Since I am now far past being a teen and basically no longer a college student, after five and a half years this blog has pretty much outgrown its title “TeenFaithTalk.” It’s time to start some new adventures in the Christian life and to discover what walking with God through this season of change looks like. So…this year, I’m introducing On the CrossRoad! Same blog, different address, different title. See you over there!
Finals week this semester was the longest…and shortest week of my life. Longest in the sense that I likely spent more hours awake in a single week than I ever have; shortest in the sense that I routinely had panic how-on-earth-is-the-due-date-tomorrow moments. The list of work to be done seemed endless and every moment not used productively felt wasted. Hours of sleep per night fell drastically…fun was out of the question… I had one goal and one goal only: to make it to the bottom of that to-do list with a straight perfect column of check marks. Yep…I’m a Type-A personality.
Between my schooling and internships, I’ve discovered just how much everyday people are bombarded with messages about work and productivity. In the classroom and the office, the “virtues” that are admired by my professors and employers are ambition, accomplishment, and advancement. From this trend comes people like me, the Type-A personally – people who are naturally driven, ambitious, active, impatient, under pressure to multitask, and keep trying to do more in less time.
Now our computers, iPhones, tablets, and 3G networks make multitasking easier and make it possible for us to work anywhere. I’ve found that as productivity is praised in every corner of society, my Type-A ambitious drive and disdain for leisure have only increased.
But added to the societal factors is the burden in being a Christian Type-A. I know for me, and for other Christian Type-As, the pressure to work hard and the guilt for resting is now even greater. After all, Christians are on earth to please and glorify God, and the Bible seems to be full of verses praising service and rejecting sloth and laziness. Rest – especially to one who is naturally inclined to stay active – seems to be a waste of God-given time and talents.
I have come across dozens of solid Christian books which have encouraged godly work and productivity, emphasizing vocation and filled with exhortations to not waste your life. But although many of these books rightly concentrate on how Christians should work, few of them explore how work should be balanced with leisure.
But this imbalance can be, at best, unhealthy, and at worst, spiritually, emotionally, and physically devastating. I know that in my life, this disproportionate focus has led me to many questions and false assumptions. Is God disappointed in me when I do something totally unproductive – like watch a movie or read a fun book? Am I minimizing God’s glory when I’m doing some “busywork reading” for a class instead of going out and starting a world-changing ministry? What do I do when my work is ineffective – when I stare at that empty Word document and just can’t get words on paper for that essay? …how can I justify sleep when it’s finals week and I have a million things to do?
Christian Type-As are finding themselves in a state of imbalance, being further encouraged to work for God’s glory, feeling guilt for necessary rest, and experiencing discouragement in unfruitfulness and ineffectiveness. Stressing God’s good purposes in work without addressing leisure has left the church in a spiritually skewed position.
While much is communicated about work in the Bible, God’s intentions for pleasure and leisure are equally clear. A holistic view of the Bible provides Type-A Christians with hope in their work and rest, not condemnation. This series – based upon a much longer research paper – is aimed at providing that holistic view.
I was sitting at my desk, colored pens and highlighters strewn about, a blank Word document flashing on my computer screen, and all I could see was that to-do list in front of me with those ominous words: “Due This Week.” The list was too long. A 10-page paper, a biology exam, extra class lectures, another test, a biology project, moot court arguments, a mock trial round, regular class readings…and all in a four day period. I looked at that color-coded list and could only think one thing: I just can’t do it. Not this time. It’s not going to all get done.
Sometimes I wish I could see God’s face when I say things like that. Does he chuckle? Does he smile knowingly – already seeing exactly what my week is going to be like? Or does his face show disappointment? Are his eyes sad, as I imagine they were when he turned to His disciples in the middle of the storm and said, “You of little faith…why do you doubt?”
The thing is, while the last week and a half of my life has been ridiculously busy with hardly an hour to rest between finishing one project and starting the next, and though I’ve gotten little sleep, finished assignments sometimes at the last minute, and sometimes just didn’t perform up to my perfectionist standards…this wasn’t anything new for my life. I’ve had busy weeks before (as a college senior, I’ve already survived six semesters and two summers of midterms and finals). I’ve looked at a long to-do list before. And yes, I’ve panicked over them too.
