Why I’ve decided to take up wrestling…

I’ve decided to take up wrestling.

Ha, I bet that got your attention! (Or you may just think that’s normal behaviour for me?)

In any case I’m referring to spiritual wrestling. Wrestling with God.

When it comes to our questions and doubts I believe it’s essential, because if we don’t work them through in God’s presence, we’ll either ignore them (and they won’t go away on their own), or deal with them without him, and then perhaps the answers we come up with won’t be his.

Think about human relationships: We reserve small talk and polite conversation for strangers and acquaintances, but our close friends and family get to witness our struggles, questions, embarrassments, disappointments, and doubts (as well as the good bits) because we know that the relationship can handle it, and they might even be able to help us.

How much more God?

Yet we must wrestle in the right way, and so I write this with care.

Wrestling with God

A Dangerous Fight

God is still God. The one who made and sustains the vastness of the universe. As we limber up for the fight, let’s take this into account, because there are no weight classes here!

We can’t put God in the dock and question him like a human being who must answer our accusations. This is not what I’m suggesting. Remember what God says to Job in chapter 40:

“The Lord said to Job: ‘Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!…Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his?” (Job 40)

Despite Job’s immense suffering (which he is never given answers for), he meets with God and is humbled and astounded by what he finds, saying:

Surely I spoke of things I did not understand… things too wonderful for me to know. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.’(Job 42)

This is not a surprise! God warns us of what we’ll find when we seek a serious encounter with him: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

 

A Merciful Fight

Perhaps you’ve read the mysterious story of Jacob in Genesis 32, where he wrestles with God so that he might receive his blessing?

Jacob himself doesn’t fully realise what is happening till later, he just knows that he’s filled with fear of his vengeful brother Esau, and he desperately needs the help of God. Yet when he does recognise the true nature of the fighter he says “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

What really strikes me about Jacob’s story is that he actually has no right or ability to wrestle God! It’s a reflection of God’s grace and his plans for Jacob that means that he doesn’t perish in the process.

It’s the immense grace of God that allows us to  humbly bring our doubts and questions and ask him to help us, to recast them in the light of his sovereign character, wisdom, and plans. We can wrestle with God in a way that honours him by saying ‘God I know that you are wise, good, and powerful, and yet I don’t understand/ I’m angry with you / I’m struggling/ I need help…’

In wrestling like this, we invite God to be God in our situation. We ask him to treat us according to his good character. We express our faith that he can deal with our questions and hurts, by bringing them to him. We wrestle so that we might leave the fight with greater faith and submission.

God has already promised us that he responds to this kind of bold persistence: And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. (Luke 18:7-8)

I know this post is getting bit long, but I can’t end without telling you about the heavy weight champion…

 

The Ultimate Fighter

Sorry if it’s a bit cheesy, but I hope this is a helpful metaphor. The Bible tells us that we are not left to fight alone. There is someone who wrestles on our behalf. Romans 8:34 tells us that Jesus Christ fought and defeated sin and death at the cross, and now he intercedes for us at the right hand of God!

This should humble us and give us a hopeful perspective as we prepare to engage with God in our difficulties. The true fight has already been won for us. We wrestle with one who is already on our side!

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:31-2

 

In Christ

 

Nim

10 things I’m learning about God’s guidance

In recent months I’ve had a couple of big decisions to make about things, and right now I’m seeking guidance again about whether I should do some part time study, and if so, what?

So I thought I’d chronicle what God has been teaching me about decision making and seeking his guidance.

(My one rule on this blog is that I must always write about what God is teaching me personally, and I sense that this will be one of those posts that I revisit regularly to remind myself, when the next decision comes along!)

decisions

1. It’s not easy and there are no short cuts. I’ve had to put aside extra time to pray, and think, research and plan, when part of me would really like God to write the answer in the sky or hand it to me on a plate.

2. Resist impatience. I am quick to tire of waiting on God and praying consistently and faithfully, but perceiving God’s will takes time! WAITING on God is a big theme in scripture, it trains our hearts to remember that he is God, not a divine genie!

3. The goal of seeking God’s guidance is me getting on board with his agenda, not recruiting him to mine!

4. Seeking guidance shouldn’t be passive. I need to think, get advice from people who know me, spend time in prayer and God’s word (Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105), ask good questions, and ‘push doors’.

