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!

Lie-based vs. Truth-based Pain

In my inner healing prayer ministry, it’s important to understand the difference between lie-based pain and truth-based pain. Lie-based pain means that in my hurt, I am believing a lie. For example: As a child I may be blatantly told I’m worthless and good-for-nothing or I might come to this conclusion based on how I’m treated. If I believe I’m worthless, I will hurt as a result. When I face my pain and give it to God, He assures me that I am not worthless. In fact I’m so precious to Him that He sacrificed His own Son for me on a cross.

Empty chair and graveGrief from experiencing a loss is typically truth-based pain. There is a void, an empty place at the table, a loss of relationship with a deceased loved one, a distance from someone who has moved away or a longing for a thing, such as a childhood home. This type of grief must be fully felt in order to be released. Sometimes, however, truth-based pain gets muddled with lies, such as “I could have prevented my loved one from dying” or “It’s my fault Mom and Dad got a divorce.” Christ experienced truth-based pain. It was real. It was heart-wrenching. It was agonizing. But He never believed a lie.

When I read Romans 9:2  (regarding Israel’s spiritual condition) where the Apostle Paul says,  I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart (NASB), I wonder which kind of pain Paul was experiencing. It sounds truth-based. I’ve never personally felt this kind of intense pain before. It’s easy to get judgmental about those who don’t live in peace, especially if it’s due to their own choices. But I’ve never been put into a situation where I’ve felt that much emotion. It’s hard for me to understand or identify with Paul’s pain. In verse 3 he says,

For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren.

I’m way too selfish to think that I’d be willing to change places with someone else and experience eternity without Christ so that that person could be with Him. I don’t understand that kind of willing self-sacrifice. But then I guess I don’t have to. This is Paul’s life, his story, not mine. I’m living a different life, a different story, with a different set of experiences, temperament, and calling.

If you were Paul’s counselor, what questions would you ask Him?

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?

Where Is Your Focus?

Focus 3

From My 2009 Journal. Work got canceled, and I had an unexpected, unplanned glorious day to myself to work on the computer and catch up on some work. But one thing after another, my day got interrupted multiple times. I ended up stewing and angry as I headed to the grocery store to pick up some bread, just to discover that the shelves were empty! I’d been trying all day to get rid of my feelings of irritation and hadn’t succeeded too well. Praying for inner peace, I wandered around the store, asking the Lord What was the purpose of all these interruptions to my day?

Just then, I passed a plaque on a shelf that read, “Delight yourself in the Lord.” I laughed out loud. My focus had been all skewed. Thanks, Lord, for putting things into perspective. I chuckled all the way home.

The rest of the verse says, and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4 NASB).

Where is your focus today?

Shoulds and Ought-tos

From My 2009 Journal. I feel a hesitancy inside when I think that God loves and accepts me just the way I am. I’m still caught in the trap of “I need to.” Being a task-oriented person, “doing for God” feels like a “should” or an “ought to.” It’s a continual mind battle to shed the guilt that I’m not doing more for Him. What is that all about?

I hear in my head the voice of some preacher saying, “You ought to knock on doors for evangelism.” I thought I shed that obligation a long time ago. I know I’ve been derogatory toward those who touted knocking on doors, considering them to be a little kooky, driven by fear or guilt (never mind that I used to be one of them. How hypocritical is that!) But I don’t know their hearts—for all I know, they could be more spiritual or passionate than I am about following God.

Hallway with doorsVisual:  I see an endless line of doors that need to be approached. It’s exhausting and the task is never complete. While walking down the hallway, there appears to be a large hand guiding mine, like I’m a child in training. I thought at first it was the preacher’s voice and hand on me, but now I see him standing to the side at a pulpit. The hand that guides me is that of The Father.

I erroneously compare myself to the famous out-front Christians who have great influence over many crowds of people. They’ve been entrusted with ten talents and have been faithful to use them. Bruce Wilkinson comes to mind. Billy Graham is another. Our faithful pastors as well. And then there’s little ol’ me with a very small sphere of influence. I think somehow I’m supposed to do their work.

I know all the right answers: be faithful with what God entrusts to you. I know that God has not created me with the temperament to spend massive amounts of time with people or in front of people—which is what I seem to equate with the highest rank of God-pleasers.

Here’s my bottom-line question: Is God pleased with me and my performance? I’m fully aware that character is far more important. That’s a given, and I work on that constantly. But I still need the question answered—am I doing enough? Enough for what?

I feel uneasy. Like I’m missing something. How do I know how many talents He’s given me? Yes, it’s His work through me. Yes, I must be obedient to His every command and instruction. No, I don’t have to have the big picture or understand everything God’s chosen for me to do. “Rest in Me,” He says, “and I will guide you. I will show you which door to walk through and when.”

HikeAnd the visual changes. “I’ll make the path for your feet,” He says, “and shed light on the stumbling stones. Just keep walking. I’ll tell you when to put down a stone or pick one up. I’ll let you know when it’s time to lend a helping hand to a fellow traveler, when to give away what’s in your hand, and when to keep walking. Sometimes you have to just keep plodding through the forest. The glen or open spaces are yet to come. Sometimes it’s okay to sit on a rock and rest and take a drink or eat. Doing is not always what’s best for you. Self-discipline is good, but listening to Me is better.”