But even so, I’ve always made it through. And more than that – I’ve still always managed to thrive through even the busiest times. Why? Not because of anything on my part, but because every time that I’ve reached the end of my rope, God has shown His love and faithfulness to reach even farther.
Over my time at college, I’ve watched as God has provided the perfect research for papers the night before they are due. I’ve seen how He inspires professors to cancel classes, change due dates, or give extensions for no particular reason…just in the moments when I need it most. I’ve experienced God’s love through hugs from friends or conversations with professors, when I desperately needed encouragement. There have been nights when I should have been utterly exhausted, yet God gave me wakefulness and alertness to finish the assignment due the next day. He has, in fact, somehow always provided for my needs and sustained me through my busiest and most stressful weeks at school. But I forget this so easily.
I think God nudged me with His truth this week. Even as I looked at that long list and swore I’d never get it done, in the back of my mind, I could hear Him asking me, “Don’t you remember? Haven’t I always sustained you? Haven’t I always carried you through this? Why would I abandon you now? I’m here…have faith in me.”
Jesus promised that if we have even the smallest faith in him, “even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.” My pile of schoolwork may not quite be a mountain (though it feels like it), but resting in God’s faithfulness, I was able to make it through. Now if only I can remember that next time….
The other day, I was playing a card game with my brothers called “Dominion.” The details of the game are somewhat intricate, but the overall point of the game is relatively simple: you use money to buy cards, you use cards to buy points, and points are counted at the end to reveal the winner.
I thought I was doing pretty well in the game. Over time, I accumulated more and more cards. My stack got to be huge and my turns got longer… but when the end of the game came and we all counted our points, I was left far behind. I’d been so focused on accumulating a stack of cards that I’d forgotten what the cards were meant to be used on: buying points. I’d forgotten my cards – in and of themselves – had no value at the end. I’d missed the main point.
I’ve had a similar experience lately in my life. My graduation from college is only 9 months away and my thoughts have been turning to my future and my career. What do I want to do with my life? Do I want to go to law school or graduate school? Do I want to pursue a career in government or go into ministry or teach? Do I even want a career or does God have another plan for me? My future decisions seem so…looming and immediate. I’ve had dreams and aspiration of achievement and success and I’m trying to figure out what steps I need to take to get there.
But as I’ve studied and dreamed about how to accomplish the things I want to do and achieve, I was struck by a sudden thought: …why? Why am I studying so hard and pushing myself to my limits? Well, to get good grades. Why do I want good grades? Well, so I can get into a good law school. Why law school? So…maybe I can change the world. But…why?
I think it’s easy for me to get so focused on the next hurdle of my future – whether that’s my next midterm, taking the LSAT, or deciding on future schooling – that I forget to ask the why-question. I am so attentive to my immediate to-do list, I forget to ask…what’s the point? What counts when it’s “game over?”
It’s so easy for me to forget this question. It’s tempting to make my degrees, my career, my successes – like those cards – into the goal…instead of merely a means to the proper end. But, like in “Dominion,” this isn’t what the game is all about. With a lot of cards, I have long, seemingly productive turns…similarly, with a resume of “successes,” I can have a busy and productive life. But if I didn’t use the cards correctly – if I don’t use my talents and successes to achieve God’s work…I’ll lose in the end.
This isn’t to say, of course, that I’m going to just give up my drive to study or pursue excellence or to dream of making a difference in the world. In “Dominion,” I still needed the cards to buy the points to win in the end, and in life, I still need to position myself to obediently do what God is calling me to do. But what’s important is to recognize these things for what they really are – to acknowledge their proper function. They aren’t the point. They’re the tool, a means to an end. If I want my life to honor God, I need to focus on what counts.
