I Have a Question

Last week I talked about Gideon’s “Ifs.” Here’s another one, but with a twist.

Then Gideon said to him, “O my lord, IF the LORD is with us, WHY then has all this happened to us? And WHERE are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’” (Judges 6:13 NASB, emphasis added).

Question mark

My clients often get stuck on the questions “Why?” and “Where?” Why did God allow the abuse? Why didn’t He rescue me? Why doesn’t He care about me? Where was He when it happened? Why didn’t He stop it?

And God seems to remain silent. He knows that answering the why and where questions won’t satisfy the heart because He knows what emotion or pain lies behind them.

When Gideon asks the why question, God does not answer him. Instead God replies: Go in this your might and you shall save Israel . . . Have I not sent you? (14)

In the next verse, Gideon responds with another question: HOW can I deliver Israel when I’m the least of the least?

Again, God doesn’t directly respond to this reasoning.

The problem is, when we ask the wrong questions, we often come to wrong conclusions and make false assumptions and accusations.

Gideon concludes: But now the LORD has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian (13).

When I’m attacked, falsely accused, demanded an answer of, my tendency is to go on the defense, attack back, or try to justify my actions. A better choice is to sidestep and find out what the other person is feeling. God knew that Gideon was feeling fear. Answering his questions wouldn’t satisfy his heart, because those weren’t the right questions. Twice, God sidesteps the questions and answers, “I am the solution, your answer, your source of power and strength” (14, 16).

Next time you’re tempted to ask God why or where, try asking instead: How do I feel that  . . . God allowed the abuse, didn’t answer my prayer, it seemed He wasn’t there, etc.? And then be willing to listen for God’s satisfying answer to your pain.

On a side note, after the pain is gone, sometimes God does indeed answer the client’s WHY questions. I’ve heard answers from Him such as, “Are you willing to let Me use this pain to minister to others?” and “I gave all men choices, and I won’t violate their will; neither will I violate yours.” And the WHERE? He always answers, “I was there with you, feeling your pain.”

What questions do you ask when you’re in pain?

Be Careful What You “If”!

From my 2009 Journal. Around 1895 Rudyard Kipling wrote a famous poem entitled “If.” (It’s well worth the read if you haven’t heard of it.) That word if is an awfully small word that can pack an awfully large punch. I hear it all the time in conversations: If you’re free . . . If you love me  . . . If I’ve offended you  . . . If there is a God. . . .

I got to noticing that little word if in the book of Judges, and recorded a few of my observations.

Remember the story of Gideon and the fleece (Judges 6)? The Israelites are distraught because the Midianites have overpowered them, and God shows up one day to tell Gideon that he’s been chosen to deliver his people from the oppressor. But Gideon is skeptical:

IF I have found favor in your sight, then give me a sign that it’s You who talks to me. (v. 17 NASB)

It’s not a bad request. We are indeed admonished to test the spirits (I John 4:1). God granted his request and confirmed His authority by lighting Gideon’s sacrifice and then disappearing. God is willing to respond to a genuine request for confirmation that it’s His voice we’re hearing.

Later, in obedience to God’s instructions, Gideon pulls down his father’s altar to Baal and the Asherah pole beside it. Using this wood, he offers a burnt offering on a new altar that he’s to build on top of the Baal one. When the irate town’s people show up at his dad’s house, his dad stands up for his son and says:

Will you contend for Baal? IF Baal is a god, let him contend for himself! (v. 31)

Sounds rather reasonable to me!

SheepskinSo now it comes time to face the Midianites, and Gideon gets cold feet. Here’s where the two famous dry/wet fleece tests occur. (If you need a story refresher, click here)

Fleece test #1. IF you will deliver Israel by my hand as you have said . . . (v. 36)

Fleece test #2. The if is not repeated, but it’s implied. (v. 39)

So I begin to ponder: how is Gideon’s response to God’s command different from Moses’ response to the burning bush command or Jonah’s response to the command to go to Nineveh?

Moses said:  I can’t!

Jonah said:  I won’t!

Gideon asked:  Can I?

