What if God asks me to do something I don’t want to do?

“What if God asks me to do something I don’t want to do?”

I sat at my grey kitchen table, pink-rimmed tulips wilting in their vase. The sunlight seared the pages of the book of James spread out before me. A friend on the other end of the phone shared she was afraid to submit to God and say, “I’ll do whatever you want me to do” because it would most likely result in her working some place she hated, or moving to a dangerous foreign country, or abandoning a relationship she valued.

Many church members consider full obedience to be certain punishment.

It can feel like that, but – blessedly — this isn’t true.

Know His Heart

Are you afraid to surrender to Him completely?

First of all, we have to clear our head from the me-approach to Scripture. Realize “the Bible is a book about God” as Jen Wilkens reminds us. Too often we’re searching our Bibles to find out how we can feel better. “Where am I in this?” we ask of Isaiah’s poetic chapters.

Good news! As we stare intently at His Word to simply know Him, we’ll be granted more knowledge of Who we left all to follow. Just from the first chapter of James we learn He is wise, righteous, generous, a promiser of the crown of life, can’t be tempted, giver of good and perfect gifts, Father of lights, never changes, speaks words of truth, wrote a law of liberty, and blesses doers of the Word.

Sounds like a God who is trustworthy of our utmost submission. Do you believe the intentions of His will toward you are always kind? Ask Him for the faith to believe His capability to grant wisdom and to weave together His goodness into your story.

As we notice who is He is, we see His heart for us and for His world. And the more time we spend with Him, the more He starts to peel away our fleshly desires and replace them with His set apart ones.

Stare intently at His Word to be unified to His heart.

Know His Will

But what if you can’t figure out the thing He wants you to do?

Thankfully, God doesn’t hide His will from us in a big divine guessing game.

“Let’s begin with a simple assumption. Since God has a will for us, He must want us to know it. If so, then we could expect Him to communicate it to us in the most obvious way. And how would that be? Through the Bible, His revelation.”
― John MacArthur, Found: God’s Will

Need to know God’s will? See the Bible. Need to know how to plan for the future? Acknowledge Him in your plans and He’ll direct Your paths (Proverbs 3:6).

Of course, knowing me and you, we just would resort to worrying about the few decisions not lined out in Scripture, like who we’re going to marry or where we’ll live.

You’ve heard the missionary stories like: “I told God I would go anywhere except Asia, and then He sent me to Asia!” I used to worry that God would make me marry someone I didn’t like.  

Ah, dear younger me, God doesn’t work like that. His ways are not a forceful, grit-your-teeth burden – they’re a joy. He’s a friend and father who guides us gently, who knows us intimately. He doesn’t plan devastation for His children. Joyless, fruitless futures are not ours.  

But what about the scary country He could call us to?

What’s important to know is that if God asks us to sacrifice, He equips us with the giftings, passions, help, support, and any other provision we need. We’re never left and high and dry without His strength. He leads us beside still waters for His own name’s sake. There is always plenty of grace for tomorrow’s problems. As Hudson Taylor put it, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s provision.”

He gets the glory that way.

“Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Hebrews 13:20-21

Stare intently as His Word to know His written will, and don’t worry about where He’ll lead you or if you’ll miss out on His direction. He’ll provide.

Know His Hatred for Sin (What the Flesh Hates, The Spirit Loves)

God gently aligns us to His straight and narrow way when we acknowledge Him (Proverbs 3:6). Is it uncomfortable? Sometimes. But is it worth it?

I had braces as a teenager. As I parted the orthodontist’s office for the last time, they instructed me to wear my retainers at night. I did faithfully for a while. Then the habit loosened. Now whenever I get convicted about how my teeth could move back into their original jagged state, I pop the retainers back in. But it hurts! I have to take them off in the middle of the night just so I can sleep. But the next night it’s better. Then…well, if I would just keep wearing them periodically, I wouldn’t have to repeat the pain, and my teeth would stay aligned!

Alignment of the heart is something beautiful, though, it can also be difficult. The end result is far better than staying on crooked paths.   

When we first start following Christ, we don’t hate all of our sin as much as we should. But as we gaze at His holiness longer and longer, we start to view disobedience to Him as He does — undesirably. We begin to see the goodness of walking with Him, and the wickedness of our own ways.

We certainly get the better end of the bargain. Sure, God will lead us to do things our flesh despises. Alignment is uncomfortable, like barely-used retainers. But holding onto our sin patterns won’t bring anything remotely good. If you think your will and way is fun and worth it, be aware it’s a lie from the world and the devil.

Our flesh would NEVER choose suffering or denying itself. But submitting to Him is freedom and joy. Reward and fulfillment.

The spirit is WILLING. The flesh is what’s weak (Mark 14:38).

Know His Correction

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.”