The other day, I was visiting my younger brother’s college campus to pick up books from his college’s library for a research project. After picking up about 40 lbs. of books and shoving them into my backpack, I met him on the main floor of the library. Being the sweet young gentleman that he is, he immediately reached out and shouldered my heavy backpack for me. As we walked back through his campus so that I could bring him home for the weekend, we were struck with a bit of a dilemma. I needed to pick up the car in the parking garage…and he needed to go get his luggage from his dorm room. Either we were going to have to split up and go our separate ways — in which case I’d have to walk alone and carry my heavy backpack again. Or, I’d have to walk with my brother, out of my way to his dorm, while he continued to carry my load. Honestly, the choice wasn’t too difficult. I decided to take the detour rather than lug my books to my car.
While it ended up being a fairly simple choice to change my route to walk along with my brother so he could carry my books, I find it difficult, at times, to yield my way to God so I can walk alongside Him.
Midterms are over now, but paper and forensic tournament season has arrived. Toward the end of the semester, one of my favorite verses always is Matthew 11:28-30:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
These verses always serve as a good reminder that God is willing and able to carry my load and give me rest.
Recently, though, I’ve been under a lot of stress. Between tests, papers, upcoming moot court tournaments, and falling behind in school due to a long illness, I’ve got a lot on my plate and on my mind. Feeling weighed down, I turned to this verse and wondered…why isn’t my burden light like this verse promises?
The answer came to me in the form of Jerry Bridge’s book Trusting God. In one chapter, Bridges notes:
I once attended a seminar on the subject of Christians and stress. One of the speaker’s main points was that, if we want to live less stressful lives, we must learn to live with a single agenda: God’s agenda….God is sovereign over people. He will move their hearts to cause them to do His will, or He will restrain them from doing anything contrary to His will. But, it is His will, His agenda for our lives, that God will guard, protect, and advance. We must learn to live by His agenda if we are to trust Him.
That was my problem, I realized. Like my walk with my brother, I was faced with a dilemma. If I am to be yoked with God – if He is to carry my load and give me peace – one thing is required: I have to be going the same direction. Stress comes from choosing to carry pressures myself. We have a choice between two ways: walking alone or walking with God. God only walks on God’s path in His way. If we go His way, He’ll carry the weight of the pressure (as He shares our yoke). But if we decide to go our way, we’re left to carry the load alone.
With all my pressures and tasks, the stress was coming because I wanted things to go my way. I wanted to ace the test. I wanted to write the perfect paper. I wanted to win in Moot Court. By insisting on my own way, I was forcing myself to carry the heavy load. Rather than prayerfully giving my burdens to God and trusting Him for the outcome (going His way), I’ve been figuratively “heading straight to the parking garage carrying my own load of books.”
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Like my little brother – and, obviously, so much more so – God is right there to carry my load…if I just choose to go along with Him. While I may resist the “detour” from the route I’ve plotted out for myself, if I want rest, peace, and joy, God’s way is the only option.
Every political candidate knows that one of the most important parts of any campaign is the Get Out the Vote (GOTV) effort. You can do anything you want on the campaign and spend however many millions of dollars on campaign ads, but if you don’t get your supporters registered to vote and ensure that they actually show up at their polling location, your campaign is worthless. This election day, the GOTV effort was legendary as millions of Americans flocked to their polling stations and waited for hours in line to vote. But, as I sat in my family room on Tuesday night and watched the results of the election come in – as my heart sank with each reported result that went the “wrong way” – one thought echoed in my mind: where was God’s turnout in response to my prayers?
I pray for our nation – and particularly, for this election – every day, as I know many Christians in this country do. I prayed specifically that God would raise up godly leaders who would fight for Biblical principles and defend the innocent – like the unborn. In a way, I and many Christians across the country waged a prayer campaign for this election.
Perhaps that is why I, and others, felt so devastated and discouraged when the results returned to show that our country had elected men and women who – although I believe sincerely desire to help the country – do not promote biblical principles, nor work to protect the unborn. Also, across the nation, ballot initiatives passed which undermine traditional values of faith and family. It wasn’t just that campaigns failed to turn out enough voters. It felt like the most important person of all – the One to whom we’ve directed our pleas and petitions to for all these months – just…didn’t show up, like the many no-show voters who were just “too busy” or forgot. Where was God on election day?