Moses appears to be resistant, stubborn, willful, maybe even whiny. And Jonah is downright rebellious. Gideon, on the other hand, seems timid and fearful: Am I sure I heard You right, Lord? Later on when God tells Gideon to go down to the enemy’s camp, He anticipates Gideon’s response and says, But IF you are afraid to go down, go with Purah your servant down to the camp (7:9-10).

In all three stories, God’s will is accomplished and His mission fulfilled, but He responds differently to each character. With Gideon, God honors his need for courage and does what Gideon requests. This gives me hope when I am feeling less than courageous at God’s calling on my life. The true seeker of God will find Him faithful.

Following God’s words of assurance, the final antidote for Gideon’s fear is personal experience (when he goes down to the camp and overhears the Midianite’s dream). Gideon’s response? He worships. Fear is gone at last; he’s ready for battle. There are no more “ifs.”

After the rousing victory with only 300 soldiers, the Ephraimite tribe gets mad at Gideon for not asking them to join the battle. There is no fear response from Gideon at their accusations. Instead, humility has taken its place (Judges 8-1-3). Matthew Henry says, “Humility is the surest method of ending strife.”

God prepares His servants for His service. (I wish the story ended here, but it doesn’t. Gideon has other character flaws that need to be worked on.) I know I’m human and have fears and doubts, but I pray that every time God speaks, I’ll have faith to believe and leave my “ifs” behind!

Do you have time to read one more “IF”? This one is truly bizarre.

 Jephtha’s story (Judges 11) intrigues me. His dad is from Gilead, and his mom is a harlot. His half-brothers kick him out of the tribe saying he can have no inheritance with them. He flees to the town of Tob where worthless men gather around him and they go on raids together and he becomes a mighty warrior. When his half-brothers are attacked by the Ammonites, surprisingly they go to Jephtha to beg him to be their leader! Even more shocking, he agrees to do so.

But now it gets even more interesting. Jephtha makes a foolish vow. IF You [God] will indeed give the Ammonites into my hand, I will offer up for a burnt offering whatever comes out from my house to meet me (30-31). And we know the outcome . . . his only child, his daughter, comes out the door.

So what does Jephtha do? Incredibly, he shifts the blame! YOU [daughter] are the cause of great trouble to me; YOU have brought me very low (11:35, emphasis added).

Are vows retractable? I think so. Why could he not have suffered the consequences and taken the debt in her place? Why couldn’t he have gone to God, confessed his foolishness, and let God give him a creative alternative?

But his daughter is more righteous than he. She accepts the vow as binding. We don’t know if Jephtha actually sacrifices her on an altar or if she’s simply banished for the rest of her life and disallowed marriage. In any case, as often happens, our sin, ignorance, and foolishness impact others, whether intentional or not.

Be careful what you IF!

Why do we ask how?

From my 2007 Journal. Why do I question God? When He declares something is true, why do I doubt it? Why do I fret so and try to figure things out for myself? I may think I have the solution for an issue I’m struggling with—but it is very limited. My imagination isn’t big enough to figure out His solutions.

God said to Moses: I will provide meat for the Israelites. Moses asked: HOW? Shall flocks and herds be killed? Collect all the fish in the sea? God said, Is the LORD’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you (Numbers 11:23 NIV). You’d think that Moses, who had witnessed spectacular miracles before his very eyes, would not question God’s ability, power, and creativity. But he wants to know HOW God will provide.

Jesus said to his disciples: Feed the multitudes. The disciples asked: HOW can we do that? We don’t have enough money to go into town and get enough food for this many people. Jesus said, How many loaves do you have?

God says: I will supply all your need according to My riches. I ask: HOW?

DollarI’ve asked for resources for my daughters’ education and for their potential weddings, and then I fret when I think He may not come through, and I brainstorm ways I can get the money to make it happen. Instead, can I not sit back, relax, and watch Him work?

And so, dear Lord, I release to you my worry over where the money is going to come from. I will quit fretting, quit scheming, and simply ask. I ask for faith that will move mountains. I ask for willingness to be obedient when You speak and ask me to do something. I will trust You to guide our paths. I want to unleash Your creativity through faith instead of doubt. Lord, help my unbelief. I am releasing to Your care our checking account, our savings, our retirement funds, the college needs. I will allow You to direct how and when I need to work and how and when I need to be involved in ministry. Guide my footsteps today, Lord Jesus. I don’t know what Your plan is for me today, but I’m open to follow Your lead. Amen.

