Thursday, March 1, 2012

In the Unanswered

Last Friday, we discussed Max Lucado’s study Grace is Enough in Experiencing the Heart of Jesus. We talked about unanswered prayer, thorns in our flesh, and the uncertainty of what God has planned for us. Our five-year long adoption wait is another part of our journey where we are walking In the Dark. Four years ago we believed God wanted us to pray and trust Him for two siblings from Gansu province to adopt into our family.

Does He still want us to wait and hope? Is His answer to delay the fulfillment of our dream or could He actually be denying our request? Did we hear God right then? What is He saying now?

Friday ended a week that was really rough for me migraine-wise. So when we got to the question of thorns in the flesh, it was easy for Jordan to identify my headaches as an ongoing thorn. We continue to cry out to God for mercy and healing. But while we’re living in the unanswered, Max Lucado reminded me of the eternal perspective: “You wonder why God doesn’t heal you? He has healed you. If you are in Christ, you have a perfected soul and a perfected body. His plan is to give you the soul now and the body when you get home. He may choose to heal parts of your body before heaven. But if he doesn’t, don’t you still have reason for gratitude? If he never gave you more than eternal life, could you ask for more than that? His grace is sufficient for gratitude.” These words are so true and help me to put my focus in the right place.

Saturday was my birthday and I as I blew out the candles on the cake that Jordan had made for me, my “wish” turned into a prayer. God, help me to be at peace with whatever you bring (or don’t bring) into my life this year, to fully believe that your plans for me are good. Your grace is enough.

John Eldredge’s book, The Journey of Desire has also been an encouragement to me recently. He says, “Bringing our heart along in our life’s journey is the most important mission of our lives—and the hardest. It all turns on what we do with our desire. If you will look around, you will see that most people have abandoned the journey. They have lost heart. They are camped in places of resignation or indulgence, or trapped in prisons of despair. I understand; I have frequented all those places before and return to them even still. Life provides any number of reasons and occasions to abandon desire. Certainly, one of the primary reasons is that it creates for us our deepest dilemmas. To desire something and not to have it—is this not the source of nearly all our pain and sorrow?

“To live with desire is to choose vulnerability over self-protection; to admit our desire and seek help beyond ourselves is even more vulnerable. It is an act of trust…The deepest moral issue is always what we in our heart of hearts believe about God. And nothing reveals this belief as clearly as what we do with our desire.”

Desire cannot live without hope. Yet we can only hope for what we desire. There simply must be something more, something out there on the road ahead of us, that offers the life we prize. To sustain the life of the heart, the life of deep desire, we desperately need to possess a clearer picture of the life that lies before us.”

Eldredge encourages us to cling to Jesus’ response when he was tempted by Satan to prove God’s love for him. “After we have chosen to remain in our thirst for a while, the doubts begin to creep in. God, I know you love me. But I didn’t expect to have to wait so long for what I desire. We begin to wonder, Do you care for me, God? Satan jumps all over this, throwing fuel on the fire of our doubts. Jesus’ response is our only hope. ‘I don’t need to prove that God cares for me. He cares for me now.’”

And ultimately we can look to the cross for full assurance of our doubts. “Jesus came to answer once and for all our question, Do you care for me, God? That is why the ground before the cross is the only place we can take a firm stand against the doubts that come in the journey of desire. We don’t need for God to prove his love for us; he has, at the cross.”

In The Restless Heart, Ronald Rolheiser describes a beautiful picture of someone who chose to continue to trust in God instead of giving into doubts. “After the Second World War, the following words were found written on the wall of a Nazi concentration camp: “I believe in the sun, even when it isn’t shining, I believe in love, even when I feel it not, I believe in God, even when he is silent.”
In the devotional Jesus Calling, Sarah Young writes from the perspective of Jesus speaking to us: “You need Me every moment. Your awareness of your constant need for Me is your greatest strength. Your neediness, properly handled, is a link to my Presence. However, there are pitfalls that you must be on guard against: self-pity, self-preoccupation, giving up. Your inadequacy presents you with a continual choice—deep dependence on Me, or despair. The emptiness you feel within will either be filled with problems or with My Presence. Make Me central in your consciousness by praying continually: simple, short prayers, flowing out of the present moment. Use My Name liberally to remind you of My Presence. Keep on asking and you will receive, so that your gladness may be full and complete.” (February 22)

In the unanswered, we can keep on asking with a surrendered heart that remains full of desire. We can fill the emptiness within our hearts with His presence. We can cling to and depend upon Him alone. It’s our choice.

We can focus on self, listen to the doubts, give in to fear, be filled with despair, and give up hope. Or we can hear God’s voice in the midst of the battle, the way that David did. Because his greatest desire was to dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of his life, David’s heart was not overcome with fear of the enemy and of all that might happen. His response to God exemplifies the choice that I want to make.

“The LORD is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid?
The LORD protects me from danger—so why should I tremble?
When evil people come to destroy me, when my enemies and foes attack me, they will stumble and fall.
Though a mighty army surrounds me, my heart will know no fear.
Even if they attack me, I remain confident.

The one thing I ask of the LORD—the thing I seek most—is to live in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life, delighting in the LORD’s perfections and meditating in His Temple.
For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary.
He will place me out of reach on a high rock.

Then I will hold my head high, above my enemies who surround me.
At his Tabernacle I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
Singing and praising the LORD with music.
Listen to my pleading, O LORD. Be merciful and answer me!

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
And my heart responds, “LORD, I am coming.”
(Psalm 27:1-8, NLT)

This is the same way King Hezekiah responded, when faced with a monstrous threat from the mighty Sennacherib to lay siege to Jerusalem. When mocked and challenged to give up hope in God (What are you trusting in that makes you so confident?” Isaiah 36:4), Hezekiah “tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the Temple of the LORD to pray.” (Isaiah 37:1)

O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, you are enthroned between the mighty cherubim! You alone are God of all the kingdoms of the earth. Listen to me, O LORD, and hear! Open your eyes, O LORD, and see! Listen to Sennacherib’s words of defiance against the living God!” (v. 16-17)

God listened.

“That night the angel of the LORD went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 troops. (v. 36)

It’s our response that makes the difference. In reality, our personal victories will not always turn out with the angel of the Lord killing 185,000 troops for us. And yet, for the prisoner in the Nazi concentration camp, there was tremendous victory in the words of hope scribbled on the walls. Those were merely physical walls for the body that did not imprison the spirit. Within the midst of great suffering, in the unanswered, we too can be overcomers through our trust in the One who gives us the strength and the hope that we need.

We can choose to focus on Jesus as Peter did when he started to walk on water, or we can focus on the wind and the waves, which will cause us to sink. (Matthew 14:28-30) We can continue to live in hope even when things look hopeless. For when our hope is in Him and not in what we’re asking Him for (Holding on to Hope), we can fully believe that He is all that we need. And we can embrace the mysterious ways of God.

In Experiencing God's Goodness I wrote: And what a wonderful thing to open the door to God's mystery! It is giving Him permission to work in His way in His time and to expect Him to do the unexpected. And it is trusting that His plan for me and for my family is the best. We haven't missed out on His best somehow. He hasn't forgotten about us. He hasn't made a mistake.

Of course, God doesn't need my permission to accomplish His purposes, but my submitting to His sovereignty allows me to experience His goodness even when things don't go the way I want them to. I am able to hope again because I believe that He is good to me and that even those things that are difficult and still unknown can be used for good in my life.

Because God is good.

Despair or deep dependence. Which will you choose in the unanswered of your life?

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