Tag: God’s will (page 1 of 2)

When God’s Answer to Prayer Looks Different Than we Expect

It seems like infertility comes up in at least half of the conversations I’m a part.

Or, someone mourns the death of a dream – what feels like unanswered prayer.

I’ve never dealt with infertility personally. I can’t begin to understand the depth of pain, confusion, and frustration that couples experience. But I do know what the death of a dream feels like. I can recognize the expressions of weariness, longing, and “what’s wrong with me that God doesn’t answer this prayer that I feel like is coming from a pure place?”

I have godly, faithful friends who have prayerfully entered into IVF or adoption. They have dreams, but open hands, desiring to be responsive to God’s leading. They do their part. They are responsible. They read and ask questions and look at finances and trust God. They pray for guidance and clear direction and step forward in faith.

And then, and then…. There’s no pregnancy, or no adoption match, or the adopted child endangers the rest of the family and has to be released to a different home.

And my friends are left asking, “Whaaat? God we trusted You!!! We thought we were following your leading!!!! Where did we go wrong?  A + B is supposed to = C! What is wrong with OUR MATH? Don’t you love us? Aren’t you a good God? We thought you were!”

It saddens me when I see people grieving and at the same time, beating themselves up for “Reading God wrong.”

As followers of Jesus we really want to be honest about the desires of our hearts. We also really want God’s direction and want to submit to His will that may look different than ours.

Many years ago, when John and I had been married for a few years and were serving a church in a suburb of Chicago, we began to feel that our time there was coming to a close. We prayed and began to be open to churches that would write John asking him to consider being their pastor.

When I reflect on this time, I think we were as sincere in seeking God’s will as we possibly could be. Our motives were both as pure and as selfish as human motives can be.

We sought counsel from other wise believers. We asked questions. We thought we were listening well, but who knows.

We had interviews with several churches over time and ended up sensing a called to Washington D.C. where John would be the executive associate pastor at a large church. We prayed a LOT about this.

The senior pastor and his wife were godly leaders who would mentor us and became close friends. But other than that, NOTHING was as we expected. NOTHING was easy.

We moved away from our home and family for the first time.

We had no money and moved to the city with the highest cost of living at the time.

I went 8 months pregnant with our second child (the first – Katy – only 19 months old).

We knew no one and moved to a fast-paced, power-obsessed, transient community.

The church, in an urban area drew people from a wide radius averaging 30 minutes away, so we didn’t see the people from our faith community in our neighborhood during the week.

Here’s the thing… We prayed like crazy, but the circumstances didn’t change during the years we lived in D.C. It was just HARD. And it left us questioning, “Did we MISS something, Lord? Is THIS hard thing really Your will?”

I’ll certainly have questions when I get to heaven, but in the meantime, here’s what I see:

  • Circumstances may be hard, but God is still faithful. Rest in His character more than you wrestle with your circumstances. During our time in D.C. He knit us together as a family and drew us to Himself in dependance.

  • Because the answer to our prayer doesn’t look like we expect doesn’t make it any less a good answer.

Mt. 7:11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

  • God’s will isn’t necessarily the easy thing. It isn’t necessarily the hard thing. He is God. His ways just aren’t our ways. (ugh!)
  • God is not a gleeful trickster with ONE right door for us to choose. There may be more than one choice that will be pleasing to Him, and IF we get it “wrong” He can still redeem it. He is the God of infinite chances.

“Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything and everywhere becomes an occasion for good and an encounter with God.” Richard Rohr

 

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Going There With Each Other

Two weeks ago my best friend from college called on a Sunday afternoon to tell me she has been diagnosed with ALS.

Yes, that ALS – the horrific Lou Gehrig’s disease that eats away at your muscles til you are a rag doll of your former self.

Arms and legs progressively stop functioning . It also impacts your voice and breathing; lifespan shortens as complications related to lung function intrude.

I simply could. not. deal. I couldn’t accept that my vibrant full-of-LIFE friend with the most infectious laugh on earth might have to experience this crippling horror.

Instead of leaning in, I wanted to lean out. Instead of turning towards, I wanted to turn away. Continue reading

When You Pray and it Doesn’t “Work”

For 6 months I got used to waking in the middle of the night, prompted to pray for my brother, who was fighting cancer. I prayed with many others for healing. I prayed specifically, passionately and with complete faith in God’s power.