5. God may answer in ‘spiritual’ or practical ways. Or a combination of both, sometimes by providing a clear opportunity, or a change in circumstances, or through a bible passage that seems to speak to me directly.

6. Sometimes any godly decision is the right decision. We can obsess over making the perfect decision, but if after prayer and waiting, research and ‘door-pushing’ I don’t receive any clear answers, I do what seems wisest, and ask God to bless it or show me an alternative way.

Nevertheless…

7. Sometimes God guides specifically and we need to be ready to hear it. He knows when I’m going through the motions and have already set my own agenda! Or when I’m stubbornly ignoring what he’s calling me to do. Sometimes God does call us to a specific thing, and we need to make sure we are open to hear it and obey. If I’m seeking to glorify God but making the wrong decision, he is more than able to redirect me!

8. God doesn’t see things the way I do!For my thoughts are not your thoughts,  neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways  and my thoughts than your thoughts. ” Isaiah 55:8-9

For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

9. Submission is key. I’ve had to submit my will to him again and again. I want to be in the driver’s seat, and set the direction for my own life, but I laid it down at the cross a long time ago, and it’s a process I keep returning too. God won’t be manipulated or brow beaten, he will always do what is right and good.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

10. God does all things for my good. It can be really tough when you thought God was saying one thing, and then your circumstances dictate another – a rejection letter, a missed appointment, ill health. But even when I face disappointment, complexities, and problems, the Bible promises me that nothing is wasted or futile. Romans 8:28-29, and 31-32 says 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, whhave been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

Even when things don’t go as I hoped, or God’s answers aren’t the ones I wanted, I can be confident that God who gave his son up to death for me, will keep on doing me good!

I’m still trying to learn many of these lessons, and I’m thankful for those that have been taught to me by godly friends and mentors. (Special mention goes to my wise and patient parents, who remind me of them often!)

We serve a God who is wise, gracious, and abundantly kind to sinners, he calls us to come to him for help and guidance, and he promises to answer. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5-6

 

Nim

 

 

Hating Waiting

The title says it all really.

Last week I was stuck in bed for a few days with the flu. And unsurprisingly it reminded me that I have a bit of a problem with waiting. Waiting to regain my strength, waiting to get back to work before it piled up, and waiting for 4 hours to pass so that I could take another Lemsip! Trivial examples, but I don’t have to look too deeply to find more serious things that I don’t want to wait for either!

It’s felt like I’ve been doing a lot of spiritual waiting recently too. And that feels even harder. As a church we’ve been waiting to hear from God and to make decisions about the future. And personally, I’m waiting for God to answer some prayers that I feel like I’ve been praying for a long time.

This blog post is the result of me exploring what God has said to us in his word about waiting – why we wait, what we wait for, and how we should go about waiting.

The Bible actually has a lot to say about this. It’s a subject with many facets, so forgive me for only scratching the surface.

Last week, I led a Bible study on the parable of The Persistent Widow (Luke 18). Right at the outset we are told that Jesus tells the parable to teach his followers that they should always pray and not give up.”

In a fallen world we should expect to persist in prayer, persevere, and wait for many things. I don’t know what you’re waiting on God for – Maybe for guidance on an important decision, perhaps for a life partner or children, or for relief from a difficult situation.

Waiting can be worrying and uncomfortable, but instant gratification does nothing to help us grow. When we must wait, we must trust, and flexing our muscles of faith can only be a good thing for our strengthening and growth.

How can we, as God’s children, wait well?

Waiting sounds passive, but I believe that waiting on God should be active, for a number of reasons:

The Psalmist in Psalm 5:3 tells us that he lays his requests before God each morning, and then waits expectantly.

Psalm 130:5 reminds us where to find hope and help as we wait – In his word I put my hope”

Psalm 37:34 exhorts us to: “Hope in the Lord and keep his way“. Continuing in obedience as we wait is important!

Hebrews tells us that we’re in an endurance race, not a sprint: Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Heb 12:1-2

But what should I say to my soul when the wait seems endless?

