Monday, May 26, 2014

"But what if..." and Fearing the Future

Ya'll admittedly I'm not particularly excited about writing this post because I feel like I'm in the middle of the pit of learning it myself.  Lord Jesus, you know how difficult it has been for me to process through everything in regard to the future lately.  You know my so often jealous, bitter, negative heart.  You know the lies I've been believing.  You've stood beside me as I've found myself in a pool of discontentment.  Yet instead of turning to you, I've turned my own ways.  I've sought comfort in what I look like, my performance, food, relationships, work, and more.  Jesus, thank you that you not only saved me by grace but that you daily sustain me and provide for me according to your grace.  I ask for your wisdom on this topic.  I ask for your divine guidance.  Holy Spirit, I ask that you would write through me, that my words would be yours.  May your words both pierce our hearts, comfort our souls, and cause us to lift our eyes from the pit of our circumstances and onto you -- the one, true Lord of lords and King of kings who loves us unconditionally.  Jesus, help us to receive your love, your mercy, your grace, your truth, your freedom, and your life today.


Last year when I was teaching kindergarten, we regularly discussed what I lovingly call the,
"When I grow ups..."

When I grow up, I want to be a good friend.
When I grow up, I want to have 25 kids and 57 pets and live on a farm.
When I grow up, I want to be a Barbie.
When I grow up, I want to make the monies.
When I grow up, I want to be an astronaut.

Massah wanted to be a teacher.  Steven wanted to be an artist.  Kevin wanted to be Batman.  Angie wanted to be a princess.

This is going to be entertaining.  Take a second and think back to when you were FIVE years old -- missin' your two front teeth, playin' outside after school, drinkin' Kool-Aid in the front yard, spinnin' in circles until you fell over, singin' all the time, livin' the life.  Wow.  Sounds fun!

What did 5 year old, little you want out of life?

Perhaps you wanted to be a doctor or a scientist.  Some of us I'm sure wanted to be mommas or veterinarians.  And at times, I'm sure our greatest desire for the future could be found at 7-11 in a Dr. Pepper Icee.

If I'm honest, it's a little hazy to me now exactly what I wanted my future to look like when I was five, but somewhere between 5 and 24, I know I've envisioned myself being an actress, the first woman President of the United States of America, a wife, mommy, an overwhelmingly successful business woman (naturally), a missionary, teacher, lawyer, writer, entrepreneur, fashion designer, professor, gardener, world traveller, the list goes on.  I would venture to say most all of us dreamt big dreams from young ages.  Those were the days when anything was possible.  For many of us, the realities of finances, education, family structures, and more were not on the forefront of our minds.  We were free to go to school, learn, play with our friends, eat our snacks, and get tucked into bed with a hug and a kiss every evening.  We were innocent.

Now of course innocence is not synonymous with faultlessness or sinlessness.  We were all undoubtedly born as sinful beings.  When I say innocence, I mean our untapped awareness of the brokenness, pain, and evil in the world both around us and even in ourselves.

A childhood filled with innocence, however, was not the case for everyone.  Unfortunately, many precious, little ones haven't had a mommy to tuck them into bed or a daddy to kiss their foreheads and tell them they're beautiful.  Whether they've gone to bed hungry or been forced to support their parents on their own, my heart aches for the countless little munchkins who have been forced to grow up far more quickly than they should have.  Yet even for those who didn't experience losing their innocent, carefree, fearless hearts in one of those ways, sooner or later, the loss set in for all of us.

Suddenly our outlooks on life became less rose-colored and much more murky.  We began to believe lies about ourselves, our world, and even God himself.  Instead of viewing the future through a lens of hope, we eventually began filtering the future through a lens marked by the brokenness of our past.

"I was in love with him, but he didn't like me.  There must be something wrong with me.  I think I'm sweet and fun, so maybe he just didn't think I was pretty?  That's it.  I must not be beautiful or desirable."

"I experienced such pain in that situation.  I felt so alone.  I felt like I had to protect myself.  I have to protect myself.  I can never open myself up to that kind of pain again."

"Why did that have to happen?  I don't understand.  Jesus, where were you?  Where are you?  A cloud of dread must dwell over my head.  I can't expect good things, because I don't want to be disappointed.  So I suppose I will just always expect the worst, and hopefully I will occasionally be pleasantly surprised."

It's funny though because on the surface, I don't think we even notice lies such as these tainting our vision of the future.

If someone asked me this afternoon what I hoped my life would look like in 15 years, I would say, "I obviously want to be walking intimately with the Lord.  I hope that my relationship with Him would be characterized by intimacy, vulnerability, grace, love, trust, and joy.  I want to be free from fear, anxiety, and bitterness.  I would love to be married to a man who loves the Lord whole-heartedly.  I hope to be a wife who respects, honors, loves, celebrates, and encourages my husband with joy in my heart.  I hope to be a woman who truly believes that God delights in me and continuously draws me into His love daily.  I'd love to be a mommy and raising our little babes to be fearless, compassionate adventurers who know Jesus, love Him, and want to be like Him.  I hope that we're fostering or adopting children who don't have mommies and daddies to hug them and tell them they're beautiful and valuable.  I'd love to be working in whatever capacity the Lord would have me, writing, and sharing the Gospel with people who are best friends with Jesus and people who've never met Him before.  And hey, I mean if we're being honest, I wouldn't hate living in a beautiful home, running 4 miles a day, lookin' like I'm 29, growing hydrangeas and peonies in our garden, and wearing cute, floral, peplum dresses."


