. And I recognize the lie.
Guess what, making others believe and act in a certain way is not my work. God’s work is something more significant, creative, loving, and perfect than anything I could ever imagine. And, I need to trust Him with my mistakes. I need to trust His forgiveness is just as real and relevant in the present as it will be on judgment day. And, my work or joy in doing the churchy things I listed above are not the only ways people can show their own love of God. How arrogant of me!
Back to scripture:
Regarding the fears I have about getting a job next year:
Matthew 6:33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
Regarding the areas where I know I mess up:
2 Corinthians 12:9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.
And regarding my efforts:
Ephesians 2: 8 – 10 For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life. (Berean Study Bible)
God gives grace. His grace. Not just in the time to come, but now. And my work is to believe in Jesus Christ, the person of His Grace. If I doubt God’s grace is applicable to me as I live right now, then I undervalue that amazing and precious grace not just for myself, but for others as well. And there it is, the lie hidden in the works. I know God’s grace is bigger than all our sin. His grace is not just a one-time thing, at the point of salvation that just sits there until judgment day.
I didn’t even realize what my belief of limited grace implied until I was challenged by that one verse.
God gives grace. God gives faith.
And, I know that God has been patient and gentle with me. Why wouldn’t He be the same with everyone else? As far as the guilt I feel for the ways I have messed up, said hurtful things, or lacked discipline and wisdom, I imagine God as a teacher, knowing the mistakes I have and will make, and allowing me to make them because He’s got it all worked out already.
My work is to believe in Jesus, the one God sent. And believing in Jesus means I need to trust God’s grace – for me, for others, and for right now. He knows it’s going to be all okay in the end.
So that’s my word for 2019