Monday, January 11, 2016

The Word "Study," Part 2, and How I Was Checked at my Own Game

“Check!”  I said, looking across the chess board at my twelve-year-old nephew last New Year’s Eve.
Our game of chess had been long and now, my nephew’s king, double-checked by both a knight and a bishop, rendered him unable to move.  David had tired of the long game and actually welcomed the opportunity to lose. 
Life, however, is not a game of chess.  But some similarities exist.  If, for example, we were playing against “Life’s future,” believing that God controls every future moment as He has our past, we might plan our moves based on what we believe God will do next in our lives, having seen many other lives “played out” before us.  But when God checks us at our own game, we usually don’t feel too overjoyed to have our ideas come to completion.  Perplexed, we wonder why He’s moved thus in our lives.  And we often doubt His goodness. 
Quietness.  That was what I was to pursue, according to I Thessalonians 4:11.  That is what I was to follow and vie for and compete for in life.  But when I was checked in my own game of life by none other than the hand of God, I found a quiet heart eluding me.  I found worry becoming my normative reality instead of walking the quiet way that God had intended.  This check on my spirit revealed itself in numerous ways.  I saw, for instance, my own internal spirit chafing:  that was not a quiet heart.  I found myself wearing a cloak of fear:  that was not a quiet heart.  And as I mulled over my unsettled spirit, I realized it all had to do with the fact that my idea of God’s will for my life and God’s idea for His will for my life were polar opposites.
Indeed, God hadn’t worked in my life the way I thought He would.  After getting saved as a young child, I had dedicated my life to the Lord at the age of six.  I wasn’t quite sure how God would use me, but I had a list of desires; at the top of that list was to be in full-time Christian ministry.  In my elementary years, I was enamored by the thought of being an evangelist’s wife.  Later, I thought a pastor’s wife would be ideal; come high school, I was convinced God had me designated to the high calling of missionary on some remote corner of the globe, translating Bibles, teaching my children at home, watching them develop inquisitive minds, and excel in music and linguistics.  These were all beautiful desires and, I was convinced, the best possible plan for a person in my shoes.  I’d read oodles of missionary biographies as a child and, with a world shaped by the deeds of others, I thought surely I, too, would have a book to write of my own one day, for I would have lived and walked with Christ and been a role model for people of the ages to follow, like William Carey and Mary Slessor and Adoniram Judson, and so many more.
But reality did not turn out as my dreams imagined it would.  My notion of surrender was passing before my eyes as vapor rising from a pond in autumn.  And these lovely ideals continued to alter as I progressed through life, so that by the time I was 29, my life looked nothing like my imagined picture of it.  This was the age David Brainerd had died—and had left a legacy, too.  John and Betty Stam had been martyred at this age, but what did I have to show for my 29 years?  I was enjoying my life, but my dreams lay buried in the sand. 
I knew the Lord and wanted to be used of God—but so often felt that I was missing out on something and, deep down, wondered if God had somehow made a mistake.  When I went to pick up a young girl for church, who lived in a ramshackle house with dilapidated furniture, I considered her plight and that of her big sister, who had just run off and gotten pregnant and wondered. . . . why do those who refuse God get the privilege of raising children when their hearts aren’t even surrendered to God and they don’t even have as their primary desire to raise little ones for His glory?
Boiling it all down, I really wanted be a mom.  My life focus and energy had been steered that direction.  My college major had always been with the intention of, “until I’m married and have children.”  At 29, I was biding my time at a Christian school, working in ministry every day of my life but waiting for the big moment when I would meet that missionary, marry, and head to the foreign field.  The next year, I met the man who would be my husband and soon we were married.  Finally!  I thought, I would be able to settle down and have children, a husband in full-time ministry, and a home of my own, where I would be able to raise children for God, the occupation I felt was God’s highest calling for women.
Year after year passed and although doctors were visited, money was spent, and an unborn child awaits me in heaven, I have, as yet, no living earthly children.  This reality stared me in the face every time my husband and I visited somewhere and were asked, “Do you have any children?”  It became especially raw when other mothers at church were expecting “another child” yet again.  And, try as I might to let it not happen, this reality began to eat my heart away.  That heart I had given to God to do “whatever He wanted with” began to really struggle with a lack of joy.  I saw families where the kids left home and went into sin or others where the parents did not view their children as the priceless treasures to be raised for God that He intended.  I became discontent as I looked out and imagined life as it was not.
Early last year, however, God confronted me head-on with my lack of contentment.  I was struggling to be joyful at family gatherings, seeing every other married sibling embracing their own children and having that wonderful parental bond that I’d always imagined would be mine.  But when I heard a message with two words describing a meek and quiet spirit as “not bothered,” something inside of me jolted upright.  The words stuck with me.  They came back to me like a boomerang on days when I felt dejected.  Within weeks, I had read another truth in the word of God:  “The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way.”  And then, one night in the car, driving home from an out-of-state visit, I surrendered—really and truly surrendered.  I’ve never stopped hoping for children or for that fictitious family that exists on the pages of the biography of my mind. But suddenly I surrendered—not to my idea of God’s will for my life, but of God’s idea of His will for me. 
Words that had coursed through my mind, echoing there as in a hollow chamber for weeks before that ultimate surrender were:  “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).  Believe me, I would love to have that beautiful family.  But I am far more interested in God’s fulfilling His will in me than in my getting my own way. 
Lamentations 3:26 states, “It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.”   That surrender to God’s way in my life—really, truly, His way and not my own labeled as His—showed me in just how many endeavors of life I had worn a cloak of worry instead of one of waiting and how that vying for quietness had eluded me, like the golden pot at the end of a rainbow.  As I began to emerge from my darkness, embracing the joyous reality of this God who is my continual helper, who commands me to “be content with such things as [I] have, for [He] will never leave [me] nor forsake [me],” I began to see that my lack of surrender was at the crux of my worried, unquiet spirit.
 The word study on quietness yielded many rich dividends, but the reality of embracing quietness for myself lay in my implicit trust that God’s way is better.  Always.  No matter if I can see His reality or no.  Thus I learned that to meet with quietness, surrender is absolutely necessary.   My next article will deal with the concept of worry and understanding just how worry blocks us in our pursuit of a quiet heart.  Recognizing worry as sin is often the first step in realizing we are not living out the unbothered spirit which God intends for us to have.

“Check!”  When we feel blocked by the hand of Almighty God, it is time to consider:  have I fully surrendered?  Today, I would plead with you, if you are living in the storm-like conditions of a billowing soul, failing to “rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him” (Psalm 37:7), you may find buried somewhere a lack of surrender that triggers such a worried spirit.   May I urge you to study, strive, and vie for the quietness only Christ can bring by entirely surrendering your will to Him and thus casting your worry into the lap of our dear Savior!

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