As I’ve been mulling over this question for the past couple of days, I’ve come to a couple of conclusions:
- When we don’t see His hand, we learn to trust His heart.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is in Hebrews 2, where it says, “Now in putting everything in subjection to [Christ], [God] left nothing outside [Christ’s] control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him. But we see Him…”At the moment, we can’t see what God’s plan is for our nation. We can’t understand how this election somehow fits into His overall scheme. We can’t even see how this election was somehow subject to His sovereign plan. However, we know Him. We know His heart. We know that He will never leave us, nor forsake us. We know that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. And we know that He is watching over us…even when we can’t see it. We may not understand God’s plan for our country…but we know Him and can trust His heart.
- God doesn’t need to do things our way to accomplish His purposes.
I’m sure we are not the first Christians – nor the last – to wonder why God allowed bad things to happen to our nation. The Israelites must have wondered what God was doing when He allowed them to be conquered by the Assyrians and Babylonians. The first Christians must have wondered why Jesus didn’t return to overthrow Nero and bring an end to the persecution the church experienced. Christians around the world must wonder why God allows tyrannical Communist and Muslim regimes to rule despite prayers for relief.Under today’s leadership, we do not experience anything like what these Christians have experienced. But we can take comfort that God works, even through ungodly leaders to accomplish His purposes. The pagan Babylonian king – Nebuchadnezzar – had a direct encounter with God which forced Him to acknowledge God as the Sovereign of the universe. Through Pharaoh, God revealed His power to the Israelites. Through Artaxerxes, God provided the funds for the walls of Jerusalem to be rebuilt. Through Nero, God scattered the church and His saving gospel across the globe.God’s purposes will be accomplished in His time and His way. He does not need to operate through our chosen leader or through our chosen strategy. He will accomplish His perfect will in this country – no matter what the election results say.
So where was God on election day? He was there. He was present. He was aware. He never left us. He heard our prayers. Though many of us may wonder what God’s plan is for our nation, this election should not be a source of discouragement for us, nor should it shake our faith in our good, gracious, and loving God. When we serve a sovereign God, no situation is ever impossible or hopeless. Instead, it is time for Christians to continue to pray for our nation and wait in anticipation to see how God is going to work and move beyond our wildest hopes and dreams.
Note: This blog post is not meant to be a commentary on the “rightness” or “wrongness” of any particular party or politician. If your party celebrated a victory this election, I hope that you recognize that this post is still relevant to you. Whether you face disappointments in prayers for an election, or for healing, or for — really — any area of life, these points still stand. Please continue to intercede in prayer for our nation and our leaders.
A shocking and tragic email appeared in my inbox this afternoon: a beautiful and beloved professor at my college had closed her eyes for the last time yesterday evening. It was sudden — no one at my college anticipated or expected it.
In a way, the timing was very sobering for me. Attending a college with a strong political focus, tomorrow’s presidential election has been very prominent in my view. But my professor will never know, nor need to worry about, the results of tomorrow’s election. Safe in Jesus’ arms, she is already reveling in Christ’s ultimate victory — over death, over sickness, over all…
Her view from heaven is the right view. Tragic and sudden deaths will occur in this world. Elections will come and go. Politicians whom we support will win and lose. But as we continue to walk through this life, whether we celebrate or mourn, we can take comfort in Christ’s ultimate victory.
In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.“ – John 16:33
When I was six or seven years old, my Sunday School teacher used to tell us to pray with our hands open and outstretched so that we could “accept God’s blessings.” The problem was, when we finished praying, my hands were always still empty. So much for receiving God’s blessings. One week, I had had enough, so I came up with a brilliant plan. While we prayed with eyes closed, I held out my one hand — open and outstretched — but then used the other to slide my quarter for my tithe offering into my open hand. Then, when I opened my eyes – voila! There was a quarter there! I was so smug and proud of myself. There you go, God, I thought to myself, I helped you out…this time.
Obviously, it wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that my Sunday School teacher didn’t expect money to magically appear in my hands and that the blessings I was praying to receive weren’t necessarily coming in the form of quarters or any other type of money. Now that I’m older, I obviously don’t think I need to help God out answering my prayers…or do I?