2 Timothy 3:16

Correction might conjure up images of traditional teacher blackboards and humiliation. But James, Jesus’ half-brother, wrote this:

“But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.”

Who looks at a mirror and doesn’t correct the messy hair and the mascara smudge or the crooked tie? Mirrors lead to something better than before.

Jesus also states the blessedness of correction:

But He said, “On the Contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” 

Luke 11:28

Being a doer of the word brings blessing! The world’s burdens will enslave us to our own passions reaping the punishment of death, but His law is a law of liberty.

What to Do

First, know the One who asks for your obedience, how He is trustworthy and kind. If you don’t want to obey Him, you’re missing the Person He is.

Second, He won’t lead you anywhere without His abundant provision. If you’re afraid to obey Him, Your missing the point of His will.

Third, God will absolutely ask You to do things that your flesh will hate (like denying yourself). Take courage, however, God’s spirit in you is willing. If you don’t want to obey Him, you’re missing a place in your life for His spirit.

“For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

Philippians 2:13

Further study:

Read Psalm 119 until you begin to agree with God about how good His commandments are.

Take Courage, Graduate

PC: Photo by Joshua Earle, Yellowstone

Shake Not a Mountain

You don’t want to be this person.

A clear depiction of the ungodly lies in Psalm 36. If you could see inside his heart, you’d find transgression speaking to it. He’s so wound up in deceit, when others discover the secret webs of his wrongdoing, it brings him flattery. He’s flattered even further by the fact that his actions are hated (vv 1-2). Appalling!

The wicked wellspring of the heart will bring forth both deceitful thoughts and words. This man has ceased to be wise and ceased to do good. When he lies down at night to rest, he uses this time to plot. He sets himself on a path that is “not good.” He doesn’t despise evil like God does. The fear of God is absent (vv. 3-4).

Such an ugly painting.

The psalmist whiplashes from this lose-your-appetite kind of wickedness to a dazzling description of the Lord.

He writes of God’s lovingkindess reaching to the heavens and His faithfulness reaching to the swaths of watercolored skies.

“Your righteousness is like the mountains of God.

Your judgments are like a great deep.”

(Psalm 36:6)

When the sinful man meets the mountains of God, an acute contrast appears. Close your eyes and picture the biggest mountain you can imagine. For me, I see the Teton mountain range, doubling in size when it mirrors in the clarity of Jenny Lake. How grand is God’s righteousness if earth’s mountains express it! They are immovable, enduring, strong, never to be shaken, planted, and rooted to be established across time.

Grand Teton National Park, PC Shane Cotee

“Firm and unmoved, lofty and sublime. As winds and hurricanes shake not an Alp, so the righteousness of God is never in any degree affected by circumstances; he is always just. Who can bribe the Judge of all the earth, or who can, by threatening, compel him to pervert judgment? Not even to save his elect would the Lord suffer his righteousness to be set aside. No awe inspired by mountain scenery can equal that which fills the soul when it beholds the Son of God slain as a victim to vindicate the justice of the Inflexible Lawgiver. Right across the path of every unholy man who dreams of heaven stand the towering Andes of divine righteousness, which no unregenerate sinner can ever climb.”

Charles Spurgeon

The wicked man has much to fear if His righteousness is like mountains, and His judgments are like the great deep. Who can search out the great deeps? Even to this day we do not know the depths of the ocean and are continually making big discoveries. So it is with the judgments of God. They are deep, unsearchable, uncharted; they are too great for us to comprehend.

He alone is the One who preserves man and beast — so obvious. His lovingkindness is precious, and His children take shadow in His wings. The wicked one takes a sick satisfaction in the discoveries of what is a shame to even speak about.

But the children of God drink their fill of abundance in His house. They drink the river of His delights. He owns the fountain of life, far superior to the path of death chosen by the one who doesn’t rightly fear God (vv 7-9).

The psalmist ends with a prayer:

“In Your light we see. O continue Your lovingkindess to those who know You, and Your righteousness to the upright in heart.”

We might look at the first verses of the chapter and thank God we have not done anything to make scandalous headlines. Gratefully, we’re not to the point of enjoying and bragging about evil.

But we must keep our eyes on the mountain of God and ask like the psalmist:

“Let not the foot of pride come upon me.”

Our eyes behold the grandeur of God, and note the foolishness of the foot of pride, so subtly deceptive. In verse three, we know the wicked man ceased to be wise and ceased to do good. He used to be good and wise. Any of us could take subtle steps of pride.

Let not the foot of pride come upon me!

Instead, remember the judgments of the great deep and the faithfulness reaching to the sky. Meditate on Christ’s work of rescuing us from the judgments our own wickedness deserves. “Pride wilts in the atmosphere of the gospel.” (Milton Vincent)

What are mere men and women compared to the mountains of God?! What is man that He is mindful of us? Like the immovable Alps, His holiness is sure. Christ’s death and resurrection is the only way we can be spared from pride and know the abundance of His house and drink the river of His delights.