A 2018 Update. As I reminisce, I’m in awe at how God provided our financial needs. All three girls graduated from college debt-free. And two of our daughters, now married, managed to pull off their weddings within our budget. Now I can say that I, too, have witnessed miracles before my very eyes, and my faith has grown as a result.

Do you think asking HOW is a lack of faith? Why or why not?

Public Tears

From my 2009 Journal. Grief is a very private affair that sometimes turns public. In America we watch mourners at funerals, and if they don’t cry, we say that they are holding up well. I think Middle Easterners and my African friends have a better perspective. They set aside a time to wail and to mourn—publicly. Their cultural norm is to let the emotions out when a loved one passes away. There’s something healthy about this practice. So why do we keep back tears when we are in public? 

Sometimes when you hurt, you want space to cry alone, away from prying eyes. I remember while at boarding school, crying alone or privately was nearly impossible. Someone invariably would insist on asking why you were crying and then try to fix it for you with platitudes: It’ll be all right. God knows best. Romans 8:28, etc. Or worse yet: Don’t cry! Sometimes you just didn’t feel like sharing your hurt with them, but it felt rude to say it was none of their business. All you really needed was for someone to hold you or cry with you.

FireMy Visual: When I am grieving, I have a secret place in my heart where fire is burning and glowing and I need to release that pain. But if someone opens the door of my heart without my permission and snatches that fire, and I don’t know if I can trust him or her or not with my heart,  it feels like a violation.

It is okay to protect your heart. You don’t have to respond rudely if you don’t care to share. Just be honest: I don’t feel like talking about it right now. If they care about you, they’ll respect your space. If they’re pushy, just walk away. But that fire will consume you if you don’t open the door at some point. Grief needs to be released in order to heal a broken heart.

Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord . . . (Lamentations 2:19).

How do you handle grief when you are in public and why?

How Do You Draw Faith?

Bible

The history of the Mission under which I grew up includes a little story about Roland Bingham, one of the founders of the Mission, arriving at the train station with no money in hand, but with faith that God would supply his need. And God did just that. (You can watch a 1968 reenactment of his life here.) So when I heard that story as a child, I began to berate myself that I did not seem to have enough faith. I wasn’t sure I could ever pack my bags and blindly go off somewhere and expect God to meet my needs.

How does one define the word faith? First a little grammar lesson. By definition, a NOUN is a person (man, Mr. Jones), place (home, Iowa), thing (desk, lamp) or idea (love, courage). Concrete nouns like man or desk are easy to visualize or to draw on a piece of paper. Ideas not so much. We do have symbols for some ideas, like a Valentine heart for love or a dove for peace, but how do you draw faith?

Faith became a rather nebulous concept to me. I didn’t know how to visualize it . . . until I read this lovely story in the Bible about Caleb, one of only two spies who believed that the Israelite army could defeat the giants in the land of Canaan.

We pick up the story when the 40 years of wandering in the desert are over, and the leader Joshua is over 100 years old when Caleb approaches him with this request:

Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the wilderness. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said (Joshua 14:10-14 NIV, emphasis added).

My conclusion is that faith is not blindly believing something without evidence or deciding to do something based on what I want to see happen. Faith is believing and acting on what God has already said.

So back to the story of the missionary at the train station.  God had clearly told Mr. Bingham to go to Africa, and so he packed his trunk and headed to the train station to begin his journey. It wasn’t until he took this step of faith that he was handed cash for the ticket. (If you want to read more of the story, click here.)

What does faith look like to you? Can you draw a picture of it on a piece of paper?

Keep Your Mouth Shut!

I’ve said some pretty stupid and hurtful things when I’ve been emotionally triggered. And once words were spoken, they were awfully hard to put back in the box. I wonder what set off Miriam, Moses’ sister?

Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite.  “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” (Numbers 12:1-2a NIV).

We only meet Moses’ first wife Zipporah a couple times in the Scriptures and then nothing during the wilderness march. Does Moses take a second wife or is Zipporah now dead? We don’t know.