Yet when we get just below the surface, all of those hopes and dreams for the future are muddled and mixed and combined with fear and doubts and lies such as:  "God is going to give me the opposite of what I want.  God isn't really going to protect me.  Could He ever really give me good things?  Is God really good?  Will He really be committed to me forever?  Will He really love me no matter what?"

And if we aren't aware of it, sooner or later, though the hopes and dreams we speak of and tell others about may look and sound like the hope depicted above, but we doubt with all seriousness whether or not they could ever come to pass.  Instead, in the back of our minds, we can begin to view our futures in terms of drudgery after drudgery.  

"I hope to get married, but what if it turns out he's a maniac?  He'll probably be deceptive and lazy, and I will end up having to provide for us completely.  We'll live in a shack, and I will never again be able to cut my hair or get a pedicure.  Or honestly, no man may ever ask me on another date.  Yep, this is it.  No more dates ever.  I'll never be married.  I will probably just throw myself into my work and come home sit in this dark house in despair all the days of my life.  Or maybe I will fall in love one day.  Of course, he'll really love Jesus!  But then he'll probably get cancer and die, and I will wind up alone again.  Perhaps we'll have kids, but I'm sure they'll be a wreck.  I'll end up being so stressed all the time that I will inevitably eat away all my feelings and gain 300 pounds.  My legs will stop working.  All the bills will be turned off.  No one will ever visit me, and eventually, I'll probably die of a heart attack or cancer or diabetes."

Saddest face ever.  Yuck!  I hate that my mind can so quickly go there.  It's a desert land that is dark and scary.  When I step back and survey that icky vision of the future, it's clearly full of sorrow and suffering, but it's also completely devoid of my heavenly Father.  I can't help but say to myself, "No wonder it's horrible and terrifying, Cait, in that version of the future, Jesus isn't there."  And even though those things haven't happened and probably never will, they can seem so possible and unbearable at the same time.

But the truth is that no matter what happens in the future, our perfect Father not only will be there, He already is there.  In His goodness and His glory, in His love and sovereignty, He is there.

The truth is that no matter how depressed or anxious I'm feeling on your average Wednesday morning, my feelings have absolutely no affect on who God is.  He is not any less good because I am sad and feel like He's withholding good from me.  God is good.  Lord, help us to believe this.  Help us to sing the truth of your goodness in our hearts, in our minds, and over our lives.  God is good.  

"Taste and see that the Lord is good!  Blessed is he who takes refuge in Him."
"For the Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy!"
"Praise the Lord!  Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever."

Our Father is wholly and completely good.  

Think about your nearest and dearest friends.  Think of your favorite place in the world.  Think of grace.  Think of the sunshine, picnics, new dresses, flowers, camp, bike rides, the ocean, feeling known and loved, sharing the Gospel, pedicures, traveling, dark chocolate, dark beer, carrot cake, music, babies, puppies, coffee, water, airplanes, the Bible, learning, reading, weddings, chalkboards, a job well done... 

In my opinion, these things are GOOD.  They're some of my favorites.  Yet think about the God who created the world.  He made the stars and the skies.  He measured the entire universe with merely the span of His hand.  Every breath, every heartbeat, every function of every organ in our bodies is a gift from His loving hands to us.  Every animal, every tree, every story, every life -- He knows them all because He made them all.  The things of this world are sweet gifts from our Father.  They are wonderful and enjoyable, but they're merely a teeny, tiny reflection of the goodness of our God -- even BETTER is our God.  He is better than our mind could ever begin to comprehend.  And His Word says, "No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him."

This doesn't mean that everything that I want I will receive.  This doesn't mean that God loves me more if I see financial gain at work or experience peace within my family.  This doesn't mean that God will shower nothing but butterflies and rainbows upon me every day for the rest of my life.  The truth is that sometimes the most loving of gifts come in the most difficult packages.

While I'm not entitled to a husband, chances are I'll probably get married one day.  I am convinced I heard once that that 9 out of 10 women end up getting married at some point in their lives.  While I could be in the 10%, admittedly, I like that statistically speaking, the odds are on my side.  I am not entitled to have a family, but there is a huge possibility that by God's grace I will be able to have or adopt some babies one day.  

Though simultaneously it is possible that I will never get married, and if that is the case, God is still good.  It is possible that one day I will receive a tragic phone call that shatters the entire world around me, but if and when that happens, I have to believe that God is still good.  If one day I survey my life and see everything I'd ever wanted, there is a chance that the next morning, a massive storm could destroy it all in an instant.  Yet even still, God will still be good.  He cannot change.  

