On Boiling Water

Sometimes you may feel overwhelmed by what you’re going through; I’ve gone through quite a lot in my life, and I’ve learned that my mindset or attitude can greatly affect how I perceive my situation, and whether I’m drained by, or overcome by, my circumstances, or whether I gain strength and overcome them.  That’s the “boiling water” principle.

Boiling Water

“They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the Lord.”

Snapshot: Decision-Making

“Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.” — Robert H. Schuller

Values, Decisions

Joshua 9 / Job 2:9-10 / Psalm 119:97-112 / Proverbs 3 / Proverbs 11:14 / Proverbs 16 / James 1:2-5

Snapshot

Making decisions is something that each of us do dozens of times a day; if you’re fully dressed, you’ve already made half a dozen (unless you’re wearing a uniform).  What to eat, which way to go, scheduled events or tasks in a day… those are usually no-brainers.  There are some phases in life that require more consequential decisions, such as embarking on further education, or who to marry, or where to live.  Those decisions are more far-reaching and more challenging, and that’s where God’s wisdom is needed.  When we come to a proverbial crossroad in relationships, careers or education, we need insight, sometimes beyond what our limited perspective can provide, and that’s where the Lord comes in.  As the song by First Call goes, “I may not know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.

I’ve emigrated twice – from America to Scotland, and from Scotland to Switzerland (where I am a citizen).  As you can imagine, emigrating is a huge decision; burning bridges, ditching possessions, residence, jobs, transport, reducing relationships to Skype and Facebook contact (though back then, neither were even a dream on the horizon and relationships were reduced to hand-written letters and rare, very expensive phone calls!)  Several years ago my husband and I did some serious soul-searching about a possible third emigration, this time to New Zealand; it had come up again and again over the course of a few years, and we’d felt a growing pull; we prayed a lot about it, and then spent six weeks in a motor home travelling the north island.  While we adored the country, its scenery, atmosphere, people and cultures, we both sensed that it was not our place.  Shortly after returning to Switzerland with that decision made, we felt God’s peace in staying here, and we bought the flat we now live in.  That decision process was an important one, and though it was a “no” to NZ, it led us to where we are, and I’ll be forever grateful to God for it!

Each and every major decision in my life has been made doused in prayer; I’ve learned that, when I have a peace about God’s will or direction, the decisions and consequences flow naturally, and events connected to that choice fall into place easily.  Making decisions on impulse, or out of anger or time pressure is never a wise course of action; rash choices tend to go wrong.  That’s not to say that I’m slow to make decisions; I have practiced prayer and discernment so long that I can make fairly clear decisions in a short time and know that it’s the “right thing to do”.  And sometimes, reversing a decision also has consequences:  Once when living near London, I decided on the spur of the moment NOT to go into the city one Saturday as I’d long planned to do.  The day I decided not to go, the IRA set off a bomb in one of the major underground stations (through which I would have been travelling) and paralyzed the train system for a few days – I could have been a statistic at worst, and at the very least I would have been trapped in town, forced to pay for a hotel I could little afford!

In the Bible there’s quite a lot about making decisions:  Joshua 9 tells us the story about the Gibeonite deception.  If Israel had asked God (9:14), he would have opened their minds and eyes to the deception, and that would have prevented them from entering a treaty that went against God’s commands concerning the peoples in the Promised Land (Joshua 1:3-5; Deuteronomy 11:22-32); they were thus unable to possess the land of their treaty partners, but made them serve as household servants instead (9:21,27).  In Job 2:9-10, Job is faced with an inner, spiritual decision:  His wife offers the typical reactive choice to the experience of injustice or feeling like one’s been abandoned or tried too much – “why are you still holding on to your integrity?  Curse God and die!”  But Job’s response reveals a commitment to a decision he’d made long before that point:  It’s hypocritical to accept blessings and good from God, but suddenly reject God if trouble comes along.  It’s all too human to blame God for anything and everything that goes wrong in life, even when he’s not the cause.  In Job’s case we know by hindsight that it was a test from the enemy, but he could not have known that in the midst of the circumstances, much like our own tests – yet his decision to stand firm was abundantly rewarded in the end.