Lamentations 3 reminds me – in the context of enduring suffering – that the Lord is my portion as I wait. When I already have the main thing, I can afford to wait for everything else! And the certain goodness of God’s character infuses even my darkest periods of endurance with hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.

Secondly, there is something ultimate that I wait for, a certain hope that outweighs anything else I might want. The glorious appearing of Jesus Christ! Romans 8:23 says that we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

I like to remind myself (get ready for the cheesiness) that although my wait seems endless, my end is not weightless!

One day Jesus will return in glory for his people – his bride! He will bring justice and peace, and satisfy all of our deepest longings eternally. It is easier to wait in the light of a certain guaranteed hope.

So as I gather myself up to keep on prayerfully waiting for the things I need or want in this life, I say with Micah (7:7) “But as for me, I will look to the Lord;  I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.”

And the verse I’m trying to memorise this week is Psalm 130:5-7:

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
    and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
    more than watchmen for the morning,
    more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord!
    For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
    and with him is plentiful redemption.

Nim

Innocent Diversions

What are your “innocent diversions”?

If you’re anything like me, then you appreciate sitting back to watch your favourite TV shows, indu

lging in a good book, spending time with friends, good food, sports…there are so many good ways to spend our ‘down time’. We are designed to need rest, time away from work, and opportunities to switch off from things.

But I’ve realised that personally, my innocent diversions can become unhelpful.

By nature a diversion diverts! It takes our attention away from something else. This can be a blessing, but it’s also something we need to keep an eye on as Christians so that it doesn’t  become a snare to us.

Last week, I determined that I was going to spend some extra time praying about some issues that I needed to hear from God about. Great! (I thought) An opportunity to really do business with God…or rather, give him the quality time to do business with me!Unfortunately for this resolution of mine, the next day I discovered a new TV series… and did that thing where you make up for lost time by watching back to back episodes at every convenient moment, and a few inconvenient ones!

I enjoyed myself greatly.

I didn’t pray.

I didn’t even remember my resolution until I reached the end of the first series.

I was shocked at the simplicity with which my innocent diversion had thoroughly diverted me away from my resolve to pray!

It’s made me think that I need to pay more attention to what I do in my leisure time.

Because good things can so easily divert us from great things.

How often has Satan effortlessly diverted you from some call to spiritual battle and fruitfulness by waving a new and attractive diversion in its place? We don’t even notice, as we unstrap our armour, and settle down on the sofa once more, handing over our sword in exchange for the remote, or the kindle, or the hockey stick.

Please hear me carefully.

Rest is good. Hobbies are good. Diversions from daily stresses and responsibilities can be a great blessing!

But keep your armour on, and stay alert.

I’m learning that Satan can disarm us before we put one foot on the spiritual battlefield.

What should I do when God isn’t answering my prayers?

What do you do when God isn’t answering your prayers?

Of course most of the time by that we mean that he is not answering them the way we want, and sometimes what we are praying for seems the most needed and vital thing in the world! It feels as though he is silent.

What does scripture say that helps us to think about this?

It’s important to reflect on this as an issue because you will find some way of rationalising it, some way to explain the silence. And it may not be the right explanation.

Maybe he doesn’t care about me.

He doesn’t see how vital this is to me!

Perhaps he doesn’t hear.

Is he even there?

Reminding ourselves of what we know for sure about God is a good way to find some answers.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose…

 31 What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:28, 31-32

His ways are higher. His thoughts wiser. Even when we cannot fathom how he will provide for us or sustain us through our situation, he will always do all for our best good. (If you need more convincing, I blogged about this back in April.)

How can we make sure we are praying the right thing? For more thoughts on this, see this previous post! It’s a big subject that I couldn’t tackle all at once.

Based on these truths about God, things we know for sure – His care, our worth in his sight, the level of his wisdom, his steadfast and unlimited love for you and I – may I humbly suggest some better ways to think when you can’t explain the silence?

Is there sin in the way that I need to repent of?

Perhaps he’s calling me to be persistent in prayer? (See Luke 18)

Maybe there is a greater deliverance to come than the one i’m praying for?

His plan is much better than mine.

I don’t know what is going to happen, or how i’m going to get through this, but I know Him, and he will not let me go.

