The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup, he holds my lot. The lines for me have fallen in pleasant places, indeed I have a beautiful inheritance. Psalm 16:5&6
“Many times in my life God has asked me to wait when I wanted to move forward. He has kept me in the dark when I asked for light. To my pleas for guidance His answer has often been “Sit still, My daughter.” I like to see progress. I look for evidence that God is at least doing something. If the Shepherd leads us beside still waters when we were hoping for white water excitement, it is hard to believe anything really vital is taking place. God is silent. The house is silent. The phone doesn’t ring. The mailbox is empty…” (Elisabeth Elliot - The Path of Loneliness)
So often when I read something written by Elisabeth Elliot, I feel as if she were writing about me or to me or that I am reading something I could have written in my journal. The quote above is one such excerpt, which could easily be found scribbled in my own hand in a notebook somewhere. These days, the call to me is a very consistent “Sit still, My daughter…ask me and trust me…even when it looks like nothing is happening. Sit still and wait on me. Hope in me. Hope does not disappoint.” This is the reality of the Christian life. We operate not merely in the natural. Our reality is not limited to what we can see and what we can do. As my friend Elisabeth Elliot reminds us, “There is a secret place where the Christian dwells. It is the shadow of the Almighty. Transactions take place there which none but God know.” (from The Path of Loneliness)
So often, though, I focus on what I can see…what I can do. In so doing, I miss the true reality and risk stepping outside of the will of God and into sin. Last night I got a really clear picture of the disparity between the life of the unbeliever and life of a Christian. I watched a pretty horrible movie called “Uptown Girls.” As movies go it was fairly clean…but that isn’t saying much. Where they attempted to be discreet, there was enough suggestion to give you a clear idea of what they were leaving out. But that wasn’t really what made it so horrible…and that wasn’t what gave me the understanding I am referring to. After the movie was over, I thought about the lives depicted and how people live similar lives each day…receive similar mercies and graces and providential care…and ignore the reality behind them. Like most “feel good” movies, we are led to believe that things just work out and somehow we all get a happy ending. But the reality is that behind every trial which then leads to blessing there is a God, a purposeful and kind God working all things together for the good, not as a stamp of approval on a decision or way of life, and not because we deserve it, but because He is very good. The ultimate goal of this, like creation itself, is to show forth His glory and cause men to give praise and honor where it is due; to recognize God for who He is and put our perspective of ourselves in its proper place.
I read an interview with the star of this movie, a woman who has had several public “relationships” with men. Relationships of which she has openly discussed and admitted sexual activity…and done so in a way that was matter-of-fact and as if it were just a given that that sort of thing happens. Yet she also says something like “I just believe that God guides me…teaches me lessons.” I was puzzled. But, people say things like that all the time. They also take God’s kindness and providence for granted or if they do acknowledge it, they assume approval and blessing and never consider their ways and turn their steps accordingly toward God (Psalm 119:59).
And, sometimes, neither do I.
But I am thankful that the Lord has given me this vision and knowledge of that secret place which is the true reality. That in most cases, I can see that He casts a long shadow over my life…over the good and the bad…and is working His sovereign, good and perfect will in each. By His grace, more often than not, I can say with the Psalmist: “This God – His way is perfect.” (Psalm 18:30)
Yet, still, there are times when I don’t want to sit still. I don’t want to wait. I want to see action. I want what I feel is coming to me and I want it now. I am tempted to pull myself up by my bootstraps, gird up my loins and go about the business of making my life look the way I think it needs to look. Most times, though, if I am honest, my hastiness really is not because I am convinced of the perfection of my plan but just because waiting is so tiresome.
Twice this week, I read about people who wanted to jump ahead of God. Each wanted something they felt they had coming to them…now. Here is what I read:
So the people of Gad and the people of Reuben came and said to Moses and to Eleazar the priest and to the chiefs of the congregation, … And they said, "If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants for a possession. Do not take us across the Jordan." (Numbers 32:2-5)
And he said, "There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.' (Luke 15:11-12)
In the first instance, God had instructed them to go the whole way across the Jordan to a land of untold beauty and riches, a land prepared especially for them…a land they had to continue to toil and fight for. The tribes of Reuben and Gad spied out something readily available that seemed like all they were hoping for, one which seemed perfect for their needs. They were no doubt tired of wandering in the desert and wanted to get about the business of setting up homes and just settle somewhere. They came up with all sorts of justifications and reasons why it would be good for them to ignore the Lord’s instruction and forsake His promise. Don’t we all do this? We can come up with some pretty spiritual sounding reasons to settle for what we can have now as opposed to waiting for what God has for us. As it turned out, though, the Lord did give them this land…but they still had to go the whole way first.
In the second instance, the Son wanted the part of his inheritance that was available to him at that time. He did not want to wait for his father to die…and for the Lord to increase the Father’s wealth for that future date. The father gave it – this time without conditions or strings or provisos – and the son was allowed to go his own way.
And there were grave consequences…and then, repentance and joyful reconciliation. In each instance, the requirement was to go the whole way with God. For the tribes of Gad and Rueben, the whole was crossing the Jordan and then going back to the land they desired. For the infamous prodigal son, the whole was getting his way and suffering the consequences that he might learn a valuable lesson about sin and forgiveness.
Our Lord told His disciples: "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on [or any other thing we think is essential to our life and happiness]. … which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? … O you of little faith! ..Do not seek [these things] nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. (Luke 12:22-31)
It is our nature to seek after things…to go and do…to make a way. Jesus knows this. He did not speak the words above out of context or in ignorance of our needs. He spoke these words to people that were far more needy than any of us will ever be. If you are reading this, you likely have a computer of your own. If you have a computer, you likely have more than enough money to provide for your food and clothing and shelter. In fact, if we are honest, most of us have way more than we actually need to survive. Most of us also take that provision for granted and lament the fact that we cannot have more or nicer things to fill our homes and time.
Jesus is not ignorant of that either, and still speaks those timeless words to us “For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” This applies to each of us, regardless of our positions, our wealth or our specific wants. This applies equally to my desire to be married, as it does to someone else’s desire for a raise in salary or a bigger home for their family or a new car. We can deem these things as necessary for our lives, but in truth, only God knows what is necessary and He will freely give all things which fall into that category…and often, beyond. He does this not because we deserve it or because our behavior warrants blessing or because of how we have walked out our lives or phrased our demands/prayers/pleas but because He is good and kind and it is His nature to freely give as He pleases…to have mercy on whom He desires to have mercy.
Still, He calls us to seek His kingdom. To, in effect, seek after Him and His glory on earth the way we currently seek after a spouse, a raise, a home, a car, … [insert your thing here] “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21) Seeking after anything else first or more is to settle for something less and ultimately it will never satisfy. Our hearts were not made to be satisfied in anything but him. To try to do so is to “strive after wind.” It is also to sin.
O Lord may our treasure be you and you alone. May we seek after you and trust you with everything else! And may we also be willing to wait and not move forward until we know you have gone before and prepared the way. And may we always be willing to go the whole way with you…not for the promised prize but because “at your right hand is fullness of joy.”