Do you suppose the Cushite wife made a comment over dinner preparations one day to her in-laws about how privileged and great her husband was? And Miriam and Aaron got jealous or defensive? After all, had God not used them (especially Aaron) in a mighty way in Egypt as the front-man speaker to Pharaoh? And hadn’t Miriam felt some ownership in caring for her baby brother when he was placed in the Nile? By association, she was the privileged one, in the inner circle. Who was this Cushite woman who was horning her way into the family business? Why can’t I speak against my own brother? she thinks. Who does he think he is? I’m a part of this team, aren’t I? Did Miriam feel left out?

In any case, this interesting phrase follows: And the LORD heard this. As a parent, I could listen to my children squabbling in another room and not say or do anything. But when the altercation brought one of them to tears or one was teased or hurt or put down, I tried to intervene and mete out justice or punishment to the offender and comfort to the wounded.

Whatever was going on in this family, it got God’s attention, and He came to Moses’ defense. “Suddenly” (without warning, in the midst of their conversation), says the Scripture,  God speaks to the three of them: Come to the tent of meeting.

Uh-oh. Someone’s in trouble. The parent steps in to take control. Only there’s no questioning here about who said what or who’s to blame. He knows! The cloud pillar comes down to the door, and there’s no escaping this confrontation.

“Aaron and Miriam—step forward,” God commands. It’s a lineup of guilty parties. “Step out of the lineup, you two.”

Hear My words. (Words had been spoken by the created. Now words are to be spoken by the Creator.) When there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams. But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all my house. With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?

And instantly Miriam becomes leprous. But why only her? Why not Aaron as well? Had God “spoken by Aaron”? Well yes, He had. But He had never (at least in the recorded word) spoken by Miriam. So perhaps Aaron’s part in the guilt was in not defending his brother?

I’m intrigued with Moses’ reaction. Instead of revengeful thoughts (Ha! Miriam deserved it! She’s getting what she asked for—she had no right to say what she did), he flies to her aid. He pleads with God to restore her. Why?

And Aaron who had just reviled his brother cries out: O, my lord, I plead with you; lay not the sin upon us. (Us? He’s not the one being punished, but he was in the lineup. He drove the getaway car—a co-conspirator.)  We have done foolishly. (He recognizes his/their guilt. The God of the Universe has exposed his heart.)

And God listens to Moses and agrees to remove Miriam’s leprosy—after seven days outside the camp. 

We live with the consequences of our indiscretions.

But Miriam’s response? Nothing. Nada. Silence. Don’t you know Miriam never made that mistake again? What a painful life lesson to learn:

Keep your mouth shut when you’re triggered!

Mouth

Command or Culture?

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind (Romans 14:5 NIV).

I just returned home from my mission boarding school reunion in Texas. One topic of conversation among the MKs (Missionary Kids) was the memories of what activities were forbidden growing up (going to movies, dancing, playing cards) and what our parents permitted us to do on Sundays (not much!).

How does one determine in the Scriptures what is an Old Testament command or a promise for the Israelites and what is intended for the believer today? How can we pick and choose which of Paul’s admonitions are meant for us and which for the church in his day?

When Paul asked believers to pray for him while he was in jail, this is obviously not a command for us in the 21st century to pray for him. But when he asks us to remember those who are in prison, we can certainly apply that injunction to someone today who is incarcerated.

What about when he told the Corinthian women to cover their heads? Was this a command for every woman across every culture and ethnic group and time period? Some people believe so. I’m not one of them.

How then do we discern and determine what commands God has for us today? The apostles grappled with this very thing in the first century. Were they permitted to eat meat offered to idols or not? I think every generation must struggle with and debate the controversial topics that arise at the time.

I remember back in the 70s when male Christians were admonished not to grow their hair long or wear facial hair because—at that time—it represented a worldly symbol of rebellion. Today, that connotation is gone. (In fact, I quite like the look of my sons-in-law with their beards.) And a time when women’s hair must never be cut, for that was their glory. Is God less pleased with me because mine is short?

TN170410_JOSH_ALEX_KC0006_LO

Two handsome dudes — Josh and Alex

Or take the subject of modesty. There was a time in our country’s past when it was considered inappropriate for a lady to show her ankles. And a time when showing cleavage was quite fashionable (though only in the evening)—and then it wasn’t—and now it is again. Yet where I grew up in an African village, the women all went bare-chested. (Today, not so much.)