He died July 18th.

You’ve had a similar experience? Yeah, I thought so.

These days I can get downright snippy with God. Now I wake in the night, or my mind turns to Him through the day and I sometimes think, “Why bother? Why talk to God about the lesser things when He did not seem to care enough to fix this great big thing?”IMG_1403

Of course I know some of the “right” theological answers to this question.

Yes, David was ultimately healed and is alive and whole and free of pain with Jesus.

Yes, we live in a broken world and illness and death are a consequence of the fall…God is sovereign…Our minds are too small to grasp His grander plans…He will cause ALL things to work together for good to those who love Him…He is more concerned about our character than our comfort… Blah blah blah…

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Sometimes when you FEEL in the “depths of despair” as Anne of Green Gables would say, you don’t care about the words.

But I keep praying. I keep talking to God and I’ll tell you why.

I keep praying for the same reason a child keeps talking to her parents after she hasn’t gotten her way.

There’s something deep inside me that still knows that God loves me and I am drawn to Him.

There is something in me that knows there is something bigger going on.

Prayer doesn’t “work” in the way we’d like it to. It doesn’t “work” as in we pray to get what we want. We pray to get what God wants.

I think we make the mistake of seeing prayer as transactional, when it’s primarily relational.

I still don’t know what to do with those verses that exhort us to ask and receive, be the widow badgering the judge, have faith to move mountains, but I can get on-board with this thought from Tim Keller.

We can be sure our prayers are answered precisely in the way we would want them to be answered if we knew everything God knows. Tim Keller

Prayer makes more sense to me when I envision myself in a boat tethered to the shore (God) and prayer is the process by which I pull myself to it/Him – pull my will in line with His.

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Still, I often feel tossed around by the huge waves of confusion. I squint to even see the shore, desperately trying to hold on to the rope that tethers me to to Truth. I have been reading Philip Yancey’s book on prayer and find I’m in good company.

“The only final solution to unanswered prayer is Paul’s explanation to the Corinthians: ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.’ No human being, no matter how wise or how spiritual, can interpret the ways of God, explaining why one miracle and not another, why an apparent intervention here and not there. Along with the apostle Paul, we can only wait, and trust.” Philip Yancey

What has your experience been with understanding prayer?

Linking up today at…

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What to do When You Don’t Know What to Do

I’m trying to get my feet back on the ground after a stretching season, so today, a re-post from 4 years ago. 

I ran into a 23-year-old friend the other day and asked how she was doing. “Being in your twenties is…awkward!” she answered.  “All these questions about what you’re going to do with your life…who you’ll be, where you’ll go…what to say ‘yes’ to.”

That same day I had coffee with a fifty-something friend who said her son is wrestling with some of the same unsettledness, and she herself is in a time of transition that has raised questions about God’s direction.  She said, “I thought by this age I’d have it figured out and be cruising along!”

24 hours earlier I had had dinner with a thirty-something friend who said, “My life looks a lot different now than I thought it would.”

Each person’s situation was different, but there was a common theme.  If I were God (a job that’s apparently already taken) I’d give detailed instructions like:

“Susan, I want you to move to 673 Elm St., Provo Utah,  join the Church-of-People-on-the-Right-Track, take the job with State Farm, (not General Mills), and order the tomato soup at Panera for lunch.”

And sometimes in the Bible God does that, like when God gives Ananias specific instructions (Acts 9:11) to go to the house of Judas on the street called Straight, (Love it!), but often it’s a bit fuzzier, like in Acts 15:28 where Paul writes, “It seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit…”

When I’m in seasons of discernment and transition, the three words that I feel like God often whispers to me are “Open your hands”

  • Open your hands…to release your plans in favor of God’s. Acknowledge your dreams, but don’t clutch them.  Release them to God to change, add, refine…
  • Open  your hands…to receive counsel from wise advisors who know you well, but don’t clutch it either.
  • Open your hands…to use what God has put in them, whether that seems like saying “yes” to dramatic invitations, or something that seems very small and quiet.  Respond to what God has put right in front of you.