Perhaps this sounds like an odd thing to say, and I hope I say it sensitively – but I also think we should rejoice when we come up against the plans of God, as they conflict with our own agendas.

Because when God’s plan is different, you know that he’s looking out for you, working for your best.

He’s not a disinterested or over-indulgent Father who gives us everything we ask for, including the things that will harm our growth and good, not caring enough to correct our way.

He is a perfect and loving Father, a good and faithful friend, and a wise and shrewd Master. So many times the rejections that we suspect and feel are actually the tender protections of our God!

It’s also a helpful part of growing into a mature believer. Facing our hungers will teach us that we are not on the throne! It cuts us down to size, so that we might learn obedience, and walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8)

My prayer is that when God’s plans are not my own, he will draw me closer to himself in trust, even when I don’t understand. This is something you and I need the help of his Spirit to even recognise! Especially when our emotions are in turmoil, and we face fear, disappointment, or loss.

Let us continue to use the encouragement and direction of his eternal word to guide us in our conclusions when heaven seems silent.

What do you think? Anything you would add or disagree with?

Nim

Expanding the Scope of My Prayers

What would happen if we allowed Scripture to provide the outcomes we prayed toward? What if we expanded our prayers from praying solely for healing and deliverance and success to praying that God would use the suffering and disappointment and dead ends in our lives to accomplish the purposes he has set forth in Scripture?

NANCY GUTHRIE

Praying Past Our Preferred Outcomes – thegospelcoalition.org

These words have stayed in my mind this week. I’ve begun to think about how I can pray in a way that asks God to do what he has already promised. Especially in the situations of life where I’m most tempted to simply pray for my “preferred outcome” – when life is hard, or mundane, or not going according to my plans!

Another thread of my thoughts has been to make sure that I don’t waste the season that i’m in – Single, few responsibilities, seeking to grow in many ways, most of all spiritually, and sometimes scared that I will use this time unwisely. I feel ashamed to realise how little I think about what it might please God for me to ask him in prayer!

So… blending my thoughts of praying biblically and not wasting this season of life i’ve been trying to write down some good things that I can be praying for – I was torn on whether to share it or not – so forgive me if it’s over share! But I really want to encourage you to pray for some of these things too! Maybe you have other suggestions of things you pray for? Feel free to comment.

If you have time, check out Nancy’s article too, it’s really helpful. And puts things much better than I can. See it here

Father,

As I look at this season of my life, I entrust it to you. Career, relationships, plans, hopes, worries. (I know this will be a repeat process, as I often snatch it back in doubt or fear!) Use me to display your glory.

Make my life shine in such a way that Jesus would really be visible in my words and actions.

Help me grow to exhibit real faith, when I don’t know the path ahead. So that in times of loneliness, or when Satan whispers that you don’t have my best interests at heart, I will continue to trust in your unfailing love, and give my worries to you.

Give me a genuine and sacrificial love for others, fuelled by continual realisation of your love for me.

Lord, please use this time to reveal hidden sin, and sanctify my thoughts and attitudes, so that I will honour you when no one is watching.

Teach me contentment in every season, your sufficiency for every struggle. Show me the joyful reality of the gospel I share with others – a fulfilling relationship with you in Christ Jesus, unthreatened when life is hard, painful, or mundane!

Use each day to teach me discipline for my holiness and future fruitfulness. I offer you each difficult experience for your redemption, equipping me to comfort and empathise with others.

Father, when I am impatient and think that I know better, use this time to make me spiritually mature, praying that “Your will be done” not mine.

Guide me in my singleness, Satan has so many ways to make me fall! – saying that you are not faithful, or good, and that I should be looking to satisfy all my desires now, instead of waiting and watching for your guidance.

Protect me from temptation to give in to sin, or follow my own paths. Let me always submit to your righteous rule, and work to soften my heart that my obedience would not be grudging, but gladly given!

Lord, work in me so that one day when I look at my reflection I will rejoice to see what you have done in me, changing my stubbornness to submission, and my arrogance to humility. Shape me increasingly into the likeness of Christ, willing to share in his suffering, knowing that I will also share in his glory.

Amen

For your feedback: What season of life are you in, and how are you praying?