So who gets to dictate the standard for modesty? Can it change over time? From one culture to another? Are there any absolutes, or is it always first and foremost a matter of the heart?

So I have to ask myself where is my heart today? Do I hold some pet traditions that I think are biblical mandates when in reality they’re merely cultural preferences? Is it okay for men to wear ball caps indoors today, whereas in the past it was considered quite improper? Does the Bible address this issue?

The Scriptures say each person must examine his or her own heart and be fully convinced as to what’s right for him or her regarding sacred days. We are to listen to our inner conscience as directed by the Holy Spirit. But I don’t like that. I’m just enough of a Pharisee that I want absolutes: put on this, don’t wear that. Give me rules any day over principles and then I don’t have to grapple with the subject. With principles, my judgmental spirit is required to relax and be more grace-filled with those who differ from me.

Guess I’ll go buy a headscarf and see if I’ll feel more spiritual—or not!

What issues, cultural or scriptural, do you grapple with today and why?

Pleasing God

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6 KJV).

From my 2007 Journal. I’m struggling with the concept of pleasing God. I know I fulfill Condition #1: I believe that He is. But sometimes I doubt Condition #2: that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. His rewards, I believe, are for more deserving people—those who have done grandiose things for Him—the Billy Grahams or the mega-church pastors, the self-sacrificing missionaries, the martyrs. Like David, I ask Who am I, that God is mindful of me? But this verse states that if I don’t fulfill Condition #2, it shows I lack faith (and thus it is impossible to please Him).

Because it’s not quantifiable, I think I need to define “diligently.” I find that seeking God is a time-intensive activity. Though my heart and will are always present, there are seasons of my life or times of the day when I feel more earnestness and diligence than at other times. When do I diligently seek God? Most obviously in my quiet time with Him. Second, while I’m in an inner healing prayer session with someone. But what about the rest of the time—when I’m chatting on the phone, writing an email, doing a jigsaw puzzle, or taking a walk? When I’m reading a novel, I’m not actively “seeking God.” We wouldn’t be able to function if that’s all we did—stayed on our knees in prayer 24-7. God expects us to sleep, to eat, to prepare food, to teach our children, to work at our jobs, to take breaks, to recreate, to have fun. Because I’m a one-track-minded person, I seem to be able to focus on God primarily when I’m alone and undisturbed. Even church is not an easy venue for me because there are so many distractions.

I can never seem to attain, never measure up. I always fall short of the glory of God. And It makes me sad that I cannot attain or measure up. He’s too far up, too far away, at the top of a sky-high ladder and I’m at the bottom looking up, like Jack and the Beanstalk.

In this fairy tale, Jack trades the family cow for some magic beans, and when he climbs the vine up into the sky, he discovers an evil ogre who owns a goose that lays golden eggs. I can feel Jack’s fear and dread as he decides to steal the goose—as if I, too, have done something wrong. I have stolen what is not mine, and I feel my mother’s disapproval for my foolishness in trading a cow for some beans. The fairy tale’s happily-ever-after ending seems like ill-gotten gain!

And so I rewrite the story in my mind: I would consult my mother before trading beans. If I had planted them, I would not have invaded the ogre’s palace. I would have attempted to make friends with him, and I certainly wouldn’t have stolen from him. And therefore, I would not have had to chop down the vine to murder him! The ogre would share his feast with me because he would be a generous and benevolent king.

And so God changes the visual for me. Instead of my planting a vine, God lowers a heavenly escalator, safe and protected on all sides to carry me up to His heaven. He has extended an invitation to me to enter His palace, to eat at His table, to sit by His fire and warm myself. He’s even given me a feather bed to lie down on when I become weary. And when I wake, refreshed, there are rooms to explore and meadows and orchards and climbing trees to enjoy.

abandoned-ancient-architecture-921914

Photo by Rick St. John from Pexels

In my new scenario, God is not an ogre in the clouds waiting to clobber me, but a relational Father who has created a child’s fairy palace for me to enjoy.

Am I pleasing to God? He chose me, proposed to me, asked me to be His bride. And I said yes. He’s preparing our home for us right now. And I’m preparing, making ready, having fun planning for the wedding, consulting Him on everything, because He has all the materials I/we need to have a spectacular wedding day.

