I was driving home tonight after hearing a popular Christian speaker, who at one point talked about becoming everything God has designed us to be. This entails believing who He is and what He says, and who I am, which led me down a rabbit hole of thoughts until I distinctly heard, “What is keeping you from believing God?”
So don’t quote me on this, all you math and science people, but I heard once that, mathematically speaking, there’s no such thing as “deceleration.” It’s actually represented in equations as negative acceleration: If you’re going faster and faster, the number is positive, and if you’re slowing down, the number is negative, but both numbers in the equations represent a change in speed. And you’re thinking, I didn’t come here for a math lesson… So the point:
There’s a man in the Bible who, when Jesus talked to him about his belief, honestly and wisely blurted out, “I do believe! Help me in my unbelief!” (That’s in Mark chapter 9). Now the unbelief here is in reference to Jesus, what he is capable of, who he is. But if the man didn’t believe one thing, it’s because he did, ever so subtly, believe something else.
So when Adam and Eve were in the garden, God basically told them, “All I have here is yours: All the food, the whole garden to enjoy, except just leave this one tree alone. But everything else, have at it!” And they were content for awhile to dwell there, believing God’s word that He had given them everything they needed.
And then there’s this snake.
He comes up to Eve and says, “Did God really…?” And she questions what God said. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, she just has to stop and think. But the serpent keeps going, on and on about how this one tree is so great, and how important and special it is, and how God is withholding this from her, and how she’s missing out on something… The lies begin to creep in, clashing with the truth, and all Eve is doing so far is weighing these two opposing words, but now she has a choice to make: Who will she believe?
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate… (Genesis 3:6)
We all know how that turned out.
The point here is that she only began to disbelieve what God said when someone else started talking. The enemy whispered in her ear, just like he did to the man in Mark, just like he does to us: You don’t have what you need, God won’t come through for you, you can’t trust God… And there is a choice to make: Will you believe the fear, the shame, the past, the coworker or friend or family member or random stranger who said that thing? Because if you’re having trouble believing something God says, it’s because you believe something else—it’s a negative belief. If you’re not believing the truth, you’re believing a lie, and lies are all the enemy has. He can’t tell you who you are, but he can try to convince you of who you are not.
Believing what God says about who you are and what you’re capable of, even if you’re not entirely sure what that is yet, will cause an acceleration in you to live the story He wrote about you while He was still singing the stars into being. And God is immeasurably excited about you and your amazing story (because Amazing are the only stories God writes).
So: What is keeping you from believing God?
This is a paper I wrote for my creative non-fiction class, edited slightly to post here on my blog. Any feedback or constructive criticism would be appreciated!
There are people who insist that people don’t change, that a person is only what they always were, and will always be what they are.
I can’t say I remember the first time I met Lisa, or how we became friends to begin with. I told her so at her wedding, before she went off on her honeymoon: I said I couldn’t imagine my life without her; she’s like a sister to me. I do remember one event which really solidified our friendship. It was one weekend at Women of Faith, an annual Christian women’s conference; Lisa was rooming with my mother and me at the hotel. On the way back from a meal break, my mom had gotten us lost and made us late and then been mad at me for it, and I was so frustrated with her that I couldn’t sit in the arena. I wandered around the concourse with Lisa until we found a little room reserved for prayer. We spent the rest of that session together in that room; we missed the whole Mandisa concert, but she didn’t care and stayed with me anyway. That’s how Lisa is: She deeply cares about people. She has this love that seems to pour out of her and spill all over you until you’re drenched; her smile and her belief make you feel like you can do anything. When I first knew her, I thought she was a perfect model, with her natural blond curls and slim tall feminine build and perfect kind smile. She is the most joyful and beautiful person I know, my best friend.
We talk about everything. We’ve had conversations about faith, about politics, boys and men, movies and romance, food and fashion. Once, when we were talking in my car, I had an idea, almost an image, pass through my mind, and I told her what it was: It’s as if the whole world is black and white, and when she walks into a room, she brings the color with her. It’s just who she is. She is the city on the hill, a beacon. She is also a former felon.
When we would talk together, she sometimes told me about her history. She wasn’t always full of light and grace. I don’t remember the exact conversations; I’ve heard her story a few times since. She told me about her teen years, how she got into alcohol and all sorts of drugs. Her mom once rented a one-bedroom apartment with a boyfriend when Lisa was only sixteen; there wasn’t room for Lisa, who was expected to figure things out on her own. She often hung out with thieves and broke into places to steal. She told me a little about her time in prison. More often than not, she was in solitary confinement, wing 3 South —“the hole.” I saw a picture of the old her: Black hair, mug shot glare. No color, no life, just resentment and hatred and darkness. She would fight anyone, for anything. She would tell me these things, and I wouldn’t believe her. I’d tell her that was a completely different person. She would agree.
