I haven't blogged in a couple of weeks because I really have been in a valley. I haven't felt particularly connected with God and to be honest, have almost felt alone and a bit helpless. I have just been waiting for the connection to return. The waiting period feels more like abandonment and a lot less like a waiting room. So over the past couple of weeks, I have been going through the motions but have been feeling quite empty.
So this morning on the drive to church, I thought about the fact that maybe there is too much noise in my life to hear God. I am on the go all the time...and I rarely stop. And in this waiting period, I have felt God nudge me to do a few things but honestly these things do not make sense to me. And the things aren't necessarily been "answers to my prayers" so I have held steady in my ways (ha! my ways...you'd think by now I would know herein lies the problem. My way is never the right way!).
And even when you do ask, you don't get it because your whole motive is wrong - you want only what will give you pleasure.
1 John 5:14
And we can be confident that he will listen to us whenever we ask Him for anything in line with His will.
So I walked into church today really hoping for a little encouragement and direction. And let's be perfectly honest, by 'direction' I was really seeking reassurance that my way indeed is what is best for me. Well, encouragement is not what I got; instead I was faced with heart break. Our lead pastor, who I absolutely love hearing preach, is leaving the church. Tears were literally rolling down my cheeks when he was making the announcement. I am heart broken.
Sidebar: This crying bit is taking on a new form in my life. Seriously...I have really started to connect with my emotions and it amazes me every time it happens. Not only crying but I have basically learned to be honest about the way I feel about things. Twice in the past two weeks, I have had a very real, honest conversation about my feelings toward another person. And it felt great. The "upfront, tell-it-like-it-is Ashley" suits me well...I think!
Anyway, here is a pastor that has built a church that I love so much, I drive to Tampa to be involved with it. And he is leaving. Although this was heartbreaking to hear, what was so amazing was his message around leaving. He reminded us that when you are praying and praying for an answer and God nudges to do something, even it is unrelated to what you are praying for, you need to obey. Sometimes the answer is obedience. God doesn't just want us to hear what he is saying, he wants us to listen. Listening is active. Obedience is evidence of listening.
When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on Him, He will lift you up and give you honor.
He went onto say that several weeks ago, God gave him a feeling as though his time at this church would be drawing to an end. And although he doesn't understand why and he is very sad to be leaving, he is going to be obedient. So almost as a final parting gift, this amazing pastor has demonstrated His faith and obedience to the Lord. And through his powerful message this morning, I realized there is a lot noise in my life. And the noise has clouded my ability to obey God. And although the two specific things I feel God wants me to do make no sense to me whatsoever...I just need to obey Him. And trust that His plan is greater than mine. And there's a part of me that loves how God used the pastor's obedience to Him as an example of obedience for me.
Obedience, a pastor and a waiting room,
I had a bit of an overwhelming experience last week, when a pastor friend wrote some very kind words about something I gave to their church several years ago and my recent blog around Memorial Day. He expressed what I did in the following:
"The author articulated so well everything I have ever held dear in my heart...I had to reread it several times and with each reading blessings just flowed over me. This lady that wrote that beautiful piece...for the sake of the kingdom."
I will be honest...I had to pause and think about the whole idea of my actions and my words impacting God's kingdom. When I think of myself, this isn't the picture of what I see. I don't see someone impacting God's kingdom. And many days I don't see how, or even why, God would ever choose to use me for anything the least bit productive. I might look all put together on the outside (I might not too!) but I see brokenness. I see barriers. I see missed opportunities and mistakes. I don't see someone worthy of being used to glorify God or do anything for the sake of His Kingdom. I just see me.
"The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men who had had no special training. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus."
When I look at myself...I see ordinary (and some days I see less than ordinary). I don't see boldness...but God does. Sometimes I wish I could see through His eyes (and then I quickly rescind that wish because there is no way I would want to see through His eyes. Oh the responsibility...no thanks!)
Anyway, this past weekend I went to one of my favorite churches in Coral Springs, Fl (.http://cbglades.com). The church's motto is "No Perfect People Allowed". I often forget that I don't really need to live up to any standard for God to love me and more importantly use me. Our world likes to separate out God from everything else. We put God in a corner until Sunday (and some take Him out on Saturday) and maybe the occasional holiday. And we keep God there until we need him. But we are missing something really important when we put God and faith in a compartment....we miss out on the fact that He is actually immersed in every single element of the day, week, month, year. And He isn't boring and dull. In fact, He is anything but boring and dull. And if you are dragging yourself to church each week because it is Sunday or you gave up on church a long time ago because it was boring, or you weren't quite perfect or you feel God gave up on you...then I challenge you to find a church that has a motto like "no perfect people allowed." Sometimes when I go to church, I feel like I am at a rock concert. And I absolutely LOVE it. And truthfully, when you go to this church in Coral Gables, you kinda are at a rock concert. Actually...last week they played a bit of the song "Turn Down For What"...to prove a point. The point being...that nothing is off limits for God to use. Nothing. This church does BIG, wild, crazy things.
