No Regrets

Posted: May 29, 2012 by clairer in God's Power, Purpose, Trusting God

I’m not a huge fan of the Field of Dreams. In my opinion, it’s a bit slow and rather nonsensical. Other than being a baseball movie, really, the only thing I like about the movie is the scene below. In this scene, Doc – once a young man with one major league at-bat, and now an old man past his prime – gets to go back and relive his baseball dream, until…


I suppose that in some ways, this is a tragic clip – Doc had to give up his own dream in order to save a young girl’s life. But I think there’s more to this scene than simply sacrificial undertones. I think it raises an important question about regrets and “if only’s” in our lives.

One of the most frequently quoted verses in the New Testament is probably Romans 8:28, “…and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This verse has become so routine that I think the concept can sometimes become stale. Take a minute to ponder this truth: for Christians, God works everything – our mistakes, our failings, our hurt, our confusion – for our good. Mistakes that we make are no longer mistakes – they are avenues to God’s greater purposes for our lives.

In this scene from Field of Dreams, Doc had the opportunity to go back and relive the dream he had left behind 60 years previously – playing baseball in the major leagues. But although Doc may have lived with regrets that he was never able to realize his dream, his decision to become a doctor instead led him (providentially) to a small village and a thriving medical practice that impacted the lives of hundreds of people around him for decades. In this clip, he essentially let’s go of the past, and embraces where his life has taken him.

I think this idea can really be seen in C.S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian. Lucy, a girl who goes to the fanciful world of Narnia, does not follow Aslan (Narnia’s parallel of God) when he originally calls. Instead, she follows her siblings into a disastrous alternate route. When Lucy sees Aslan later, she immediately regrets her mistake and wishes she could know what would have happened if she had followed Aslan.  She pleads:

“Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?” said Lucy rather faintly.
“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No, nobody is ever told that. But anyone can find out what will happen.”

I think Aslan’s last line is very telling. In God’s kingdom, there is no room for looking back, for wondering what would have happened. As Corrie ten Boom once said, “There are no ‘ifs’ in God’s kingdom.” But all these past things are used by God to lead and guide us to be who we are today, and to be who we are called to be in the future – to shape what will happen.

I definitely find this comforting in my own life when I look back and wonder – did I get this right? Did I choose the right internship? Did I take the right course? Did I say the right thing? Did I spend my time wisely on that day? Maybe I made wise choices, maybe I made foolish choices and I will reap the benefits and consequences of those decisions. However, nothing that I do can surprise God or mess up His greater plan and purpose for my life. And ultimately, despite the consequences of mistakes, He’ll work all things together for my good. There are no “if only’s” when you have a sovereign and loving God.

Beautiful Scars

Posted: May 24, 2012 by clairer in God's Faithfulness, Truth

My toe nail is black. Yes, literally, black. It happened five months ago now playing an alumni basketball game with my old high school team. I’m happy I at least injured it athletically and not by stubbing it on a stair. But, over the past several months, while I’ve been waiting for my toe to heal, I’ve done my best to cover up the “injury.” It isn’t something that’s terribly pleasant to look at so when I go out in flip flops, sandals, or bare feet, I’m careful to cover up that particular toe with a band-aid. When I forget, I just tuck that toe surreptitiously under my other foot. My “scar” isn’t something that I want to show off to the world because, frankly, it’s ugly and makes me look bad.

I think I sometimes do that with other areas of my life, though, too – not necessarily with physical scars, but with emotional or spiritual rough spots. I’m a perfectionist and, as such, I usually like to seem like I have it all together. I like to make it seem like I’ve got no problems, no flaws…like nothing bothers me.

But, not surprisingly, I’m human. I’ve had times of spiritual dryness, times when I’ve been hurt, times when I have been less than perfect. We all have these pockets of imperfections. But, like my toe, I think we often try to cover them up and make sure that no one can see them. That way, we seem whole, even if we are somewhat “broken” inside.

But I think this is a mistake. Our “scars” are a testament to who we have been and who God has made us today. Every physical scar comes with a story – like my little brother’s small scar above his eye where he got hit going up for a rebound in a basketball practice (yes, another sports injury). In the same way, our scars from our histories tell a story – and, for those of us who are Christians, a story of grace.