Sometimes we talk about my life, my struggles and anxieties and fears. We talk about how difficult my relationship to my mother is; how it feels having to go back home as an adult; what it’s like to be virtually the only person I know who’s still single and with no children; what it’s like to feel alienated from people my own age; how it feels to question the path I had complete faith in when I took that first step over three years ago. We talk about how I’ve been through many changes in my life, yet I feel as though I’m back at Start: I did not pass “Go,” I did not collect $200. Sometimes I feel like I’m in jail, waiting, watching others take their turns around the board. The path I’ve chosen is taking me through a long and weary wilderness of papers and ink, fearful dabblings in writing, late nights spent in alone rather than out with friends, allowing ideas to form and change. Sometimes I wonder what it’s for, why God is taking me this way and if it is really Him, and I tell my friend so. She reminds me how everything is a season, how the leaves will turn eventually and the attire of my weary desert will change for something cozier, and all the trekking that feels like worthless wandering will have been worth it because I started out going somewhere and I’ll get there. She believes in change. I believe her.
When Lisa decided to follow God and to get clean, she lost everything: The friends she used to run with abandoned her; she had to take her little girl and leave her boyfriend; she really had nowhere to go. Everyone told her she would fail and be right back, and no one took her seriously. She was a single mom with a record, and a recovering addict. Employers don’t often care what a person’s felony charge was, or how much their life has changed, or how much they regret their mistake; all that most employers see on paper and before them in an interview is a felon, and felons aren’t hirable. Lisa was alone in the world with very few options, and might have given up but for the dim light growing within her that drew her on for just one more day, one more day. People who experience addiction and recovery say it’s not one life-changing moment, but a thousand impossible choices every day. Lisa chose every day to take one more impossible step into the unknown, to leave behind who she was and everything she knew, to become the beautiful person she is today—an impossibility itself—a miracle. She chose to be the impossible before the eyes of her old friends and family, every day over years and years becoming what they told her she would never be: Free.
Lisa is married now, and going through even more changes; our friendship has gone through some changes as well. She and her husband are busy learning how to become one, figuring each other out, working out how to build their new life together. She seemed distant for a while, and I was afraid the season for our close friendship may have come to an end for good; but it was only a short winter while her new marriage began its long spring. We still talk, and now I go to her house to visit with her whenever I can. Lisa and her husband just had their first baby together, a girl. She’s changing before their eyes. She will grow up with a father who loves her and a mother who believes in her ability to change and the goodness of it. She’ll also have an auntie, not by blood but friendship, who will be there as often as possible. Lisa is still my best friend; that hasn’t changed, and for that I am glad.
Though it’s much different than it used to be, life is not suddenly easy for her, because she’s not done changing. We all continue to morph into different versions of ourselves as long as we live, either becoming more and more the person God made us to be or running from that person. Every day we choose to trust what He says about who we are is a day we choose the impossible. Lisa inspires me to keep hoping one day I might be married, though I can choose to be whole and happy now regardless; to keep hoping, even when I feel as though no one else is walking the same road as me, that this season won’t continue forever. She reminds me I am exactly where I need to be in order for God to do what He needs to do with me, even if it’s not ideal. I don’t know who I’m becoming yet; I don’t know what I’ll do with this degree once I earn it, besides hang it on my wall. I believed in the beginning that this part of my journey had a purpose, that I was doing exactly what God wanted me to. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth it. This road is not easy, and it must be because it’s the right way; His roads are always narrow, after all.
Lisa told me once about being in the hole in prison, absolutely at her desperate end. Her life felt as though it was being engulfed in darkness and despair and she would never get away from it, never change; she “kited” for her mentor over and over, but her mentor let her be alone. The only book they allow you in the hole is the Bible. She read it and read it, sought and groped after all the promises and hope written in the pages, longing for the light. One day it came. As to Paul on the road to Damascus, the light came. It flooded the cell, flooded her, and the love that came with it destroyed her. To this day, it destroys her; it shines out from that hill of her life into the dim valley of single college students dwelling at home in the wilderness, reminding them that things change and people change, and light always comes.
For more of Lisa’s story, read her testimony on the Esteem Outreach website.
At night, and especially in the rain, everything can look very different. Streets you’ve driven many times look unfamiliar, the lines on the road become hard to distinguish among the many reflections from streetlights and businesses, and even though you know where you’re going, suddenly it seems like getting there has become more challenging.