Over the past twelve or thirteen years, it’s true, I no longer put quarters into my hands during church to substitute for God’s blessings. But I think little kids often reflect the same things that we do as adults…we just hide it better now.
The Bible is full of stories about people who felt that they needed to “help God out” in fulfilling the promises that He made to them. Sarah, for example, told her husband Abraham that the heir that God promised to him would have to come through her slave, Hagar, since she herself was too old. Saul, when preparing to go into battle against the Philistines, offered sacrifices to God himself after giving up on waiting for Samuel to come to perform the sacrifices on his behalf. Aaron and the Israelites chose to make a golden calf “god” after waiting for a long time for Moses to return from meeting with God on Mount Sinai.
In all of these instances, things didn’t turn out so well for those who lost patience, and on this side of our Bibles, it often looks foolish for these people to have taken matters into their own hands. God had just promised Abraham many descendents in Genesis 15! How could Sarah lose faith by Genesis 16? It was only one chapter!
But, all of these individuals were tested by waiting – whether it was seven days or ten years – and all of them ultimately failed to wait patiently. They decided that God needed some help…just like me with my quarter.
I think we all still do that today, even as “fully modern” adults. We pray for something – maybe direction or provision – and when we seemingly get no answer, we lose patience and take matters into our own hands. This is the basic idea behind the old saying that “God helps those who help themselves.”
And while it’s true that, to an extent, we shouldn’t sit back and expect God to plop plans and provisions into our laps while we lounge on the couch and watch TV, I think we often lose patience with waiting on God far too easily.
As Christians, we need to cling to the truth that God never misses our prayers like we tend to miss calls or emails. He hears each and every one of our prayers and he answers them all. Sometimes He gives us an immediate yes or no. Other times (and more often than not), though, it’s simply “wait.”
God isn’t making a mistake when He tells us to wait. It’s not like He is caught off-guard by our requests and has to make up His mind while we wait. God’s timing is perfect and He will move in His timing, not ours. In the meantime, God uses that waiting time. That waiting teaches us to trust His plan. It builds our faith in Him as we put aside our plans and our timing in favor of His.
Is it fun to wait? No…not usually. But it’s worth it. God’s plan and timing is always better than our cheap substitutes. God answers our prayers in ways that we can’t even imagine. He doesn’t need our help. We just often need to be content to leave our outstretched hands empty until He chooses to fill them His way.
Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved to read mysteries – working my way up from the Boxcar Children to Nancy Drew to Agatha Christie. It’s funny when I think about this being one of my favorite genres because…well, usually I hate unknowns (and, of course, mystery novels are full of unknowns). Anyone who has watched a movie with me knows this. I want to know if it’s going to have a happy ending, who dies, who lives, who gets married to whom…everything, before the movie is barely underway. But with mystery novels, it’s different. I’m content to sit back and enjoy the story – I never flip to the back of the book to see if a favorite character is still alive. I was thinking about this the other day and wondering why there’s such a difference between how I read mysteries and watch movies and I came to the conclusion that the reason I can “enjoy the journey” with mystery novels is because I choose books where I trust the author.
Yes, I’m one of those readers who devours every single book by an author before moving onto a new series. The way I figure it, I’ll stick with any author who can tell a good story – someone who has perfect timing, who gently weaves each small detail together, and who brings each mystery to a satisfactory ending. Each time I pick up an Agatha Christie book, no matter how suspenseful the book may be, I can just enjoy it because I know that whatever happens, Christie ensures it’ll be good.
But, as I’ve pondered this a bit more, it occurred to me that what Agatha Christie can do with fiction, God does with life. In Hebrews 2:10, Jesus is called “the author of our salvation,” and in Acts 3:15, Peter refers to him as “the author of life.” As our Creator and Lord, He is writing a unique story for each of us. And, as in the mystery books I love to read, my life is a story…a journey. Unfortunately, I’m often not as patient with life as I am my books. I’ve always been the one who wants to get ahead…never quite content with where I am at the moment. When I was little, I always wanted to be doing whatever my older brother was doing. When I was in high school, I wanted to graduate. When I was in college, I wanted to get an internship. As an intern, I’m excited about getting a job. Each phase in my life is easily overshadowed by the anticipation of – and longing for – the next chapter.