Psalm 119:97-112 talks about various kinds of decisions:  God’s commands make us wiser than enemies, but only if we choose to obey them (vs. 98); choosing to meditate on God’s Word and doing it gives us insight and understanding (vss. 99-100); choosing to obey God’s Word keeps our feet from evil / wrong paths; making a decision to follow God’s righteous ways (vs. 106) means that our path in life will be illuminated (vs. 105).  And because of these internal choices, though the psalmist takes his life in hand (vs. 109), he does so with full awareness of what he’s learned in God’s Word.  “My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end.” (vs. 112) – that takes a daily commitment to the right choices.  Proverbs 3 and Proverbs 16 are rife with decision processes and their consequences; our motives are weighed by the Lord.  Is a right decision based on wanting to do the right thing out of integrity, or is it merely fear of being caught otherwise?  Proverbs 11:14 tells us that a lack of God’s guidance leads to failure, even on a national level (as Moses was in danger of, in the portrait following).  James 1:2-5 reminds us that tests are to our benefit; if we didn’t need to fight gravity, we’d never learn to walk, build muscles, or be capable of any physical activity; if a butterfly is aided out of its cocoon and its struggles alleviated, it will die because it’s not been able to develop the muscles through that very struggle to give it the strength to fly.  So must perseverance have its work in our own lives, so that we can become mature and complete (whole).  God will give us wisdom and insight through these times of testing if we ask (vs. 5).

Portrait: Jethro

In Exodus 18, Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, meets Israel in the wilderness to return Moses’ wife and children to him (Moses had likely sent them away to keep them safe during the upheaval in Egypt).  In verses 13-27, Jethro (a ruler and priest in Midian, 2:16; 18:1) observed the practice of Moses in settling disputes, which had worked on a small scale; but as the discontent in the wilderness grew among the hot-headed Israelites, the number of disputes rose exponentially and was far too much demand on one person; but Moses had not recognized the dangers of burnout or of the bottleneck effect his custom had.  His father-in-law had a fresh perspective on the situation, and gave his wise advice.  Moses chose to listen and follow the advice, and established a judicial system very similar to modern structures (e.g. the town, county, state, national and international levels of judicial procedure of today).

Close-Up

Are there decisions you face in life right now?  Have you asked God’s advice, or for his wisdom and help?  Do you trust the Lord, or would you rather not ask because you fear his way may not be your way?  His ways are not our ways – they’re higher, better, with a further-reaching perspective and insight than we could ever have!  He offers us his wisdom freely; we’d be fools not to take him up on the offer!  I’ve never regretted a single decision I’ve made with God’s help.  Ever.

 

 

Snapshot: Failure

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”

J.K. Rowling

Failure 2

Psalm 37:23-28 / Psalm 145:8-19 / Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 / Micah 7:8-9 / Luke 15:11-32 / James 4:5-10 / 1 John 5:1-5

Snapshot

As the quote implies, failure is a part of life; it doesn’t matter how many times you fall, but that you get back up and try once more.  No marathon runner started life in their athletic condition; they had to learn to crawl, fall, walk and run just like the rest of us.  As Thomas Edison said of his invention of the light bulb, “I have not failed; I’ve found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  That’s the kind of mindset that cannot help but succeed – it’s just a matter of time.  He also said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”  Our perspective is a key:  If we view ourselves as failures our actions, circumstances or consequences may be a self-fulfilling prophesy, or they may in reality lead us toward success – but if we only see through the tainted view of failure, we may fail before we even begin, failing to see opportunities for success.

There have been times in my life, especially times of major decision-making, when I was grateful to be able to rely on God, bring the issues to him, and be guided and supported by him – I know that when he says yes, success will follow.  Two of the most influential events in my life balanced on the edge of a knife – if I chose to obey at the right fork in the road, or not.  One of those events was going to a Discipleship Training School with Youth With A Mission in 1986.  I had graduated a year early from high school, and applied for the April ’86 DTS even though in the back of my mind I kept hearing “July”; but the application had already been sent when I realized my mistake.  I prayed; I asked God to “fix it” because I really did want to obey.  I got an acceptance letter a few weeks later – for July!  And by that month all of the finances had miraculously come together!  It was one of the best experiences of my life, and I’m still in touch with most of the friends I met there; they continue to inspire me.  Had I failed to listen and submit to that still, small voice, I would have missed out on SO much!  The second event was who I married, and how, when and where we met – but that’s a story best saved for another time!  My husband and I have been together 22 years and counting.

