His Choice, My Choice

Journal 2010

I struggle with the concept of predestination. Romans 9 makes it clear that before the twins Jacob and Esau were born, before they’d made any life choices, God declared that the elder would serve the younger.

Why?

To carry out God’s purpose of selection “which depends not on works or what man can do, but on Him who calls them” (v.11). God decided ahead of time. It had nothing to do with man’s choices. God loved Jacob; He hated Esau.

Question: Was God unjust to do this?

Answer: No! “I’ll have mercy on whom I want to have mercy and compassion on whom I want to have compassion” (v. 15).

Think of it this way:

            He didn’t reject Esau; he just didn’t have mercy on him.

            He could have hated Jacob, but instead He had mercy on him.

Verse 16 says God’s gift of mercy is not a question of human will or effort, but rather of God’s mercy. God doesn’t have mercy on me because I deserve it.

Somehow in my self-righteousness, I believe God owes me because I’ve done something right. Some part of me wants to take credit for how good I am. But I’m looking at the world through faulty lenses, not from God’s perspective. (Job’s friends made the same mistake.)

This same chapter in Romans says God raised up Pharaoh for God to display His power so that God’s Name could be proclaimed around the world. God is the Potter. He gets to choose and decide what He wants to do with the clay in His hands—the clay that He created and formed out of nothing. My part is to submit and be grateful for His mercy. Even my ability to make good and right choices is a gift from Him.

All humanity is in a big pit, wretched and blind, with sores all over our bodies, up to our waist in filth, “ripe for destruction” (Romans 11:32). God’s mercy reaches down and offers to pull us out of the pit. I am too weak, however, to even raise my arms to Him. In His mercy, He chooses me. He bathes me, puts salve on my sores, and restores my sight. I didn’t do anything to deserve His love, grace, and mercy. But once I’ve been chosen, in gratitude I pledge allegiance to serve Him with my whole heart and for always.

I see Him reaching down to pull another one out of the pit. But this one resists God’s efforts to rescue him. He wants to try to get out of the pit on his own, but he can’t. He, too, needs God’s mercy, but he blames God for the condition he’s in.

God’s choices are all about His glory and His Name:

           . . . display My power, My name proclaimed (v 17)

         . . . make known His power and authority (v 22)

           . . . wealth of His glory (v 23)

If I view God as self-serving, arrogant, and egotistical, I become a reluctant worshiper. It feels like a power struggle, like a kid who doesn’t want to take a bath—petulant, balking, what’s-the-point, I-like-being-dirty, leave-me-alone kind of feeling. I’ll take one because I have to because you’re the parent, bigger and stronger than I am, and you have the authority and power to force me into the tub. Never mind that it’s good for me! Stubborn, arms crossed, crying, “I’ll get the water all dirty!” How foolish! I’m caked in red-clay hair, filthy feet, and body sweat.

When at last I give in, God sends a gentle shower and sweet-smelling soap for silky soft hair, moisturized skin, and scrubbing bubbles between the toes. And then He engulfs me in a gigantic fluffy wrap, gives me warm flannel PJs with feet in them, and tucks me between clean sheets.

So, what about “His Name? His glory? His power”? After I’m all safe and secure, He returns to His job—the most powerful ruler of the universe. He has work to do in His executive office, affairs of state I don’t need to know or worry about. But if I get scared in the night or need a drink, all I have to do is call His Name. It’s not that He’ll come running to meet my demands, but He’ll assess the need and respond accordingly. He knows if I’m truly thirsty, or if I just need the reassurance of His presence.

And the funny thing is, one way He protects His Name is by demonstrating to the world His love and care for His family. Moses appealed to His sense of power, authority, and reputation when God was ready to destroy the Israelites. “What will the nations think? he queries Yahweh.

God may be the most powerful force in the universe, but He’s my Daddy!

Clothespins and B.O.

Journal 2005 Visual: We all have a lot of stinky stuff inside our hearts. And we walk about with clothespins on our noses so that we won’t (or can’t) smell ourselves. But others smell us, and they’re repelled. Eventually, the clothespin pinches hard enough that we remove it, or we start to sweat and it slips off, and when we smell ourselves, we don’t like it. I think God sometimes removes the clothespin, and we blame Him or others for the stench, never realizing it comes from or own b.o.! So, we have a choice—keep the clothespin on our nose or allow ourselves to smell and get motivated to clean up with God’s help. Freedom is not having to wear a clothespin on one’s nose because the inner aroma is now sweet.

Lord, in Your sovereign timing, would You remove the clothespins I’ve been keeping on my nose? And once removed, will You help me get rid of the stench and fill me with Your fresh air instead? Lilacs and cinnamon and peppermint and guava nectar and mangos and freshly baked bread, and sweet air after a rain and roast beef and rose petals—but mostly lilacs. Amen.

2022 Update. I’ve changed my mind about the statement “I think God sometimes removes the clothespin.” He never violates our will. It is our choice to leave the clothespin on, and He waits patiently for us to remove it before He can clean up what’s inside.

Seek God, not an experience.

From my 2016 Journal.

After struggling with this issue for years, I lay to rest the notion/teaching that I’m missing something because I don’t have certain spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, raising people from the dead, healing sickness and disease by a touch, or handling snakes without getting poisoned.

Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits [to Peter], and all of them were healed (Acts 5: 12-16, NIV).

After Jesus’ ascension, Peter, the man who denied Jesus three times, begins to perform miracles of healing and casting out demons. Peter didn’t ask for this gift. It was conferred upon him—according to God’s design and purpose. I don’t have the gift of healing, but I have seen clients delivered of evil cosmic beings because, and only because, the person willed it to be so and because Christ’s death defeated demonic forces. I have no power in myself to do diddly-squat! It’s by God’s very will and choice that I draw breath and move and have my being.