Thoughts from Psalm 36

Parking Lot Prelude

I’ve been uniquely positioned to see a new angle of behind-the-scenes church since I’ve become a mom. Whether it’s catching most of the sermon from the foyer speakers, inhaling the shared meal before the baby wakes up, or catching conversations over the diaper changing table in the nursery, church looks a bit different in this season. I’ve appreciated the new observations I’ve made. 

Sunday morning I sat in our car, fitting in a baby feeding before the service started. My husband was greeting at the door, but I had a chance to observe the happening parking lot.

There’s something special about seeing car after car turn into this holy slab of cement. The day washed in sunshine, smiles appeared bright.

I noticed a newlywed couple, dressed in Sunday best, but returning a post hole digger to someone else’s vehicle before heading into the building. 

There also was a darling collection of six young siblings tumbling out of the van, waving to their friends as they patiently waited for their parents. Their pink dresses, blue plaids, and grins melted my heart. “Behold, children are a gift from the Lord.” What a testimony their smiles were to the joy of the Lord! 

A few spaces down, my sister and her husband emerged from their car, with laughter and coffees. They whipped out baby and baby stroller in practiced teamwork style, also eager to worship.

As more people filed toward the front doors, I also noted a new haircut, a young believer in the faith, and a proud, new grandma. The high school seniors had arrived early to pass out their grad party invitations.

Each sister and brother in Christ — young and old — spoke some aspect of God’s truth to me. I need them all.

They are individuals carrying unique spiritual gifts into the church foyer. Members of Christ’s body, and if they are suffering, we all are; if they are rejoicing, we all are, and somehow we can visit both places at once in our Oneness with Christ. The Man of Sorrows and yet, the Dayspring from on High.

What a gift to be physically together. The sun and spring blossoms beckoned praise. I reached for my Bible to read a little, and my eyes fell on this passage:

“Oh come, let us worship and bow down;

    let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!

For He is our God,

    and we are the people of His pasture,

    and the sheep of His hand.

Today, if you hear His voice,

 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,

    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness.”

Psalm 95:6-8

Since I was peering through my vehicle’s tinted windows, and not through rose-colored glasses, I knew this was as an imperfect sheep gathering as any. We desperately need God to soften our prone-to-be-hard hearts to worship Him and genuinely care for one another. We also need each other to call one another to worship and bow down.

My heart swelled as I prepared to set up my own little sheep’s stroller and enter the gates with thanksgiving. I determined to encourage anyone I could and also be encouraged.

The behind-the-scenes of the parking lot gave me a small prelude of thankfulness as I prepared to worship with this gift of grace we call the local church.

One Weary Accord

A certain carol lyric sang in my heart one day as I drove to work underneath a magical pink sunrise. Still several weeks before Thanksgiving, I wasn’t trying to meditate on Christmas, but I felt I had stumbled on something deeply meaningful for the coming season. Something to be shared.

“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.”

It turns out I wasn’t unique to claim this theme.

I bumped into these words in a number of Christmas missionary letters I’ve edited this year. The same phrase is fastened on my boss’s cubicle wall. Perhaps you’ve seen them too, in a friend’s Instagram post or felt new meaning when hearing this song on the radio.

There’s a reason we’re lingering on the theme of rejoicing a little extra this year.

With every Christmas card we write, every strand of lights we string, every gift we buy — hope is stirring for those who know Christ. We crave hope and light as we wrap up this historic year, and we’re thrilled to focus on the source.

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, then He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

Just this past weekend we visited KC and were reminded of both error and worth. We rejoiced in my husband’s graduation with his Master of Divinity. We smiled to learn friends were dating each other. We sat shocked over breakfast menus to hear of a fellow seminary grad friend who had gone back home but split paths with God. We listened to loads of (welcome!) advice about diaper brands and sleep schedules for our new baby. But also heard of health struggles of other infants. My husband shared the gospel with someone on the plane next to us on the way home. Due to all the ups and downs of our trip, we fell into bed exhausted but grateful because of all the hope we have in Christ’s appearance in the flesh.

Passages buried in the Old Testament remind us we–in our weariness–have ever so much to rejoice in. And I’m happy to sing what might be cliché in Christmas 2020. Like Israel on that holy night, we can celebrate Immanuel!

Many feel that the New Year ball will drop (or in my Idaho’s case, a potato?!) and hope will land with it. That’s a familiar lie we’ve all faced before. “Things will get better if we can just get through this week, clock out for the weekend, go on vacation, free up my schedule, get over this head cold . . .” We wait and pine for the next thing, perhaps with a thrill of false hope.