Psalm 37:23-28 tells us that when we’re in God’s hands, even though we may stumble (fail), we won’t fall (stay down).  When we’re set on doing the right things, God will bring us victory… in the endeavour, relationship, decisions, or courses of action.  In Psalm 145:8-19, David writes of God’s gracious compassion and goodness to ALL he has made.  Vss. 13-14 remind us that God is faithful to all his promises and loving – he upholds all who fall, and lifts up all who are “bowed down” (burdened, crushed, feel like failures).  There have been moments in my life when I felt crushed by injustice, bias (against me as a woman, sadly even within the church at times), or spiritual abuse by people who were failing to walk in God’s ways; and in such times I can honestly say I felt carried by God – upheld, supported, understood, comforted – and even vindicated in the end.  When humans block a goal God has for us, God will open up another way to accomplish it!  Vss. 17-19 indicate why that’s possible – the Lord is near to all who call on him – he hears our cry and saves us.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 holds a special place in my life; these verses are the ones my husband and I chose for our wedding announcements.  The key phrase for us was the last:  “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”  A single string is easily pulled in two; two strings are a bit more difficult but still easy; but a cord of three strands, woven together, is a lot tougher to tear apart.  Falling symbolizes failure in some form; these verses tell us that when we fail in isolation, it’s much more difficult to pick ourselves up again.  God puts people in our lives to help us, encourage us, pick us up and help us move on; but ultimately God wants to be so entwined in and through our lives that we can be strong and successful at whatever we set out to do.  When we sin (fail in the spiritual sense) yet repent and submit ourselves to God again, he will restore us; “though I have fallen, I will rise.  Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.” (Micah 7:8-9).

Luke 15:11-32 is the parable of the Lost Son, or the Prodigal.  It’s a story of failure, restoration and mercy.  We may tend to view the prodigal as the failure and the faithful son as the success; but in actual fact it’s the older son – the heir, the one who worked hard for the position he already held by birthright – who failed.  He’d tried to earn acceptance yet never learned to enjoy that which was already his.  The contrast between the brothers shows that contrast between the Pharisees’ self-centred exclusiveness and their failure to understand God’s love, and the Lord’s joy over the repentant sinner (which includes anyone, Pharisee or fisherman, who repents!).

James 4:5-10 tells us that the Spirit longs jealously for our full devotion; he longs to show us grace (power to overcome), and reminds us to submit to God and draw near to him so that he can draw near to us.  As we humble ourselves, God lifts us up (vs. 10) – takes us from failure to victory.

Ultimate victory (overcoming) can only flow out of our relationship with Jesus (1 John 5:1-5).  “Everyone born of God overcomes the world!  This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world?  Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”  Right now, in the time it’s taken you to read this article, dozens of Christians have been martyred for their faith somewhere in the world.  Have they failed to overcome?  No.  Has God failed them in any way?  No.  They have now received a crown of glory in a heavenly realm free of tears, pain and sorrow.  They have gone home to begin their true lives, and yet their earthly lives will continue to bear fruit here (John 12:24-25).  Death is not an end; eternal life is far more valuable and important than this temporal, fleeting existence.

Portrait: King Saul

In 1 Samuel, Saul was chosen by God as king over Israel because they had rejected God as their sovereign king and wanted a human king “like all the other nations” (1 Samuel 8:6-9).  Saul became prideful and power-hungry, and impatient to show himself as leader; in 1 Samuel 15:22-34 he overstepped his authority and interpreted the Lord’s commands to suit himself, or perhaps to be more popular with the people (by giving them plunder, vss. 13-15).  Saul failed to honour God and his commands, and as a result failed to lead the people wisely in righteousness, but gave in out of fear for his reputation (vs. 24); even though he acknowledged having sinned, he was not so much interested in repentance and restoration as he was in looking contrite and good in the eyes of others (vss. 25,30).  God raised up David, a man after his own heart even though David was far from perfect – he blew it drastically on a few occasions, but his repentance was always heartfelt and humble, and that is what pleased God.  Unlike Saul, when David failed he succeeded in bringing it to God and allowing himself to be forgiven, picked up, and set on the right path again.

Close-Up

Are there times in your life when you’ve felt like a failure?  Was that failure in the world’s eyes, or in God’s?  At the end of the day, God’s opinion is really the only one worth counting on!