Puzzling Over God’s Will

I love Coca-Cola memorabilia. Especially the old stuff. I love the style, the flared lettering, the nostalgia from a simpler time. In fact, I have a whole room decorated with old coke crates, signs and collectibles. Clif and I even painted our extra freezer red with the classic Coca-Cola logo so it looks like an old style vending machine.

My 1500- piece puzzle

Not too long ago, a friend who knew about my affinity wanted to add to my soda collection by giving me a complicated 1500-piece Coke themed jigsaw puzzle. Now, I’ve never really been one for puzzles of this size, but I eventually took it out and worked with it. For a while anyway. However it wasn’t long until I had to throw in the towel. With so many of the pieces being exactly the same color, the attempt ended up being an exercise in frustration.

Unfortunately that’s a picture of what many believers often experience while attempting to discern God’s will. To them, it seems that they’re given a lot of pieces that look similar, but don’t seem to really connect or relate to each other.  Then, using prayer, they search around for related sections, looking for spiritual signs around which to frame their decisions. All too often giving up when they can’t bring order to what seems like an impossibly disjointed jumble.

But that whole premise of finding God’s will is often wrong. The first thing we have to realize is that …

We will never know God’s will apart from knowing God Himself.

So, the most basic step in knowing what to do is to back up and get to know the Lord. While that may seem to be a nebulous target, it’s more concrete than you might think. Here’s what Jesus said. “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (John 14:21)

Do you see the connection there? Obedience is the the first step on the path to knowing who Jesus is. The reason is because obeying, especially when it conflicts with our desires, is a categorical statement of faith! It says, I may not understand, I may not even like it, but I trust You enough to do what You say. And as we trust Jesus more fully, we won’t have to work so hard to try to “figure out” what to do, what decisions to make, or how to force the parts together into a pleasing final picture. While we may never have the clarity we want about the future, truly knowing and trusting the One who holds the future helps us trust that all the pieces will eventually fit together the way they should.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
My God, in whom I trust!” 
His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. ~ Psalm 91:1-2, 4

 

25 Life Lessons from Another School Year

SCHOOL’S OUT!

Laura's First Day of Homeschool ~ 1998
Laura’s First Day of Homeschool ~ 1998

As I begin to put away class materials (for awhile), I also close the book on my seventeenth year of homeschooling.

Laura ~ 2011
Laura ~ 2011

It boggles my mind! (Has it really been that long?) As I survey the years, I can’t help but sometimes wonder how exactly I came to be here, especially since I never really planned to homeschool my kids in the first place. As I recall, it was really my husband’s idea. I went along with the plan since, at the time, I was pretty sure I could at least teach kindergarten! Little did I know back then that I’d graduate two kids from high school and still be plugging along all these years later.

Ryan ~ 2013
Ryan ~ 2013

And while I still have 5 more years to go until we officially close the doors on the Woodall Home Academy, the end of another academic year always gives me the opportunity to reflect on a few of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Jason & Leia
Jason & Leia

Now you may never respond to the siren call to homeschool, or even have kids at all, and it may be that you have packed away your child-rearing years long ago, but be encouraged to read on.  You still may discover that a lesson or two from a homeschooling mom are also applicable to you!