I’ve been standing around with my palms up, asking and ready to receive whatever God has for me. Instead, He says, “Just get to work! Quit standing around waiting. When and if I hand you something, open your hand or reach for it in obedience.” If I refuse a gift, then I’m being rude or disobedient. It’s not so polite to extend my hand to demand that someone give me a gift!

The next verse says, Then the high priest and all his associates who were members of the party of the Sadducees were filled with jealousy.

“And don’t be jealous,” God says, “if I give one gift to someone else that you think you want or deserve. I know exactly what gift(s) you need—best for you and best for Me. Now get to work and enjoy what I’ve given you!”

Seek God, not an experience.

Do you want to get well?

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6 NIV).

From my 2012 Journal. The story of Jesus healing the disabled man at the Pool of Bethesda intrigues me. This place was a hotbed of sick folks. Did Jesus heal anyone else there that day, or did He single this man out? The Scripture doesn’t say if Jesus approached him first or if the man spoke first, but it says that Jesus SAW him there and LEARNED that he’d been in this condition for years.

Astonishingly, Jesus asks him, “Do you want to get well?” What if the man had said, “No”? How foolish we would have thought him. Of course he wanted to be well—that’s why he was at the healing pool in the first place. Yet, the question isn’t quite so odd as one might think. It’s human nature not to like change—even if it’s good for us. We do a lot of “choice” work in our ministry: Are you willing to let go of your anger? Are you willing to feel the pain? Are you willing to explore why you’re medicating with alcohol?

I don’t recall any record of Jesus asking anyone else this same question, Do you want to get well? Normally the hurting person initiates the request for healing (remember blind Bartimaeus?). A client is in my office because she’s made the choice to seek healing. I rarely approach a stranger and ask if she wants to get rid of her pain. Sometimes I’ve tested a person’s sincerity by asking, “If there was a way for you to get healed, would you want to know how?”

The crippled man’s answer is also astonishing. Instead of replying yes or no, he jumps to the defense. “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me” (v. 7). (Implied: Duh, of course I do, but I don’t know how.) The Healer is in his presence, but the paralytic is looking to another source for pain removal. (“And how’s that working for you?” we sometimes ask a client.)

People go to counselors and doctors and friends and give their excuses and complaints about feeling bad, when all along The Master Healer is waiting for them to turn to the Him–the only one who has the power to heal.

Do you want to get well? What’s your excuse for not pursuing the Healer?

It’s Not About You

From my 2012 Journal. After a client processes a painful memory, often his or her response is, “I feel so much better” or “the pain is gone” or “I feel lighter.” So it’s a little startling when someone comes out of a session exclaiming, “Jesus is so wonderful!” or “God is amazing!”

These words remind me a little of the responses from those whom Jesus healed while on earth. I suspect more of them exclaimed, “I’m healed!” or “I can see!” or “I can walk!” or “My leprosy is gone!” Very few responded with “What an amazing Healer!” This is not a criticism, but an observation. We most often respond based on how something affects us. It’s human nature.

In 2009, Angus Buchan, a South African evangelist, had a heart attack while speaking to a large crowd, and he was air-lifted away to a hospital. Feeling helpless, he heard God say, “It’s not about you, Angus. You’re just the messenger.”

Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom said that at her funeral she wanted nothing to be said about her—only about Jesus. Honestly, I’m not there yet. I want to hear what people would say about me at my funeral. Even in death, apparently, I want the spotlight to be on me. I pray that by the time I die, I’ll be ready to fade into the shadows and put Jesus center stage. After all, it’s not about me, but about Christ and what He did.

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Praying for the Sick

From my 2009 Journal. I get a little confused when I hear others pray and teach on prayer for the sick. Chrissy claims the blood of Jesus “by His stripes we are healed” for anyone who is sick and expects instant physical healing. She had a little crisis of faith when her father passed away. One pastor says it’s weak praying to say, “If God wills” because we shouldn’t be asking for healing unless we know it’s His will. What if, he says, the illness is “unto death” and we don’t know the person’s heart? What if he/she needs to let go of rebellion before God wants to heal him/her? How can we ask if we don’t know what to ask for?

Maybe it’s God’s will that all be healed, but Man still has a will and a choice as to how he treats his body, and God is not obligated to override his choices. I can’t ask God to make a person choose something, but I can trust God to know how to get a person’s attention like He did for Jacob or for Jonah.

Somewhere there must be discernment in our prayers for the sick. The biblical author James says to pray for the sick, and the elders of the church should anoint with oil. Should we do this for every sniffle?

Sometimes I think we’re so focused on physical healing, we forget to pray for the spiritual. Jesus often mentioned the faith of the person who asked for healing. The disciples healed many sick after the resurrection. Did they stop to ask if the person wanted healing or what was preventing their healing?

Maybe our prayer for the sick could be, “Reveal to X anything that is preventing his healing, give him courage to face his pain, may God be honored through his responses and reactions, and heal his body if it will give God greater glory.”

I take comfort in the fact that God knows my heart. He can interpret my words and intent and use them for His glory. He knows me well enough to know what I believe and mean.

2020 Update.  I find it interesting to look back at how I struggled 10 years ago. Those questions no longer burn in my heart. It’s not that I have fewer questions; it’s that I’m more content with not knowing all the answers. I just ask and let God sort it out.  This past week a dear friend and prayer warrior had a massive stroke. The church gathered together to pray for her, but our emotions were conflicted. We wanted to see Mary Lee fully restored to health, but we opened our hearts and hands to release her to heaven. We trusted God to do what was best. Today she is dancing with the angels, and I’m okay with God saying no to the cries of our heart to give her physical life back.

photo of woman lying in hospital bed

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