Sunday, February 20, 2011

Asking The Right Question

Flee evil desires and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace.
2 Timothy 2:22

"What does God want from me?" Have you ever asked yourself this question? I ask myself this all the time, and I come up with plenty of answers and hear plenty of answers from others. I feel like I spend a lot of time trying to give God what He wants and a lot of time feeling like I fail. Even when I am doing the things I know are right, I feel like it's never enough. I could do more and do it better.

The best answer to the question 'What does God want from me?' is that it's the wrong question. The better question is, 'What does God want for me?' Why? Because the things He asks of me are ultimately for me.

Take for example the command Jesus gave to "Love one another. As I have loved you, so must you love one another." (John 13:34) This can be a difficult road. Forgiveness, patience, sacrifice, and persistence may be involved. And often we simply don't have it within ourselves to love as God loves. So why would He ask me to do such a thing? Why set the bar so high? Just to set me up for failure? Does that make Him a loving God?

No, it doesn't. But this does: To love others as God loves me, I must experience God's mercy and love for myself.  I must recognize how patient, forgiving, persistent, and sacrificial His love is toward me before I have any hope of loving others that much. His love for me is the source of the peace and joy I can have no matter what is going on around me. And when I find myself in a place where I am not loving others as I know I should, God doesn't say to me, "You have failed." He says, "You need more of My love. Come to Me, and I will give you rest. I will give you more of My heart. I will make you more like Me." And loving others as God loves them, even when it's difficult, even when that love is not returned—ultimately I am blessed.

God wants me to trust Him. He wants me to believe and live by faith. But again, it's not about me living up to unrealistic expectations. It's not about setting me up for failure. It's not about what He wants from me, but rather, what He wants for me: peace, joy, hope, comfort, rest, purity, righteousness, goodness, and fellowship with Him.

David said, "Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh the joys of those who trust in Him." (Psalm 34:8) David knew what God wanted from him: He wanted his trust. But David was focused on why: for his own good. For the joy he could experience. David also said in Psalm 19, "The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes."

God commands us to flee immorality, to get rid of lust, greed, malice, and fear. To pursue love, purity, and peace. To care for others and be generous people. Why? Because He wants these things from us? No, because He wants them for us. Holiness is not a goal to pursue, it is a gift to embrace. We can be like Jesus because He empowers us to be. And wanting this for myself is about opportunity and joy, not obligation.

What does God want from me? Nothing. What does He want for me? Everything. Everything good. He wants the same for you. Ask yourself the right question: What does He want for me?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Confident Words; Uncertain Days

"My soul glorifies the Lord and my soul rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me--holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm, he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones, but he has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers."

As I read these words this week, I was greatly calmed and comforted. Even as I write them now, they bring me much peace. You could say that the author of them knew how to look at the glass as half-full rather than half-empty, because the times and circumstances in which they were spoken were difficult and filled with uncertainty. Any idea who said them? I'll give you a hint, they come from Luke 1. That rules out Moses, David, and the Prophets of the Old Testament, along with Jesus since He isn't born until chapter 2.

They are spoken by Mary, the mother of Jesus. She had just received the news that she was going to be the mother of the Messiah. Great news, right? Well, except for the fact she wasn't married and only had a disappearing angel to vouch for her claim to virginity. I can hear her parents now. "You saw an angel, and he said what?" Uh-huh. She had a reason to be freaked-out. She takes off to go visit her cousin. Who wouldn't? I'm sure Elizabeth was someone she loved and trusted or she wouldn't have gone to her, but she probably wasn't expecting to be greeted with such excitement over her condition, especially since she hadn't told her the news yet.

"Blessed are you among women, Mary, and blessed is the child you will bear!"

"What? How did you know?"

"Oh, the baby told me," Elizabeth laughed, patting her own rounded belly with her wrinkled hand. "Blessed are you who has believed what the Lord said to you is going to happen!"

Mary wouldn't have believed Lizzy except her own story was just as crazy, and she needed to hear those words. "Blessed are you because you believe." It can be difficult to believe. And it can be difficult to believe we are blessed for believing.

Faith is all about believing the unbelievable. Mary may not have been exactly sure what was going to happen and how, but faith doesn't involve those elements. Faith isn't about knowing what is going to happen, it's about knowing whatever happens will be good when God is involved. It's not about what I know, but Who I know.

Mary and I have never met. Mary lived in a different time-period, a different country, and a different culture than I am living in today. But we know the same God. Yahweh. Jehovah. The Mighty One who has done great things for me. Holy is His Name.

Others can say that God doesn't...or God won't...or God can't...But God will always show who He is and what He can do. He is not limited by the unbelief of others. He is who He is and will do what He will do. God is always who He is, whether you or I believe it or not. God is mighty, holy, amazing, awesome, powerful, loving, merciful, good, right, and just. Whether we worship Him for Who He is or not—He still is. He wants us to recognize and believe for our benefit so we can have confidence, peace, hope, joy, and patience. Like Mary did. She believed because of what she heard God say, not because of what she could see.

I'm sure she had her moments of doubt too. Perhaps when she did, she sang words penned by her ancestor David. We would be blessed to do the same:

"Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings." Psalm 62:1-4