  1. Relationship is more important than outcome.
  1. The things that are most important rarely show up on tests.
  1. You often learn as much (or more) from failing as you do from succeeding. And properly channeled, defeat deposits within you what you need to win later on.
  1. It is not necessary to assign blame. Just deal with the situation without pointing a finger.
  1. Deal with what the situation is, not what you wish it would be.
  1. “I’m sorry,” “I was wrong,” and “I forgive you” are amazingly powerful & healing statements.  Use them honestly &  liberally.
  1. Don’t be so focused on today’s assignment that you miss the long term goal of the exercise.
  1. God is faithful and trustworthy even when everything around you seems to shout that He’s not.
  1. Always find a way to pass along praise. Remember that you didn’t get to where you are by yourself.
  1. Everyone needs to be valued & appreciated. Make sure you say thank you for the little things. (Remember,  too, it won’t matter if you noticed, if you never bother to say it.)
  1. Stop what you are doing and look up. Focusing on someone’s face is a key way to tell them you think they are important.
  1. Your faithfulness, diligence and attention to detail matters more than you think it does.
  1. Never think you are too important, too smart, or too capable to ask for advice.
  1. Batteries need to be recharged. So do you. Vigilantly schedule &  guard your times of rest.
  1. How you say it is just as important as what you say.
  1. God loses nothing and wastes nothing. Always be on the lookout for the bigger lesson in everything that comes your way.
  1. Learn to ‘stick with it.’ Things of worth rarely come about instantly. Most that is truly valuable requires a long term investment.
  1. Some times the best thing to do is start over.
  1. Learn to laugh… a lot (especially at yourself) Don’t take yourself too seriously.
  1. Don’t let your fears hold you back. God rarely calls you to do something that requires nothing of you.
  1. Be someone’s biggest fan, and keep cheering regardless of the score.
  1. Value criticism more highly than praise. Sometimes even your enemies tell you the truth.
  1. Learn to distinguish between what is urgent and what is important. They are rarely the same.
  1. Persistently keep saying what needs to be said, even when no one is listening. You need to hear it too.
  1. Invest time in knowing God and loving people. In the end, that’s all that really matters.

 

3 Reasons You May Not Find God’s Will

I once heard a pastor say that close to 90% of all the answers pertaining to what God wants you to do can be found by consulting the Bible. I wholeheartedly believe that most of our anxieties about God’s will can largely be relieved by studying the scripture and following through on its guidance. Now I know that it’s not always easy, simple, or convenient to obey, but figuring out what He says isn’t as complicated as a lot of people make it out to be. (See more on How to Find Answers) But even though it’s not usually complex or mystical, there are definitely those times when the Lord isn’t as forthcoming with specifics as we’d like… but I’ve discovered that not knowing isn’t always a bad thing. Here’s why…

3 Reasons Why You May Not Know God’s will…

God is merciful

1 Peter 4:19those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

The Apostle Peter reveals some disturbing news about God’s will. The above verse states forthrightly that it is His will that some will suffer. Now, this is not really what most people want to hear when they are asking for divine guidance, is it? We prefer for Him to simply rubber stamp our plans for health, wealth and prosperity. However, all too often difficulty and pain serve as indispensable catalysts for great spiritual growth and change.

I often think about the martyr Jim Elliott as a prime example. Though possibly not as well known as he once was, this devout man of God heard and answered the call of the Lord to take the Gospel to the hostile South American Auca natives. I imagine that he made plans carefully and prayed fervently before leaving by small plane for his appointment with history. But what if God had made it clear up front that he would be brutally murdered soon after he encountered the very people he was sent to reach? That the seed of faith that now grows in that community would have to be watered in with his own blood?How likely would he have been to diligently pursue that mission field? Do you think he would have wanted to leave his wife and child knowing for certain that he would never return?

But as history eventually proved, Elliot’s death was the conduit through which others reached those people for the kingdom of God… and additionally, his brave story of commitment has touched millions and inspired thousands to the mission field.
So, sometimes God doesn’t tell us what’s ahead because He knows that TMI (too much info) might actually get in the way of us doing the very thing we’re asking about! And isn’t responding without knowing all the details the definition of trust and faith?  (Hebrews 11:1)

God wants to direct us.

 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.- Psalm 119:105

That verse from the Psalms is often quoted by Christians who are looking for guidance. But instead of being satisfied with a lamp, many are secretly hoping God will give them a spotlight instead. I mean, most of the time we think one good look at ‘the big picture’ would be the best thing to get us motivated in the right direction. However, if we actually did see the whole map of our life all at once, the natural inclination would likely be to say “Thanks Lord, I’ll take it from here,” then head off in the direction we think looks best. But God doesn’t intend to send us on a mission alone. Instead, He invites us to join Him in a journey, following Him step by step, and often that means keeping the ultimate destination and encounters along the way cloaked in mystery.