For example, when I was a freshman in high school, I went through a very difficult time spiritually and really began to question my faith. Am I proud that my faith waivered for a time? No. Do I love broadcasting the fact? No. But still, I’ll talk about it with my friends and I’ve written about it on this blog. Why? Because that “scar” – that rough time – points to God’s grace in my life and can be used to help others.

I’ve been able to relate to many of my friends who are doubting their faith because I’ve gone through it. I can talk to unbelievers about how God has changed my life because I can point to that time of doubt. I can be a testament to God’s grace by revealing that “scar.”

I know there are other areas of my life that can be witnesses to what God has done as well. There are things in my past that I may not be proud of, decisions that I regret, or experiences where I’ve been hurt. But by being open to using these experiences to  testify to God’s grace, these scars can be used by God…not band-aided over.

Why…?

Posted: February 27, 2012 by clairer in Uncategorized

Are you ever tempted to ask, “Why me?” I hate to admit it, but I am. I get sick right before a test…why me? One of my best friends moves away…why me? An application for a college, scholarship, or internship is turned down…why me? Awhile back, I was asking this question day after day as I felt like God was strategically stripping away everything of value in my life. Why me? There were some days when I felt like I was living my mini version of the book of Job. Job lost everything before his famous encounter with God in Job 38. He, too, asked “Why me?” But as I was reading through my Bible, I realized that, although Job is often highlighted for his suffering, this pattern is far from abnormal in the lives of those God chooses to serve Him.

Think of the heroes of the Bible – from Noah to Abraham to Jacob to Joseph to Moses to David to Daniel to Esther to Peter to Paul. These biblical heroes are often studied for God’s blessings on them or for the successes that God granted them. These heroes saved the Israelites from slavery, annihilation, and starvation. They were saved from angry Pharaohs, lions, and floods. They witnessed to the nations and performed miracles before thousands. But too often, I think we focus on these successes and blessings and forget how these heroes got into these situations in the first place.

Flip through the Bible, select a biblical hero, and nearly every time, you will see someone who lost everything before being used by God.

  • Noah watched the earth – his roots and his possessions – be swallowed by a flood.
  • Abraham was called to leave his home, his family, his gods, his lifestyle before God promised to make him a great nation.
  • Jacob fled from his home – abandoning his mother and father – with no possessions or friends, sleeping alone in the wilderness with a rock for a pillow.
  • Joseph was sold away from his family into slavery and entered Egypt with less than nothing.
  • Ruth’s husband died and she left her family and home to travel to Israel with her mother-in-law, Naomi.
  • David fled for his life from Saul and was left with no home, no possessions, and even had his wife taken from him.
  • Daniel and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were seized from their homes in Israel to serve the Babylonian king.
  • Esther was torn from her home and family in order to be added to the king’s list of candidates for queen (running the risk of forever living in the king’s harem).

…and the list goes on and on. Nearly every Biblical hero not only suffered but lost everything before being used by God? Why? Why them? Why would God allow His greatest servants to suffer before using them for His purposes? It seems to me that if God wanted to attract people to serve Him, it would be better to bless them abundantly before recruiting them. But that’s not how God did it. Why? I believe there are two main reasons.

First, I think God allowed these people to lose everything in order to show them where true value lies. God took away everything else that these men and women could have been tempted to value – family, honor, security, possessions, health.  All that these individuals had left was the only thing of lasting value that could never be taken away – a personal relationship with God. This knowledge of the worth of a relationship with God helped these biblical heroes to accomplish God’s purposes later on. As Paul wrote to the Philippians, “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” (Phil. 3:8) Those who had already been emptied of everything were willing to sacrifice all to do God’s work.

