Posted in Christian Living, Faith

With God, Simple Things Can Mean A Lot

God makes even simple things into something magnificent, according to His purpose

I am very good at making things more complicated than they have to be. Pick almost any area in life, and I have figured out a way to look at the issue that gives it many more twists and turns than really exist.

Take salvation, for example. All I have to do is believe in Christ and His purpose and profess that belief, and yet I make that simple act of faith into something much more complicated. I tell myself I have more responsibility in this act of living my faith than God ever said I had.

For example, I think that it is somehow up to me to make other people believe about God and the Bible the way that I do. I get frustrated when people disagree with me, even angry when I think they are saying something wrong about the word of God according to the way that I understand that word.

God has led me to a focus shift this week, one that should help me quit taking on responsibilities that are not my own. Through my Bible reading and conversations with other believers, I have been reminded that God is the One who holds the responsibility for what others ultimately believe. He alone is Judge.

I must not apply my usual habit of shoulds in life to my plan for living my faith. A to-do list is not what being a Christian is about. Instead, we are asked to live through love.

In the Old Testament, we learn an important lesson about the simplicity of our salvation when we truly hand over the responsibility for that salvation to our Holy God. Naaman, the commander of King Aram’s army, goes to Elisha to be cured of his leprosy. When Elisha tells him all he has to do is go dip himself in the Jordan seven times, instead of being thankful such a simple task is all that is required, Naaman gets frustrated. He doesn’t understand how the solution could be so simple. Why wouldn’t a body of water in his home country be even more likely to heal him, if that is all it would take, Naaman wonders?

In fact, Naaman feels affronted that Elisha’s solution does not require more of him, as if his station deserves to be recognized by the level of responsibility required for healing. Naaman would have wandered through the rest of his proud life, full of responsibility and covered in his skin disease, if not for his servants, who asked the obvious but profound question:

“If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you ‘ wash and be cleansed?'” (2 Kings 5:13)

Luckily for him, Naaman realizes the truth to this statement and proceeds to follow Elisha’s instructions from God. In the end, Naaman walks out of the Jordan with skin as whole as if he had just been born. More importantly, he learns the profound truth that in even the smallest of ways, God can do great things.

As I was settling into the truth of these verses during the week, I was offered another important lesson when it comes to how God works in our lives, which is the comfort that comes when we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to do good things in this world that is full of evil.

In this season of my life, I have as much reason as anyone to see the world in general and the act of living in particular as a losing struggle against forces that are gunning for my ultimate destruction. Beginning in 2014, in the span of some fourteen months, my grandmother died, my husband’s father and oldest brother lost their battles with cancer within a few weeks of each other, and my dear mama was diagnosed with ALS.

If I didn’t believe that the only way God can offer us the free will to choose Him is to allow for both evil and good to exist in this life, then I would have given up on the idea of a loving God a long time ago. But, in acknowledging the truth of the need for evil to exist in a fallen world, I realize that I have somehow lost the even stronger truth that God controls everything, even, somehow, the process of letting us tumble into His always waiting, open hands.

God’s control negates my need to be responsible for outcomes. Notice, I did not say actions. Free will means I am inherently responsible for everything I say and do. But, when what I say and do is in alignment with the life of Christ and His teachings, I can trust the outcome will be according to the will of God, even when things look farthest from that conclusion. His Holy Spirit can so easily bring to fruition whatever seeds my Christ-like words and actions may plant. But, I have to live like I believe that, even in simple ways, mostly in simple ways.

What a powerful realization this working of the Holy Spirit in our lives is for those who believe. When we forget about His power or try to usurp it by manipulating situations toward our own desired outcomes, we do a disservice to our faith. We also overlook the little, simple things that God can make truly great, like the mustard seed that grows into a mighty tree.

God is always able

 

Just like Naaman, I am guilty of wanting something more difficult than the simple truths of God’s promises. He wants me to know that He has things under control in accordance to His Master Plan, a plan my human mind is incapable of fully understanding. When I contain myself by worrying about only my actions and words instead of putting myself in the role of judge over others, I give myself the light burden and peace that Christ promised as the gift of believing in Him. I grasp God’s simple solution to life’s complex problems.