This will be honest.
A friend of mine recently asked me why I seem to have changed so much in the past few months, and I realized tonight (while driving home, in this midsummer weather bummer) that part of it is because my life has become very unfamiliar to me. A lot of changes have happened in my life in a relatively short span of time, and I have been grasping for something that feels like the way things were; something familiar, from what I think of as a good time in my life. Even though it’s the same road I’ve been on, a turn somewhere brought me into the night; the lines on this road are harder to see amidst the distractions and deceptions coming from the side. I feel alone on this road, and I’m nervous about driving it. Suddenly the path I was sure of has become foreign and even frightening. Suddenly, I feel like I don’t know where I am.
I realized the things I’m grasping for are times and seasons and places that I have passed through, but can’t get back to, or things that aren’t here yet that I keep hoping will be. What I’m missing, what I’m really looking for, is something unchanging. I hunger for that place that can be reached from anywhere I am—I want the peace, the quiet stillness, the presence of my Father.
I’ve also realized the quiet is something I’ve come to dread. All my fears find a voice there, and all the worries begin to shout in the silence, and the many things I feel I must do to keep occupied suddenly seem so very important. I ride the wave of the clamor right past the secret place into more chaos, and the things I do just to keep busy really just keep me cluttered and confused. Then, when the desire to meet God in my prayer closet becomes so strong I might actually act on it, I feel guilty or ashamed for having put Him off, and so continue to put Him off (which totally fixes the problem..?). Yet in the times when I find that place, and the voice of the Lord breaks through with a blast of peace, I remember the comfort of His presence and the joy of His word. He is the solid ground I’m looking for while this ground seems unstable. He is the light that shines without distortion, though the night is dark and the rain is heavy. When I live by His presence, I find the road I’m on to be one I’m able to travel, regardless of how hard it is. I am reminded that I’m not driving alone, either in my own vehicle or as the only vehicle on this road.
I am also reminded in these times, when I allow the Holy Spirit to refresh and strengthen me, that there is no time or place in life when I can’t seek Him. Another friend of mine was recently talking about “getting to that place” where she can find God again, and when I opened my mouth to reply, the Spirit came out and said, more or less: “You don’t have to get anywhere. Find Him where you are, because He’s seeking you where you are.” How often we think we must be a certain way, or change certain things, or find a new circumstance, before we feel like we can come into His presence again. God is always where we are, right there with us. Certainly He wants to lead us into new places—but it’s impossible to be led by someone who isn’t there, so how can God be elsewhere? This brings a whole new dimension to that familiar phrase, “Be where you are.” You can’t live in either your past or your future, for better or worse. You’re not what you were, nor what you will be, but you are, here and now—and so is God. Find Him where you are, without fear or shame, without regrets, without reserve; and let Him find you, every part of you. Whether you feel completely lost or completely on track, seek Him; He already knows the road you’re on.
Thomas gets a bad rap. He is known as that disciple who needed proof, who doubted and had not enough faith; in fact, you have been mildly insulted or chastised if anyone has ever called you a “Doubting Thomas.” Someone once told the story of Thomas in a way I had never heard before, and I have never forgotten it.
Thomas was in fact a devoted disciple, as much as the other disciples. It was Thomas who, upon the insistence of Jesus to go to Jerusalem for Lazarus, despite the Jewish leaders’ threats against him, voiced to the other disciples that they should go with him even to death (John 11:16). Thomas, like the other disciples, loved Jesus, and had given up everything to follow him: his family and friends, his security, his own will. Like the other disciples, and virtually every Jewish person in that day, he had a certain idea of how the Messiah was to fulfill the Scriptures. He believed Jesus to be this Messiah, and was more than willing to give up everything and follow him. He saw Jesus do miraculous things, including raise the dead; he heard him say things no one had ever said; he challenged the religious leaders, and loved those rejected by them. Thomas followed and believed Jesus for the years of his ministry, and was waiting for that day when the kingdom of Israel would be restored, and Jesus would be its King forever—
But then he died.
After Jesus was arrested in the garden, Thomas waited—as Jesus was tried, beaten, condemned and crucified, Thomas waited—for Jesus to do something miraculous. Thomas waited for him to call the legions of angels, to call upon God himself, to let him down from the cross and show the Romans, the Jewish leaders and all the people who he really was… but he didn’t. He died.
Days later, when the other disciples came and announced that they had seen Jesus alive, Thomas felt he couldn’t afford to hope in so great a thing, and determined he should see the Lord for himself before he ever believed again.
Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29 ESV)
The end of this passage is often quoted to chastise the doubting. After all the years Thomas had followed Jesus—known him, loved him, believed in him and given up everything for him—he died. Thomas’ heart and spirit were utterly broken, and he felt like he had nothing left—certainly not hope. It was out of despair that Thomas feared to believe in so great a thing as the resurrection of his beloved rabbi and savior. And it was out of compassion, and not condemnation, Jesus answered Thomas’ heart, because Jesus knew his heart.
Perhaps you’re in a place where you feel God has left you high and dry, where every promise of His you’ve ever believed has come to naught, and you feel you can’t trust to hope that anything will ever change for the better. Maybe you’re out upon the waters and your feet are failing, and you’re afraid to cry out to God, for fear or shame or downright despair. Remember it was He who called you out upon the waves, and whom you believed enough to go. You can cry out to Him, without fear of condemnation, “I believe! But help me in my unbelief!” Because God knows the heart can only take so much, He is always there to heal the cracks and wounds, to soften it, and to fill it and fill it again. He loves us always, always believes in us that we are and can become more of the person He made us to be. When your eyes have been on the waves so long that you’ve forgotten His love, He will not hesitate to show it to you again, and to embrace you with those hands that bear the scars of it. So do not disbelieve, but believe.
^ This video is here on purpose, enjoy! ^
I was talking to my very good friend last night about my current life situation(s) and all the uncertainty that comes with, and she remarked that “Limbo” seems like the story of my life right now.
Oh, that is the most apt description of my life I have ever heard.
My autobiography could be titled “Limbo” with the subtitle, “How low can you go (and still trust God)?”
(I know that’s mixing metaphors, but it’s still true.)
In the past year I have started college solely by financial aid, lost my job, been unable yet to find a new job, had to move out of my lovely apartment and in with a friend (who is absolutely wonderful, by the way); and just today I found out that a class I took this quarter may be worthless as it pertains to my degree requirements. These are a few of the recent major happenings of my life and, needless to say, I am stressed.
I’ll admit it, this post is a little ranty, but I know I can’t be the only one who feels this way.
My favorite passage in Scripture when I first got saved was Matthew 6:25-34; you could call it the “Do Not Worry” mini-sermon (it is part of the portion known as the Sermon on the Mount). Jesus says that no one should worry about anything: if God feeds sparrows and clothes flowers, both of which are virtually useless, then He will certainly take care of a person’s every need; if one seeks Him first, that person will be supplied from heaven. It is certainly true, and I believe God keeps His promises, but man is it hard!
I feel like I am going through training on how to be Paul: “…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4:11-12).
Some may say I should think about people in other countries, especially those experiencing actual persecution for the faith. It is true: I can’t hold a candle to their suffering. When I look at the things other people go through, it makes me seem downright “whiny”. A wise woman once said something to effect of, “We don’t get to decide what is a big deal to someone else.” We can’t compare our own suffering to that of others.
After writing all of that, I am reminded of this: God Is Who He says He Is, regardless of circumstance or experience. He Is faithful, He Is love, He Is power.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
His plans for our welfare don’t mean we all get a Ferrari and a house on the coast. His plans for our welfare mean everything will be taken care of, even if it’s not the way we imagined or planned: I didn’t plan on being an unemployed student, while seeing many of my friends happily married, some with kids, able to pay their own bills.
God’s plans are also for His glory. What seems hard to us on earth—finding a job, finding a mate, breaking addiction, leaving the past, fighting through illness, mastering emotions—all of this is easy for God, not because it is meaningless, but because He is God. Jesus lived on the earth: he experienced the hard life first-hand—he even asked God to not have him go to the cross… But he went, because he trusted God, and God said that was the only way that Jesus could be The Way.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Romans 8:18 (Paul)
We can’t compare our sufferings on earth with those of others, because what tears the heart of a person can’t be measured by other people. But when I look to heaven, not as a coming thing but as something that is here now—as Jesus said, it is in our midst—then my hope is restored; there is glory to be revealed to us, and also through us:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
God has something amazing to bring through us, to be witnessed by those on earth and in the heavenly realms. Some of those in the heavenly realms include the enemy, who hates us and will do everything he can to get our eyes off God and on what’s wrong, and he’s good at it. But my God is greater, and I know my story isn’t over yet.
…we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
I know that His love is big enough for me to tell Him how I really feel; I know He holds me, and I know He is leading me. So after I’ve flopped down and complained, I get up and brush off the dirt and follow after Him, and I know He’s still smiling at me.
I wrote this in my personal journal over a year ago now, when I was feeling very discouraged. Perhaps it will encourage someone else today.