Secondly, I think that this emptying set a standard of God’s provision for these individuals to look back upon when things became difficult later on in their journey. Take Moses, for example. When God called Moses to His service, Moses had just gone from riches to rags. He had been a Prince of Egypt, and suddenly, he was an outlaw reduced to seeking refuge in the desert, caring for dirty, smelly sheep. It’s hard to imagine a greater reversal of fortunes. And yet God took him from that position and led him to accomplish the impossible: freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. God proved Himself faithful in Moses’ hopeless situation. This was something that Moses could look back to when he found himself in desperate situations again and again. In the same way that the Israelites could look back to the separation of the Red Sea as a reminder of God’s provision, Moses could trust God to provide for him in the years ahead because of what God had already done to provide for him in the midst of suffering.

So why do I find it encouraging to realize that biblical heroes suffered just as much – and certainly more – than I ever have or will? Well, maybe it’s just that, as the old proverb goes, “misery loves company.” However, I think the real reason is that seeing how God worked things out for these individuals gives me hope for the future. Each of these biblical heroes suffered at the beginning of or even before the start of their ministries. Though they lost everything initially, God used those sufferings to strengthen them to serve Him in spectacular ways throughout the rest of their lives.

I guess that this realization just makes me appreciate that the discouragements and difficulties that I experience in my life now could be God preparing me for His future call upon my life.  It makes me change the “Why me?” question to ask “What can I learn about God and His mission for my life from this experience?” It causes me to say – when things seemingly go wrong – that God is at work accomplishing greater things than I can possibly imagine to give me a future and a hope.

24/7: 7am – Glorified Commute

Posted: January 25, 2012 by clairer in Uncategorized

You see all different types on the metro – the white-collared and blue-collared workers, the grandparents and the students, newspaper readers and kindle users, veteran commuters and “newbie” tourists. People come from different backgrounds and are headed toward different destinations…many with their iPods in and their phones out – engaged in their own little world. But yesterday, one man wasn’t…

Early in the morning, as I found a seat in the already-packed metro, I sat across the aisle from an older, heavy-set woman. She didn’t look destitute, but she certainly didn’t seem terribly “high-class.” She kept on talking to the lady behind her (whom she obviously didn’t personally know) about how she had fallen near the escalators and how worried she was about a scrape. Maybe it’s just a pet-peeve of mine, but personally, I tend to have little patience with random people on the metro talking to me – especially about their personal lives. Honestly, I felt worse for the woman having to listen than the woman who had supposedly fallen.

When we arrived at our first stop, a middle-aged military officer in full camouflage boarded and joined the “listening” woman in her seat. I felt bad for him…wondering if he knew what he had gotten himself into. Sure enough, right after he sat down, the woman started telling him how she had fallen and how she was worried she wouldn’t make it to work. I expected him to ignore her or at the very least gently subdue her and put her off. However, to my surprise, the man responded, not with annoyance, but with genuine sympathy and respect toward the woman. He listened to her, addresser her as “ma’am,” and to my complete surprise, promised to make sure she got to work. Sure enough, fifteen minutes later, the man got off at the woman’s stop (which was clearly not his own), took her by the arm, and, presumably, guided her to her place of work.

I found this brief encounter to be so convicting. In the city, I am surrounded by a culture of self-advancement and self-absorption that is so easy to be sucked into. When I’m on the metro, I watch people scramble for seats instead of deferring to the person next to them. They put in their earbuds and seem to forget about the world around them. On the escalators and on the street, people quickly walk to their offices without giving a second thought or glance to the homeless people or even to the other businessmen and women they are passing by. And yet, for just one morning, a man put aside what was easy and convenient for himself. He went out of his way to love his neighbor and to count someone else as more significant than himself.

Ever since I started my internship, I’ve been thinking about 24/7 – about how I could be glorifying God throughout my day, and even at 7am on my daily commute. This man gave me my answer: by being considerate of others and by not falling prey to the self-absorption around me. On some days, that might mean giving up my seat. On others, it might mean letting someone else board the crowded car before I do. On some other days, it might simply mean smiling and greeting someone, or being a listening ear…even if I’m tired and bored. As Christians, we are not called to be self-absorbed commuters. We are called to be different – to lay down our lives for our neighbors. And that starts with even the smallest areas of life…like riding the metro.