In Sunday school, we reached the point in Romans where Paul asks why we think we have the right to judge those who serve God. We are not their masters, after all. But for those who allow God to be master, the promise is clear:

To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Romans 14:4)

The Lord is able to bring about our success in walking by faith. Not long after Naaman discovered that God’s truths can be powerful even in simplicity, the prophet Elisha faces a dangerous situation that further underscores God’s ability. When the King of Aram sends an army to harm the prophet, God provides His own, conquering army to protect the servant of our heavenly King:

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them. And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:13-17)

When I profess my faith, when I show love in the face of hate, when I turn the other cheek, God is able. He is surrounding me with His angels, looking out for my ultimate good. If I live each day knowing this truth, I will simplify my walk with Christ. I will be free to love other people in full knowledge that the paths of their lives and their ultimate judgment are in God’s hands, not my own.

Christianity is simple. We humans are the ones who tend to complicate things, forgetting despite all His promises, that God is able.

Posted in Christian Living

This House Divided

House divided

Rather than take away tomorrow’s trouble, worry voids today’s strength.  –Max Lucado, from Come Thirsty

Everyone talks about worry being a waste of time, but my morning reading pointed out to me a much more compelling reason to avoid this wasteful habit.  Worry actually divides my mind, keeping me from putting everything I have into today.

When Christ spoke about a house divided, He meant a couple of different things.  One time, He uses this metaphor to argue against the accusation that He is from the devil since He could cast out demons.  Why would Satan, Jesus reasons, do something to hurt himself?  Another time, Christ uses this metaphor to explain why it is so important to put our whole selves into the pursuit of our love of God instead of being distracted by the things of this world that tarnish and will do us no good in heaven.

When worry takes my mind away from the things of today, it also takes me away from my closeness to Christ.  I want to be engulfed in that closeness, not separated from it, for as Paul explains:

Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God.  And God’s peace, which is so great we cannot understand it, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:6-7)

Paul’s words give us the steps for living what contemporary thinkers term “with mindfulness:”

  1. Pray about everything– I need to concentrate on what is happening to me and around me in every moment.  When we pray about something, we naturally focus our minds to what is most important.  By voicing what concerns us to God, we might even realize how ridiculous some of our concerns actually are.
  2. Be thankful– Gratitude makes us be more truthful with ourselves.  Often, my inner voice tells me things that are downright lies, but it can be hard to call myself on these unless I bring my mind to what is actually true.  When I take the time to name the many things I have to be thankful for, I inevitably unearth some of the lies I have been letting my worries tell me.
  3. Never stop– Paul says not to pray at certain times of the day or week, but about everything. It is possible to have hearts and minds that are in Christ as long as we actively engage our ability to foster our relationship with our Father.  We cannot be thankful and worry at the same time.  If we bring our concerns to God in prayer, we will find that what was a worry is overshadowed by the peace that is found in the presence of Christ.

How often because of worry have I raced through a day without giving full attention to really living it?  By being a house divided, I have lost many opportunities to fully participate in the gift of life God mercifully grants to each of us.

The next time I catch myself being engrossed more by my worry than by the beauty of the day, I think I will imagine the scene from II Kings, where Elisha and his servant face a horde of enemies, assured of victory because of the “invisible” army of fiery chariots prepared to defend them:

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. 

“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (II Kings 6: 15-17)

Just as God protected Elisha, we are assured that He also has our best interests at heart.  He will be there for us during good times and bad.  He did not design us to worry, but to follow the two commands that Jesus said summed up everything:

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)

If I am truly working to follow both these important instructions, what time do I have to worry?  Indeed, if I truly love God with everything I have and then extend that love to others, when will I ever have time to worry?

A mindful life is truly a house undivided, unified in its goal to love God, obey His commands, and be thankful.  May your prayers leave you with a mind unified in the love of Christ.