So do I believe that God rewards those who diligently seek Him? The answer is yes. Therefore, I have faith; therefore I do please Him—because I do believe.

“I want to be ready when Jesus comes.”

I’m a One-Talent Gal

From my 2007 Journal. There’s a parable in Luke 19 that has always bothered me. A man goes on a journey and entrusts five talents to one of his servants and expects him to double the gift. He gives two talents to another and expects him to double that, and one talent to the third, “each according to his ability.” Of course the punchline of the parable has to do with the one-talent guy burying his money instead of investing it. But my mind goes to the amount of the gift given in the first place. It seems unfair somehow. I personally don’t want the responsibility of doing the work to multiply five talents, but I’d like to receive the reward for doing so! But you can’t have the one without the other.

I have this feeling that I’m one of the one-talent recipients and I better make the most of it. Yet somehow I equate value or worth with the fact that I’ve only been given one. Why?

AwardI think it goes back to boarding school, Grade 9. I don’t recall anymore what all the qualifications were, but the most coveted award for the end of the school year was “Best, All-round Girl/Boy Award.” I’m sitting on pins and needles waiting for the names to be called out. I want it so bad I can taste it. But when I’m given the award, I have mixed emotions. My pride (God forgive me) steps up to the plate and says I deserve it.

On the other hand, I see the shock and disapproval on someone’s face and I feel like a fake—apparently she didn’t think I deserved the award. I knew I was NOT the most talented, nor was I the most gracious. I was stuck up and prideful. I felt like I had hoodwinked the staff who had voted for me, but my peers knew better. That award belonged to someone else who was more talented than I and who certainly had a better attitude. I felt exposed, naked, ashamed. But I held my head up high and marched to the front of the auditorium to receive that precious little piece of metal.

I have long since repented of my pride, and God has covered me with His righteousness, but I still have to address the thought that I may have only been given one talent. Am I willing to accept God’s gift, no matter how small or how large and be faithful to serve Him with it? Today my answer is YES!

How many talents do you believe God has given you and why? And is it prideful to admit you have more than one?

Chosen

He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

Worm

Journal 2018. Like many of you, I grew up singing the old familiar hymns and I still love them, but there are two songs that contain lyrics that I just could not identify with as a five-year-old child: “Amazing grace . . . that saved a wretch like me” and “Alas! and did my Savior bleed . . . For such a worm as I.” Mom told me that God loved me and I believed her. I sure didn’t feel like a wretch or a worm! I felt special.

I was unaware of the forces around me as a five-year-old when I chose Jesus to be my Savior. I was like an orphan, and God chose me out of the orphanage to be His royal child. Why? He’s the one who created me in the first place. But why didn’t He choose Susie or Billy or John? Why did I get to be raised in a Christian home by loving parents? Why am I so privileged today to live in a land of abundance, with ample food on the table? It makes me grateful and I feel special. But what about all the little children who are chosen to live in paganism or poverty? How do I / should I feel about them?

And I hear Jesus’ answer to His disciples: that’s none of your business! (Karen’s paraphrase). Am I willing to let God take care of my questions? Let God be God?

Where is the balance of truth between believing “I’m worthless, a worm, a sinful creature” and “I’ve been adopted into royalty”? Just because I got picked out of a lineup, does that make me special? On what basis did He choose me? Gideon’s 300 men were chosen, supposedly, because they were alert and watchful. They passed a simple test of raising water to their lips. But they didn’t even know they were being tested!

There is a balance between predestination and freewill that seems to trip us up. I think the invitation is for everyone: whosoever will may come. All are invited. To those who step out of the lineup and take a step of faith toward Him, these He chooses. He called, I answered, and He gave me my assignment. Not out of any merit of my own did I diligently seek God, however. I deserve nothing, but I would have been a fool to reject or renounce my royal invitation. I’m glad I accepted. But there is no pride permitted there. He is the One who wooed me and loved me and won my heart. When I choose to diligently seek Him, I believe He rewards that choice.

I suspect that the lyricists John Newton and Isaac Watts were feeling bad about themselves and their life choices and therefore believed they were wretched and worthless, but that’s not how God saw them. The truth set them free. And He can do the same for you and me.