That’s just me.  What has been helpful to you when making life decisions?  What have you sensed God whispering to you?

The Five Hardest Words You May Ever Say

My phone pings and I look at another text update from my sister-in-law.

My brother David, who is two years younger than me, my brother who is strong and fit, my brother who is faithful and kind and always has a great sense of humor, has cancer. Stage 4.

And day and night we, his home team, in the bleachers and on the bench, pray for healing. For relief from unbearable pain and nausea, for strength and courage.

We are a family of Jesus-followers with a long heritage of belief and a sound-track of “Great is Thy Faithfulness”.  We trust in a giant of a God. We know without a shadow of a doubt that our God is powerful and loving and can heal David with both hands tied behind His back (so to speak).

In the past two years one of our closest friends was healed from Pancreatic cancer. Unheard of. A miracle. Another close friend died of Pancreatic cancer. Both were faithful, both trusted the goodness of God and the power of prayer.

So what do we do with that as we walk with David through this fiery furnace? How do we pray with total faith and hope for the kind of healing we want for David while acknowledging that, for whatever crazy reason, it may not be God’s will to show off?

I think the hardest thing we do is to join Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in being “if not” Christians.  Continue reading

An Open Letter: 5 Things to Consider When Seeking God’s Direction

Dear M&A,

It’s hard to believe you’re coming up on your second anniversary!  In those short years you’ve faced many hard decisions, huge change, and intense challenges. Now, at the end of grad school, you face some more. More open doors and some that may shut. All with their own set of consequences.

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I’m writing you this now because Dad and I have been where you are. And I’m writing it here because you’re not alone. Many who read this are trying to discern God’s will – trying to decide:

  • Should I quit this job?
  • Move to this place?
  • Marry this person?
  • Break up with that person?
  • Start a graduate degree?
  • Take this risk?

So today I want to tell you about a time early in our marriage when we were trying to discern God’s will. We felt like we had outgrown the setting we were in and were prompted to open ourselves to a move. We prayed, sought counsel, and explored options.  In the end Dad received a call to a large church across the country in a place where we knew no one. In a place with a different pace of life, different culture, and different values.

In both the process of deciding, and the reality of living the following two years, I think we learned some things about God and His ways. I’d love to share some of our lessons, just as I’d love to hear what you are learning in this season. Continue reading

Ski Jump Decisions

Last night my husband brought up a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad recurring subject that scares me as much and flying off an Olympic ski jump.

The one where he says we really need to think about selling our house because it’s going to cost us too much over the long-haul to live here. Whenever he raises it I either run crying from the room screaming “Over my dead body!”, or cover my ears, shut my eyes and singing “LALALALALA”.  It’s not a decision I want to face.

Last year our daughter and new son-in-law also had a big decision to make.  Maggie had applied to grad school and had the mixed blessing of getting into every school she applied to.  It blew us away.  Who knew?  So it came down to a decision between John’s Hopkins (stay in D.C.), London School of Economics (go), and Berkley (go).

What’s a decision you’re facing right now?  Leave your job?  Go back to school?  Stay in a relationship you’re afraid is unhealthy?  Move? Continue reading

Prayer Failure “So that…”

I understand prayer about as well as I understand car repair.  That is to say I might recognize some of the bigger parts, like the engine, say.  But how the whole thing works?  It’s totally beyond me.

Still, I pray.  The illustration that has been most helpful to me in framing my prayer life is that of a small boat on a lake, tethered by a rope to the shore.  We, in the boat, would be crazy to try to make the shore move to us.  Instead, our job is to pull ourselves to the shore.  In other words, align ourselves with God’s will and pray that way.

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I’ve written before about a question that helps.  In 2 Kings 19 Hezekiah prays:

“Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, Lord, are God.”

I was moved by Bill Hybel’s challenge to ask ourselves, “What is the ‘so that’ of our prayers?” 

It would seem like praying things “so that” God would be glorified and His kingdom would be furthered on earth would be a sure thing.  God’s will, right?  Well, apparently God and I aren’t on the same page on this one because He has been totally unpredictable in this department lately.

A few years ago I was moved by the need for clean water in the world.  I started praying about raising money for a well.

We had just bought our first stock.  Ever.