And they do all of this through plain ordinary people. Because God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things for His kingdom. And he doesn't just use ordinary people, he actually uses some pretty bad people too. Think of Paul in the Bible. For those not familiar with Paul....he hated Christians. He threw them in jail and attended their killings. He was out to destroy the church (Acts 8-9). But then something changed and Paul turned to God (actually several things changed, including his name--he went from Saul to Paul but that really isn't all that important!) . He became a powerful speaker in Christ's name. The transformation is interesting because Paul was so evil that people didn't believe him at first. People were actually afraid of him...that's how bad he was!!! But over time, God used him over and over again. And in the end, Paul ended up writing a good majority of the New Testament in the Bible. And He influenced many, many people. You know, just your typical Christian-killer, evil person...leading others to Christ. No perfect people allowed.
So don't allow the world to force God in a corner because He isn't exciting or you aren't 'good enough' for Him to use. Because God is dying to use you and excite you and express His love to you. And He sees you as so much more than you see yourself. And absolutely don't give up on church...because there is a great church just waiting for you to walk into it for a jam session. Or hymn...whatever floats your boat.
Rock concerts, ordinary people, and a Christian-killer,
So it's been a bit since my last blog...my sincerest apologies. I have had the last few weeks off from school and have soaked up some much needed time with family and friends. Have no doubt God continues to work in my life...even without blogging.
Last week a co-worker friend was unexpectedly diagnosed with a horrific cancer. (I say that as if all cancer isn't horrific because let's face it, it is!) The news has come as quite a shock to many friends that have worked with her. She is one of those people that is amazing and doesn't even realize it. A truly beautiful soul. She has touched more lives than she will ever realize. I have prayed for her (and her battle) every day since the news was shared with me. And although the prognosis is not favorable...God is bigger than any prognosis. And His plan always wins out. And although I know this and believe this...there is still the tendency to ask 'why?'. It is hard to understand what God is thinking and to understand why and/or how this could happen. It's moments like these we have to remember the things we do know and let go of the fact we don't have all the answers. We can't put a question mark where God puts a period.
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.
We may not understand the why....but we have to remember God uses everything for good (assuming you believe 'good' to be using everything to bring Him glory. Clearly I do!). Horrible circumstances, bad things, pain, suffering, etc. exists in this world BUT God will use all of these things to His greater glory. Unfortunately, our narrow minded view cannot always see the greater glory. We don't understand because we are held captive by time and circumstance. We set a timeline of when we expect to see good come out of something and when that clock expires, we get angry.
I have a close friend that lost a dear friend several years ago. And we often discuss how palpable the pain still is today for her...and she often shares the fact she doesn't understand why God chose to take her friend away. Every time we talk, my heart hurts because I just want to answer the 'why?'. And I can't. But I do believe in my heart...her friend's death was not in vain. And good will come out of it at some point in time. It just isn't according to our time. It is according to His. And this is so hard to accept. We just have to remember to hold onto the promises, the answers we do have and let faith do the rest.
Holding onto the faith in this equation is probably the absolute most challenging thing to do. And I think this is exactly why we really only need a small amount of faith to do great things.
The Lord answered, "If you have faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, "May you be uprooted and thrown into the sea," and it would obey you!
I think we only need faith the size of a mustard seed to do great things because FAITH is really hard to achieve. It seems easy to have faith when life is going according to our plan. It is much more challenging when life is going according to God's plan...particularly when God's plan isn't exactly your plan.
We just have to remember that time is nothing to God. God uses everything for His purpose...accordingly to His watch. Not ours. Our responsibility is to trust He is using everything for good. That is what He promised and that is what we can expect. Nothing more, nothing less.
So as we are forced to accept tough news, scary diagnoses, or the unexpected loss of a friend, we have to remember God's glory will shine through it. At some point in time...according to His plan.
A question mark, a mustard seed and His plan,
Just a few reflections about everything God is teaching me in this life...a journey deeper into His purpose for my life.