24/7: Learning to Glorify God All Day, Every Day (Series Introduction)
24/7: 6am — Wait in Expectation (24/7 Part I)

24/7: 6am — Wait in Expectation

Posted: January 12, 2012 by clairer in 24/7, Prayer

Maybe it’s just me, but the world seems so much bleaker at 6am. It’s usually dark outside — sometimes cold and rainy — and I’m often sleepy and drowsy with a day of work and classes ahead of me. Every once in awhile — like on my birthday or Christmas — I wake up with an excited sense of anticipation for the events of the day ahead; but more frequently, I only anticipate the daily routine of homework and classes. Nothing particularly exciting…nothing particularly special…

When I get up in the morning and start to pray, my prayers can fall into a usual routine too. “Heavenly Father, give me strength to make it through today, bless my friends and my family, and help me to grow to be more like You.” Of course, my prayers vary from time to time. If I have a test that day, I might pray that God will help me to do well; or, if one of my friends is sick, I might ask for healing. However, the point is, often times praying — and my prayers themselves — can become a part of my dry, everyday, non-exciting routine. But…does this really glorify God?

In some ways, we could say that yes, it does. Simply by virtue of praying, I am glorifying God by humbly expressing my dependence on Him and my belief that He can both hear me and provide for me. By both expressing my helplessness and by acknowledging who God is, I am already glorifying Him.

However, I think I too often stop short of glorifying God to the extent that I can through my prayers. By allowing my prayer time and my prayers to become dry and routine, I fundamentally reduce God’s glory in my own eyes and deny myself the oportunity to see God’s power at work in my life and in the lives of those around me.

See, routine prayers say a lot about what I believe. As Matthew 12:34 says, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” First, routine prayers often tend to be very general. It’s as though I believe God is either uninterested in the specifics of my life or He isn’t able to handle anything more than the basics of my life. It is almost as if these prayers need to help God out. As long as I pray broadly, God will be able to answer that prayer in some way or form. It’s almost a safety net to keep me from being disappointed by an distant or weak God. But we don’t serve a weak God, and to pray in such a way makes God small in our eyes.

Instead, we should let the specificity of our prayers be a testament to the awesome power and ability of our God to do anything and everything. Instead of praying simply for spiritual growth, pray for specific manifestations of grace — increased patience, service, and sensitivity. Instead of just praying for strength for the day, pray for specific parts of the day — wisdom and grace for certain conversations, perseverance and productivity for papers, safety for travels. By doing this, we glorify God by acknowledging His greatness.

Praying specifically and earnestly glorifies God in another way too: by opening our eyes to answered prayers. The danger of routine praying is the same as waking up to the routine day I described earlier — you don’t expect anything new or exciting to happen. But this is fundamentally different from the way that David prayed in Psalm 5. In this Psalm, David says, “In the morning, I lay my request before God and wait in expectation.” David doesn’t lay his request before God and then move on with the rest of his day completely forgetting what he prayed about that morning. He waits in expectation — anticipating answer to prayer, looking for them throughout the day.

By praying specifically, we provide ourselves with the opportunity to see God at work. Sure, it’s neat when we pray every day that God would direct our steps in our life and then one day we get the opportunity to start a new job. But doesn’t it fill you with so much more  awe when you are specifically asking God about whether you should pursue an internship for the next semester and then that very day an email comes asking you to apply for an internship at an organization? It is so obviously a work of God and an answer to prayer. It causes us to praise and thank God because we specifically see God’s hand at work. It builds our faith for future prayers. All these things glorify God.

So, although prayer in and of itself glorifies God, it holds the potential to do so much more than we often let it. Our prayers can be so much greater, more exciting, more fulfilling, and more God glorifying if we simply take the time to pray genuinely  and specifically, and then wait in expectation.

24/7: Learning to Glorify God All Day, Every Day (Series Introduction)

24/7: Learning to Glorify God All Day, Every Day

Posted: January 12, 2012 by clairer in 24/7

The Westminster Catechism states that the purpose of life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. In the Bible, 1 Corinthians 10:31 commands us, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Of course, that sounds great and is definitely a goal we want to pursue. But, I know in my own life, this is something that seems good in theory, but when I get into my day — between classes and commutes, lectures and lines in the cafeteria, sports and socializing — I’m not always sure what it looks like to glorify God through everything that I do.