For years I thought that if God really loved me, my circumstances in life would look differently.  I often prayed, "Lord, how could you allow such suffering and sorrow?"  And even now in moments of deep loneliness and despair, depression and hurt, that question can again well up in my heart.  But in those moments of frustration, anger, doubt, and despair, He takes me back to a garden.

He takes me back to a garden, where just over 2000 years ago, He watched His Son kneel in anguish.  Jesus, who never sinned and lived a completely perfect life, was about to die.  "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.  Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done."

Though Jesus knew in a few short hours He would be bruised, beaten, tortured, and eventually crucified, He said, "Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done."  How could He do that?  How could Jesus have given up all of His rights as the perfect God of the universe?  How could He have surrendered His glory for such a painful death?  How could He have endured so bravely in such humble submission to God in such dire circumstances, knowing He was about to die?

Jesus believed His Father was good, faithful, completely loving, and absolutely trustworthy.

He knew that all of His suffering would be light and momentary in comparison with the joy that awaited Him when He was again united with His Father in heaven.  He knew that did He not undergo the most brutal suffering of all time, we would never be able to know God personally.  Jesus died on the cross for our sins, so that the punishment for our sin (death) could be completely atoned for by the only true, spotless Lamb.  He took on our sin and suffered the wrath of God on our behalf, so we would not have to.  He died and rose again, conquering sin and death.  He died to set us free.  

Jesus made a way for us to be made right with God because when we place our faith and trust in Christ as our Lord and Savior, God forgives us of all of our sins -- past, present, and future -- and gives us the very righteousness of Jesus.  Thus, by God's grace, every good thing Jesus ever did is now attributed to us.  Because of what Christ has done for us, God adopts us into His family and makes us His children.  He fills us with the Holy Spirit, who imparts God's power to us in all circumstances.  Furthermore and most importantly, because we are made right with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we get to know God personally and intimately. 

The most important thing we'll ever get from God is God Himself.  When we get God, we get Him forever and ever.

Jesus was able to trust His father in the midst of His sufferings because He knew and believed in the goodness and faithfulness of God's character.  But not only that, Jesus knew the end of the story.  Death does not get the final word.  Despair will not rule in eternity.  God's kingdom is not one of heaviness but of deep, abundant joy that lasts forever.  The best party you've ever attended, the best meal you've ever eaten, the greatest music you've ever heard, far greater than that is the kingdom of heaven.

While we are not promised or entitled to the future of our dreams, we are promised that God is completely and wholly good.  Not only is He good, but for those of us who have placed our trust in Christ, He works all things together for our good and His glory.  For believers in Christ, He subjugates every trial and forces it to do good unto them.  

"And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose." -Romans 8:28

"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good..." -Genesis 50:20

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe every tear away from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be any mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'  And He who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.'" -Revelation 21:1-4

Thus whatever we receive in life -- no's we desperately want to be yeses, a promotion at work, an incredible husband, the death of a loved one, situations of deep pain and heartache -- we can be sure that God is using those things to sanctify us and make us more like Himself.  Even if we cannot see it, we have a promise that is more sure than the rising of the sun, that He is working all things together for our good and His glory.  And we can be absolutely confident that there will come a day when all the sad things come undone.  We will be perfectly and completely safe with our Father in heaven.  The former things will have passed away, and death will be no more.  There won't be any crying or hurting or pain anymore.  We will be completely glorified, like-Christ, and perfectly united with the One who knows us to the bottom and loves us to the skies.  We will be with Jesus forever.  Every need, every want will be completely satisfied in Him.  

Thus though I have no idea what my future may look like, I know that life isn't going to be drudgery after drudgery because God will be with me.  He will fight for me.  He will protect me.  He will keep me, by His grace, near to Him until I embrace Him with the best hug of my life in heaven one day.  

"God does not want to damn us to our poor, stinking, miserable selves.  He wants to deliver us.  But how can we appreciate the joy of the Father's house unless we've tasted the pig's food?  [...]  And if the Lord gives as my daily bread sorrow and pain, it is to lift me above my selfishness and to rescue me from that pit and to furnish me with what will ultimately be transformed or transfigured into joy.  He gives me beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for my spirit of heaviness.  But He doesn't just drop it into my lap.  I have to give Him the ashes.  I have to give Him my mourning.  I have to surrender my spirit of heaviness, and the exchange takes place.  When I come to the cross, I have to give Him my sins, and what does He give me?  His righteousness.  I give Him my losses, He gives me gain.  I give Him my sorrows, He gives me His joy.  This is the exchanged life -- the crucified life." -Elisabeth Elliott


Lord Jesus, help us to receive, by faith, whatever you would have for us in terms of the future.  Help us not to be afraid to make decisions but to walk in faith and trust that you will guide us as you see best fit.  Help us to receive whatever you would have for us with joy in our hearts and with firm conviction that you are good and your sovereign will governs all.  Help us to believe that you love us -- no matter what our circumstances or the lies in our heads try to tell us.  Help us cling to Jesus.  We know we receive Christ by faith alone.  Help us to continue to live by faith.  Help us to persevere and stay the course, knowing that one day the trump shall sound, and Christ shall descend with His armies to take us home forever.  We can't wait to see you, Jesus!  

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