I guess I’m always thinking ahead mostly because I’m concerned about how my life will all turn out. Sometimes I think that if I could just know what God has in store for my life, I’d be happier – even if it was just having basic questions answered with no specifics like…will I get married?…have a career?…impact the world? Unfortunately, though, God doesn’t give me the “heads up” on any of these things.
But, stopping to think about it…would I really want Him to? When I’m reading a mystery, I don’t want to know “who-done-it” before the end of the book. I don’t want to know who gets knocked off or who is lying…at least, not before it’s time for me to know. That would spoil the ending and take most of the fun out of reading the book.
It’s the same with life. God doesn’t tell us how our lives will unfold…and really, we shouldn’t want Him to. In the same way that you don’t ride the roller-coaster for the sole purpose of getting to the end, in life it is important to embrace the twists, turns, bumps, and climbs that come our way right now.
God has created us to enjoy life – to enjoy the journey. He is the author of our lives and one we can always trust to bring a good and satisfying ending to our story. So pull up a chair, sit back, and enjoy each and every plot twist as it comes along – He’ll make sure we live happily ever after.
I was a high school junior and I desperately wanted to attend Furman University. The problem, though, was…finances. Furman cost a fortune and the only way that I was going to be able to go there after graduating was if I qualified for a scholars program that winter. Another problem: my SAT score was 50 points short of the threshold for the scholars program. Fifty points isn’t an unrealistic jump between the first and second times testing, so I had high hopes when I retook the SAT that winter. My whole future rested on that test. I needed those points or…the world would end (for me at least).
Two weeks later, at 7am, my mom came into my room to tell me my results: my score fell 100 points. That was it…I couldn’t go to my dream school. I should have been devastated. My mom fully expected me to dissolve into tears on the spot. But…I was strangely at peace. I couldn’t explain it. I suppose it was the “peace that surpasses all understanding.” Had someone asked me a week earlier how I expected to react if I didn’t get those 50 points, that was definitely not what I expected. But, this was just one example of something that I’ve seen over and over again throughout the years: God gives us grace to weather storms when they come, not before they do.
It’s so easy to worry about the future – especially about big decisions like college, employment, or marriage. I can’t count how many hours I’ve probably spent thinking and rethinking my future plans. My friends like to laugh at me because my college course schedule has changed probably about a dozen times in my first two years of college. I’ve worried about both likely and unlikely circumstances: what if I fail my classes?…What if I get stuck in a boring job?…What if I become chronically ill? Sometimes I’m not sure how I’d manage to cope if things in my life began to fall apart.
However, one of my pastors once had a wonderful piece of advice for me about worry. He told me that worry is pointless because we’re stressing about something that God has not given us grace for yet.
Corrie ten Boom told a story in her book The Hiding Place about a conversation with her father when she was a little girl:
“Daddy, I am afraid that I will never be strong enough to be a martyr for Jesus Christ.”
“Tell me,” said Father, “When you take a train trip to Amsterdam, when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks before?”
“No, Daddy, you give me the money for the ticket just before we get on the train.”
“That is right,” my father said, “and so it is with God’s strength. Our Father in Heaven knows when you will need the strength to be a martyr for Jesus Christ. He will supply all you need – just in time…”
Corrie was highlighting precisely what I felt that morning when I found out I could no longer go to my “dream college.” I couldn’t explain the peace that I felt that morning, but I know for sure that that peace was the strength and grace of God that arrived precisely when I needed it. God never promised that we would get everything that we wanted, but He did promise that He would comfort us and would help us to make it through the difficult times. It’s like what Jesus said to his disciples when he cautioned them about persecution, “On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say.” (Mat. 10:18-19)
When we worry about things before they come, we’re wasting our energy. God gives us the peace and comfort just in time. He supplies our daily grace.