That is what this series is going to explore. The Bible tells us that our calling as Christians is to glorify God, but this series will explore how we can do that practically hour to hour and day by day…24/7 living for Him.

Hungry for Hope

Posted: January 2, 2012 by clairer in Bible, Hope

I always cringe a bit when I come across verses in Psalms like Psalm 1:2, “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he mediates day and night.” Love of, and devotion to, God’s word is a consistent theme in Psalms. I feel a bit guilty when I read these verses because, while I read my Bible pretty consistently, my love of Scripture is nowhere near this level of passion. I always wonder how David and the other psalmists did it…how could they generate such excitement for the Scriptures — the law no less! — to be meditating on it day and night? Part of it definitely came from a genuine love for God and a desire to know Him better. But I think there was something else driving their passion as well. The psalms are songs of desperation as much as they are songs of praise. The psalmists often were starving…not physically, but they were hungry for hope.

When God created mankind, He did some amazing things with the way the human body works. One of those things was He developed self-preservation instincts in the human brain. Because of this, when people are literally starving, the thing that dominates their waking and sleeping thoughts is food and how to find food. Psychologically, these thoughts haunt them until their hunger is satisfied.

I think it works the same way with hope. When people are desperate and spiritually needy, the search for hope and the source of hope dominates their thinking. For those who have no source of hope, this search is, well…hopeless, and leads them to despair as they feel the resounding emptiness of the hope that the world offers. But for Christians, being hungry for hope leads us to the one place we know we can find it: the Scriptures.

The Scriptures remind those who have lost their hope that there is a God who cares for His children, who works things for their good, who can work miracles, who has preserved His people for generations, and who has solved our greatest problem. This is what drives the psalmists, in the same way that a person hungry for food “meditates” on food day and night, so too do those who are hungry for hope.

I know in my life, the times that I have felt the most needy have likewise been the times of the greatest spiritual growth in my life because I have been driven to study and “dwell” in the Scriptures. This realization has caused me to begin a new (intense) Bible reading plan to start this new year. If I want hope in the year ahead, I want to cultivate a passion for my source of hope…God’s Word.

For other ideas of Bible reading plans, an excellent helpful article can be found here

A Father to Cry With

Posted: December 29, 2011 by clairer in God's Goodness, Trusting God

It is not uncommon for people to tell me when I’m struggling with difficulties or trials to “trust God” because He will work it all out for my good even if I can’t see it yet. It’s a good reminder and I know it’s true because the Bible guarantees that God “works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.” However, sometimes I want — I need — something more than just that reassurance of future hope. I know that I have a sovereign God, but sometimes I need to be reminded that He is also my loving Father.

I find it very easy to imagine God as….not unsympathetic, but almost unfeeling toward the pain that I experience. I know that God loves me, but I can easily picture Him as more distant — seeing my pain, but (although He cares) not particularly hurting with me because of His omniscient confidence that all will end well.

But….is this how a true, good father would behave toward his hurting child? Even if the father knew that everything would be okay — for example, if a father knew his child’s broken leg would set and heal properly — would he be distant and content with just that knowledge? Or, is it more likely that he will still ache with and for his child and the pain his child must endure before the healing? Obviously, a good father would do the latter. In the same way, I believe God also aches for his children when they are hurting, since He cares even more for His children than any earthly father could (Matthew 7:11).

John 11:35 has often been reduced to a bit of trivia in Christian circles. “What is the shortest verse in the Bible?” Answer: “Jesus wept.” But I think we often miss the context and significance of that verse. That verse is found in the chapter where Lazarus dies and Jesus returns to raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus knew that everything would “work out.” He even told Martha, Lazarus’ sister, that “Your brother will rise again.” However, when Mary, Lazarus’ other sister, came to see Jesus and Jesus saw her weeping, the Bible says that “He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled” and then…”Jesus wept.”