A Soldier’s Complaint
I am walking to the land He has given me to possess; I am walking in it, to possess it.
I’ve walked through deserts; through dim valleys and lush fields.
I’ve scaled high, steep hills; I’ve climbed long, shallow ones.
Through rain and sun, night and day, I have walked.
When I have walked alive, I have been dead. And when I have died, I have walked in new life.
And what I have lost along the way—it is worthless; to what I have gained, all the world does not compare.
I have nothing left, yet I have everything I have ever needed; indeed the desires of my heart are mine.
I’ve fought—I’ve fought, and been victorious, and I’ve also given up victories.
I’ve swung the sword and thrown the dagger and held fast the shield.
I’ve put on the armor, and I’ve forgotten the armor.
I’ve been wounded. I’ve been in pain.
I’ve been healed, restored, renewed.
In battles, in the war, I have fought.
I’ve died to all things, slowly and assuredly; and even to this day, I am dying!
I am walking, I am fighting—fighting for what? Walking where?
My Darling, do you not trust Me?
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for harm, plans to give you a future
and a hope.
I am so weary, I am so drained…
Run, and do not grow weary.
I can’t see where I’m going, I have to stop…
Walk, and do not grow faint.
What if I can’t run this race set before me? How can I go on?
I am with you always
Even to the end of the age…
My life is not my own. I am not my own.
You are all I have; You are all I want! I am only alive in You, and life flows through me from You.
You refresh my soul, restore my strength, and quench my thirst.
You fill my heart when I open it wide, and I overflow when I do not shut it up.
I will never leave you nor forsake you.
So I run.
I run, sword in my hand, shield on my arm.
I run, my face to the sky and my eyes to the hills; through the tempest and the eye, through the shadows and the light.
I am the torch, I carry the flame; running always for the prize,
For I know the plans I have for you
plans for welfare and not for harm
plans to give you a future and a hope.
Running home, to my Father and my Groom; fighting alongside my King and my Lord.
I have a future.
I have hope.
[Original: 28 January 2012]
When I was a teenager and my dad was teaching me how to drive, he once told me something I’ll never forget. I’m the sort of person who likes to know the whole plan and have it all laid out before I even start. So as we went along I kept asking him where I was going, and what turns I needed to take and what lane I should be in. And finally at one point he said, “You see that yellow line on the left? You see that white line on the right? Stay between them ’til I tell you otherwise.” I realized this statement applies to life in general, not just driving.
One day when Abram was minding his own business God spoke to him:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
Genesis 12:1 (ESV)
So Abram (who later was called Abraham by God) got up the next day, packed up his family and left. I imagine if anyone passed him and kindly asked him where he was headed, he might have replied, “That is an excellent question!” and kept on going. God didn’t tell him where the land was that he was going to, but He just said to go and He’d tell him when he got there. Abraham trusted God and followed Him all the way. Hebrews 11, or “The Hall of Faith,” talks about him and many other great men and women of God because of their great faith in God and willingness to trust Him with everything, no matter what. Hebrews 11 also says that all those people never actually saw everything promised come to pass—just as Abraham never saw his offspring become a great nation while he lived—which is what made their faith that much greater.
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
John 3:8 (ESV)
God doesn’t usually show us the full map of our lives, but it is all laid out before Him. Many times He doesn’t tell us where we’re going, but He always gives us the turn-by-turn directions to get there. He planned a lifelong roadtrip for us before we even existed, one meant to be awesome, though not easy. Sometimes the road gets really bad and the ride is rough; sometimes we look around and have no idea where we are. Sometimes it’s lovely out, and sometimes it seems like the wipers can’t move fast enough to clear the downpour from the windshield. God gave us the Holy Spirit to guide us, like a spiritual GPS; He will never steer us wrong, no matter what the road looks like. It’s only when we don’t trust His leading that we get lost.
Maybe you’ve felt before the way I’ve been feeling lately: that life feels smothered in a thick fog, and I have no idea where I’m going or really where I am. I never knew until recently that the bright white line on the side of the road is called the fog line, and it is there to guide drivers when inclement weather (like fog) keeps them from seeing clearly, so people don’t go driving off the road or crashing into each other. Sometimes God takes us on roads that are covered in fog or darkness, where we can’t see more than three feet in front of us (or even less). On these roads He is the fog line that we follow to keep us on course, until the fog lifts an the sun comes out; it always does, even if it’s not until the end of the road.
So when you don’t know where you’re going, just stay between the lines until He tells you otherwise; and if you can’t see the road, then hold to the fog line; keep trusting His word, and drive on.