The fact is our futures could be as terrifying as Charles Dicken’s ghost of Christmas yet to come. I’m an extremely optimistic person, but I have to admit no guarantees exist for 2021. But even if they did, our spirits can not be lifted simply by a change in circumstances or the passing of a crumby year.

What we need is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. A ruler who reigns in understanding of our weakness. A song of rejoicing in the midst of any oppression.

Behold the One who meets this need:  

“The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.

He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.”

Apart from Him we won’t find worth — He is the One our souls greatly anticipate. Our earthly voices may be weary indeed. But they are grateful. Let us join the chorus with one accord and fall on our knees to worship our KING of kings, who will return in a second advent (coming). His power and glory evermore!

Merry Christmas and thank you so much for following my blog this year!

*Song “O Holy Night” Adolphe Adam, Placide Cappeau

Grace Isn’t Going Anywhere

“We’re singing Amazing Grace … again?”

I used to feel we over-sang the lyrics of this hymn and passed over playing it on the piano, the tune too old fashioned for my taste.

Eventually it became a favorite as I grew to understand the heart of the words:

Was Grace that taught my heart to fear
And Grace, my fears relieved

I had no idea my childhood fears would make grace more than just a song title.

One night at Pizza Hut we fellowshiped with another family from church. On a slick chair, chewing a breadstick, I overheard the mom say, “…back when Jay was in a four-wheeler accident, and then later he needed surgery…”

Surgery? For someone the age of eleven like me?! Horrifying!

I began to feel sick and asked if I could go sit in the van. Thus ensued an army of what ifs. What if I would have to face surgery? What if I experienced intense pain? What if someone I knew got cancer?

Food didn’t seem swallow-able for the next week, and I spent a miserable few days in irrational fear of trials that could strike at any untoward moment.

My parents gently quoted Scripture to me about how “worry doesn’t add a cubit to your stature” and reminded me God is in control. These conversations would help, but I would just sink back into anxious thoughts.

Ironically, I even began to grow concerned I would have health problems because I worried so much. The battle raged in my mind to wrestle tomorrow’s problems today. The potential problems.

I cried to my mom one day in her room. “I don’t understand why this is happening. I’m a Christian. I’m asking God to take this away.”

She asked if I truly believed He could take away my fears. This stunned me. She also said:

“God gives the grace we need when we need it (and not before).”

Could I believe He is who He says He is, that He is able to answer the very prayer I was praying?

Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom shared a similar problem in her book, The Hiding Place. Along with her mother and sister, Corrie visited a poor family with a basket of bread. The family had lost a baby the night before. Corrie’s first real brush with death threw her into confusion and fear. Later that night Corrie’s father shared encouragement with her:

At last we heard Father’s footsteps winding up the stairs…But that night as he stepped through the door I burst into tears. “I need you!” I sobbed. “You can’t die! You can’t!”

Father sat down on the edge of the narrow bed. “Corrie,” he began gently, “when you and I go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?”

I sniffed a few times, considering this. “Why, just before we get on the train.”

“Exactly. And our wise Father in Heaven knows when we’re going to need things too. Don’t run out ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need–just in time.”

The Hiding Place

This moment my mom shared about real grace for real scenarios (not our imagined ones) was when it clicked for me. Back beside my bunkbed, I knelt down and prayed again, “Lord, please take this fear away. I know that You can. I have faith that You will give me grace when I need it.”

When I truly believed I prayed to the God who is able, when I realized He is the One to fear, I didn’t worry about these irrational scenarios of my future.

Was Grace that taught my heart to fear
And Grace, my fears relieved

Nearly all of what I worried about in those days after Pizza Hut never occurred. But things that I didn’t think to worry about DID occur.

But grace my fears relieved, and my Father gives me strength like a train ticket at just the right times. Don’t run out in front of Him.

Yes, I’ll always fight fear. But I remember His grace is sufficient, and it’s not going anywhere since a wretch like me never deserved His favor in the first place. I recall my bunkbed prayer and the peace which comes from deeply knowing and believing He is bigger than the future trials. And worrying now won’t change anything.

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

Corrie ten Boom

His grace – the unmerited favor of God toward man – cannot be snatched from what lies ahead.

On a recent Sunday my dad preached in the first chapter of I Timothy. Verse 14 reads:

“And the grace of our Lord was more than abundant,

with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.”

Grace super-abounds like the broken sprinklers swamping the flowerbeds this time of year. Grace upon grace overflows like a river in flood stage.

After the sermon we sang the words below, and I noted the unique adjective for grace (indelible), later searching for its definition.

Making marks that can’t be removed.

How grateful I am for that time at Pizza Hut — and many other places of doubt — because God’s been tuning my heart to sing His grace, yes even using an old fashioned, now-beloved hymn by John Newton.

No wonder how sweet the sound of God’s amazing, abounding, permanent grace.

–Augustus Toplady, Bob Kauflin