God wants us to seek a relationship and not just answers.

Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always. ~ Psalm 105: 3

If you’re asking God about His will, and you’re getting nowhere, it might be that you need to back up and ask yourself a significant question… and that is:

What is your motivation for seeking God’s will in the first place?

If it’s about finding what will make you happy, prosperous or otherwise personally fulfilled, then you shouldn’t be surprised when God is silent. (James 4:3) The creator of the universe isn’t the celestial version of a vending machine or a google search, doling out favors and answers whenever we want. Jesus is always seeking relationship. And so, sometimes He withholds the specifics because He knows that all we are really looking for is the answer. But He wants more.

He wants you.

So remember the encouragement found in Psalm 105. No matter what question you have for God, your primary motivation for coming to Him has to be that you want to know Him! As you seek Him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30) and delight yourself in Him (Ps 37:4), you’ll find that He supplants things that are less worthy of your affection. Then He is glad to give you “the desires of your heart” which surprisingly turns out to be God Himself!

 

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Baltimore & Beyond

The news has been dominated by scenes from the streets of Baltimore for much of this week. The rampant, lawless behavior of the mobs as they vandalized neighborhoods and assaulted those who were assigned to keep the peace and protect innocents was disturbing to watch… especially since these incidents unfolded less than 40 miles from Washington DC, the location of so many symbols and monuments of freedom, justice and equality for all people. With this being only the most recent in a string of such incidents, it’s hard not to wonder what has happened to suspend the civility and respect that used to be one of the hallmarks of these great United States.

baltimore-riotBut really we shouldn’t surprised by these actions or theorize as to the cause of such wanton criminality since the book of James addressed the underlying reasons for this type of human behavior nearly 2000 years ago. I imagine that if someone seeking a salient commentary on the violence and chaos that streamed across the airwaves were to stick a microphone in James’ face today, what you would no doubt hear would be be a verbatim quote of the statements that head up chapter 4 of his book.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.~ James 4:1-3

The inclination has been to point to the wrongful death of Freddy Gray as the flash point that spawned the initial hostility in Maryland, but these very relevant words from James reveal the root problem of what we’ve seen on news clips as just a larger, more widespread and graphic depiction of what happens every day in offices, classrooms, families, and any place where people interact with each other.

And the hidden rationale for so many chronic conflicts that persist in so many places in the world has little to do with exploitation, racism, governmental failure or any other of an ever expanding laundry list of perceived grievances cited by constantly feuding pundits as the motivating factors of discontent. Scripture reminds us that the real source of tension lies deep within the heart of every human being and cannot be fixed by new laws, more money or better education.

James describes us as people who want for things, but when we cannot fulfill our desires, we descend into restlessness and pleasure-seeking. Whether it plays out in a barroom brawl, across the dinner table, in a contentious church board meeting, or as the lead story on CNN, these self-focused attitudes naturally and inevitably reveal themselves in quarreling, fighting and discord.

Fortunately, we aren’t left in this desperate condition, doomed to be controlled by our baser instincts. James hints at the only real and lasting solution to humanity’s problem.

It begins by voluntarily choosing to “submit yourselves to God.” (James 4:7)

If you study the Greek word used here, you’ll discover that “submit” means to ‘subject one’s self to” another; or to “yield to” another’s admonition. When we recognize the Lord as our Supreme Authority, and submit to Him through faith in His Son Jesus, the distance created by sin is erased. Once we enter into a relationship with the Lord and get to know Him, we can learn to rest in the confidence that He is in control and will do what is best for us. Though sin that runs rampant in the world will always impact our lives, we can still trust the Lord to take even desperate and confusing situations and use them for our good and His glory.  (Rom. 8:28)

And though we might still feel the urge to fight, argue, and prove our particular point, with an attitude of submission to Christ, then and only then, will His peace will rule our lives.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. ~ Romans 8:5-6