In a passionate moment of prayer I committed every penny we would earn from that stock to go towards a well so that kids in Africa could have clean water and God would be glorified.  Doesn’t that seem like a prayer God would want to answer in the affirmative?

Our stock was BP.  The oil spill happened a couple of weeks later.  We still haven’t recovered our losses.

Still, I prayed and was committed to raising money for water.  Some friends and I did a fund-raiser.

The first time I prayed and we had moderate success, but certainly not the dramatic answer I thought would honor God.  Why didn’t He want to show off?

The second time, I prayed more.  A lot.  I did prayer walks around the place where we were going to hold the event, repeatedly asking for God’s favor so that kids could have clean water.

We had about 12 people show up and we raised $135.

“LORD!” I yelled!  “What’s up with that?”

Still, I prayed.  But with a lot less gusto.

Then last Sunday, after more prayer and preparation, we did a fund-raising brunch at a nearby restaurant.  We raised more than $8000 and then had someone offer to give $15,000 more!  Two wells, not one!  Over and above.  Abundance beyond my prayer.

Why?  What was God’s “so that” in all this?

Isaiah 65:24 says “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.”

Did He delay so that He could form something in me or others in this drawn out process?

So that He could teach us to trust Him more?

So that He could teach us perseverance?

I don’t know.  Prayer is still about as foreign as car repair to me, but I’m thinking maybe God’s “so that” is more important than mine.

Do you have any experience with prayer like this?

God Told Me…Maybe

Yesterday I got a call from a young friend trying to make a big decision.

And he said “God told me…” a bunch of times throughout the conversation.

I squirmed and felt just a tiny bit uncomfortable as I listened.

I’m not crazy about that phrase.  Not because I don’t think God “speaks”, but because 99% the time when I hear those particular words, what “God tells” the person seems to be rationalizing something they really, really already want to do.

Continue reading

Three Words to Remember When Looking for God’s Direction

It seems like everyone we know is in the midst of making big decisions these days. As John and I were talking about our own seeking of God’s will tonight, these words I wrote last year came to mind… 

I ran into a 23-year-old friend the other day and asked how she was doing. “Being in your twenties is…awkward!” she answered.  “All these questions about what you’re going to do with your life…who you’ll be, where you’ll go…what to say ‘yes’ to.”

That same day I had coffee with a friend who said her son is wrestling with some of the same unsettledness, and she herself is in a time of transition that has raised questions about God’s direction.  She said, “I thought by this age I’d have it figured out and be cruising along!”

24 hours earlier I had had dinner with a young single friend who said, “My life looks a lot different now than I thought it would.”

Each person’s situation was different, but there was a common theme. They longed for a clear plan.

Wouldn’t it be oh so nice if God always gave detailed instructions like,

“Susan, I want you to move to 673 Elm St., Provo Utah,  join the Church-of-People-on-the-Right-Track, take the job with State Farm, (not General Mills), and order the tomato soup at Panera for lunch.”

And sometimes in the Bible God does that, like when God gives Ananias specific instructions (Acts 9:11) to go to the house of Judas on the street called Straight, (Love it!). But usually it’s a bit fuzzier, like in Acts 15:28 where Paul writes, “It seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit…”

ARGH!  I want a sure thing, thank you very much!

When I’m in seasons of discernment and transition, the three words that I feel like God often whispers to me are “Open your hands”

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  • Open your hands…to release your plans – your idols, your “gotta have’s”, your picture of “perfect” in favor of God’s.  Acknowledge your dreams, but don’t clutch them.  Release them to God to change, add, refine…Clearly easier to do when you know God’s character and are starting from a place of faith in His goodness.
  • Open  your hands…to receive counsel from wise advisors who know you well and love Jesus.  But don’t clutch it either.
  • Open your hands…to use what God has put in them – your gifts, your courage, your availability.  What direction is consistent with God’s love and your wiring?
  • Open your hands…to let go of fear that you’ll “get it wrong”.  I know, I know… there are consequences to bad decisions, but God wants to be known and can redeem and redirect if we get off track.

Amazingly, when we do open our hand God fills it with His own. 

Yet I am always with you;
You hold me by my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.

(Psalm 73:23,24)

What has been helpful to you when making life decisions?  

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