Jesus mourned alongside Mary and the other mourners. His omniscience did not keep Him from keenly feeling and experiencing the pain of His little children. In the same way, God is not distant or unfeeling toward any of His children in pain now. Instead, as a loving Father, He is “near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in Spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

Hanging On

Posted: November 28, 2011 by clairer in God's Faithfulness, God's Goodness, Hope, Purpose, Trusting God

I think that one of the most poignant scenes in the Lord of the Rings occurs at the end of the Return of the King. The ring has finally been cast into the sea of lava in Mount Doom and Frodo dangles over the lava at the edge of the cliff, clinging with all his might to a jagged rock. He looks down as the most important object in life — the reason for his year-long journey — sinks and dissolves in the fire beneath him. Then he looks up at Sam, offering him a hand. He looks back at the ring. For a moment, it looks like he will let go…that he will follow the ring to a fiery end.

It’s that moment that always stands out to me. Frodo thought — even just for a moment — of letting go. What was going through his mind as he watched the most valuable thing in life dissolve beneath him? What could he do? He couldn’t get it back. He was faced with only two options: cling to the cliff or let go and sink below.

Recently, though, I feel like I’ve been able to understand Frodo just a bit more. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve watched as God has taken certain things that I have invested in and cherished in my life — just like the ring for Frodo — and has dropped them into the fires of “Mount Doom.” Some days, I feel just like Frodo…like I’m just “holding on.”

But like Frodo, I’m also faced with a decision. No, it’s not a choice between life and death, but it is a choice between hope and despair. When these trials entered my life, I couldn’t get rid of them. I couldn’t just “fix” them anymore than Frodo could prevent the ring from dissolving. But that leaves me with only two options: cling or let go.

But unlike Frodo, I’m not clinging to a rock made out of granite and dirt, I’m clinging to the Rock, my Salvation. When I lose the things that matter most to me in life, I can sink into the waves of despair or I can cling to the promises of God. I can cling to the promise that God loves me, that He will never give me more than I can bear, that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes, that He knows the plans He has for me — plans to prosper me and not to harm me, to give me a hope and a future. These are the only sure things I can cling to, and in times of trial, these promises are what is keeping me from sinking.

I think that sometimes God gives us trials just to shake our foundation — to show us that what we’ve built our life upon can just disappear. But when we lose our footing and we need something to grab onto to keep us from sinking, He intends that we cling to Him — to that solid Rock — and His loving and everlasting promises. After all, what other option do we have?

How’s Life?

Posted: October 5, 2011 by clairer in Contentment, God's Faithfulness, God's Goodness, Trusting God

As I sat in a corner booth of my college’s dining hall, hunched over a 2-inch binder full of Supreme Court cases to memorize, I glanced up to see a friend of mine slip into the booth across from me. “How’s life treating you?” she asked as she sat down. How was I supposed to answer that? I had three midterms and a paper coming up within hours of each other this week and I was sick….how did she think life was treating me? As I bit back complaints about my exhaustion, busyness, and sickness, it occurred to me that I was looking at this question from the wrong perspective. My outlook shouldn’t have been, “How is life treating me?” Life is busy, chaotic, and far from perfect. But that’s not what matters. A better way to view this question was, “How is God treating me?”

When I mentally rephrased my friend’s question this way, my whole attitude and perspective on my life drastically shifted. I went from thinking about all the things wrong or hard in my life, to thinking about how many things were undeservedly right in my life?

How is God treating me?

He is treating me with love. He, a holy and just God, is viewing me, a rebellious sinner, through the lens of the righteousness of His Son because He loved me enough to send His son to die for me!

He is treating me with undeserved grace. I am attending a strong Christian college where I can devote myself to studying the things I love. He has surrounded me with caring friends and a loving family. He has given me generally good health, a wonderful church, and a range of opportunities. What did I do to deserve such favor? Nothing. Yet God is gracious and gives these things to me.

He is treating me with faithfulness. Before my tests, I knew that He would grant me the strength that I needed to study. During the tests, I knew He would faithfully give me remembrance. After the tests, I knew that He would grant me rest. And no matter what happened in each test, I knew that He would still be there for me when I cried to Him in prayer.

How has God been treating me? He has been treating me with goodness, kindness, and mercy.

It was with this realization that my perspective was drastically reordered. All those problems that I had to complain about earlier seemed pretty petty all of a sudden. Really, I realized, life can’t treat me that badly, because God is that good.