And so, Heavenly Father, I give to You today my path. I trust You to guide me. Help me not to run ahead of You or lag behind. Give me the energy to keep up. I can walk in Your footsteps, unafraid of the dark and the animals nearby.

“Not enough,” “should,” and “ought-to” are not are not quantifiable concepts and don’t belong in God’s vocabulary for me.

Call It What It Is

From My 2009 Journal. I was in a bathroom stall at the Orlando airport on my way home from my mom’s memorial service when I had an epiphany.

Hook

The hook on the back of the door was missing, and my first thought was, How annoying! Where am I supposed to hang my purse?

Now, I didn’t want to be a complainer about insignificant occurrences in my life—a hook on a door compared to death and dying . . . a little thing like that should not have controled my emotions!

And so I started searching for the right word—because “annoying” or “frustrating” or “irritating” were really too strong to describe what I was actually feeling inside. I wanted a neutral word. That’s when I thought of “inconvenient.”

The circumstance is inconvenient.

How I feel about the circumstance may be annoying, frustrating, irritating.

And so, with the change in vocabulary, there was a shift in my attitude. I would call it what it was and acknowledge that the circumstance was less than ideal, but I didn’t have to have a negative response to it.

What has helped you to “call it what it is”?

I hugged an angel today

From my 2009 Journal, February 16. The floodgates of grief for my mom burst open today. I cried all day at work and then headed for Wal-Mart to pick up some groceries. I was at the checkout line when I met an angel.

Angel girl

Found on Pinterest

In front of me stood a harried mom with her two kids—a boy seated in the cart and a girl (perhaps 3) walking beside him, holding a Barbie doll. I knew the doll wasn’t hers because there was plastic wrap still on the hair—which she proceeded to pull off—and she began walking the doll across the floor. I wondered as I watched her if her mom knew it was in her possession. But what struck me the most—it actually took my breath away—was her stunning beauty. Her facial features were soft, round, angelic; her hair perfectly shaped and combed; and she was dressed in a pure white knit coat.

Meanwhile, her little brother was playing with a toy camera. I wondered if that was his or if it belonged to the store. Twice he dropped it from the cart.

My attention was suddenly drawn to the mom and her words:

   To the cashier:  a comment on how expensive diapers are and that she’d bought the cheaper brand.

   To her daughter: “Don’t sweep the floor with your coat; it’ll get dirty, and pick up the camera for your brother.”

The mom finished paying for her groceries and then turned to her daughter. “I’m not buying that for you; give it to the lady. It doesn’t belong to you,” she demanded. I must confess I felt perturbed at her for allowing the child to carry it with her throughout the store if she had no intention of purchasing it.

At those words, that sweet angelic face shattered into a wail of grief. It was not out of rebellion—I think I can tell the difference. If there had been rebellion in the tears, I would not have responded as I did.

The little family headed for the door and I asked the cashier, “How much is the doll?” Quickly she scanned it. A mere $4—a small amount to me, but perhaps out of reach for a mom buying cheap diapers. “Put it on my bill,” I said and ran after the little girl, leaving behind my cart and my intended purchases. I knelt beside her, put my arms around her and held out the doll. “If it’s okay with your mommy, I’d like to give this to you.”

Mom’s response:  “You don’t need to do that; she has more Barbies at home.” And then, “Thank you.”

Quickly I returned to my cart, aware that I was holding up the line. I was loading the last of my goods onto the conveyor belt when out of the corner of my eye, I saw the little angel barreling toward me, arms outstretched. I knelt; we hugged, tears still on her lashes, tears in my own eyes. I don’t know if she said a word, but I whispered, “I love you.” It was sweet comfort to my grieving soul.

It wasn’t until I was at my car, parked a long way from the door, that I realized I’d forgotten to pick up the $5 rotisserie chicken I’d planned for supper. “Oh well,” I thought, “I’ll stop in at Kroger on the way home, although it’ll be more expensive there ($6 or $7).”

I was still kicking myself over my forgetfulness and the added grocery expense when it occurred to me that if I had made time to go to the chicken aisle at Wal-mart, I would have missed my angel hug. I ran into Kroger, and there on the heating table was one roasted chicken that had been reduced—to $4. I think God was grinning.

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?

Stay put or run?


Run and hideI Samuel 23:2-3.
I’ve always wondered why David went into hiding from his enemy King Saul? Couldn’t God have protected David if he chose to stay put and not run? Did God tell him to run? Did instinct? Would it have been foolish to stay put when a spear was thrown at his head?

God delivered him every time, but it seems He could have done it without David having to run and hide all the time. Daniel stayed put. And Shadrach and his buddies did too. They didn’t go underground when persecution started. Perhaps, unlike David, they had nowhere to hide. Corrie ten Boom went underground when she chose to hide Jews. Risky no matter what. But when caught, God delivered David, Daniel, and Corrie. But He didn’t deliver martyrs in the early church, and He didn’t deliver Corrie’s sister Betsie from death. (Is that a cop out to say He delivered her from further torture?) When do you go into hiding, and when to the lion’s den?

Two things go through my head: this was part of David’s training to let him experience God’s faithfulness in the hard times as well as learn about this part of his future kingdom. Second, man has freewill and choice. God could have knocked out Saul at the first sign of rebellion, but He continued to give Saul chances to repent. And Saul refused. Obedience to God’s command in the moment is the key, I think.

What’s your opinion?