When Life Falls Apart
On Thursday, January 6, 2017, my life began to change in a way I’d never experienced and wouldn’t dare to have imagined. My dad underwent surgery that morning, and before he was out of recovery, he went into cardiac arrest in an event unrelated to the procedure.
While he was initially resuscitated, he was put on life-support as the doctors spent 5 days doing everything in their power to keep him alive. However, my dad’s life was not in the doctors’ hands. It was in God’s. And on January 10th, God finally brought my dad home to Heaven.
Those that know me know how close I was with my dad. He was not just my father, but my best friend, my boss, and my Pastor. He was the greatest spiritual influence in my life, and so much of who I am today is because of him, especially in regard to my relationship with God and my passion for ministry.
The days and months that followed his death were the hardest of my life to this point. I’m thankful for the many family and friends who surrounded my mom and me with support, encouragement, and love during that time, even as they were grieving themselves.
I don’t spend much time thinking about that time of my life. It’s still too much to relive, and I don’t want to live in that place. However, there are times when I look back and marvel at how much God brought me through and how much grace I experienced in those days and months.
As I realized that it has now been 5 years since all of this took place, I began to reflect. But instead of dwelling on the experience in the hospital, or in the roller-coaster of life that I went through in the months following, I began to think about some of the things my dad taught me over my life, and how those things helped me get through the enormous trial that God had brought me to that year.
The name of my website is “The Surrendered Life.” I actually chose this title less than a month before my dad died. I had no idea at the time I picked this theme that I’d have to live it so fiercely and so soon.
So much of what I learned about the importance, the significance, and the realities of surrendered living I learned from my dad – not just in his teachings, but in his living.
Today, in honor of his 5th anniversary in Heaven, I want to begin a series where I’ll be sharing 5 areas of surrendered living that I learned from my dad in the 26 years that he poured into my life.
Personal rights are a very sensitive topic.
If you’re breathing, you know this firsthand.
We’re in the midst of a pandemic that has shaken the world and as leaders attempt to regain control, millions cry out in protest due to their rights.
I’m not here to say that politicians are right or wrong, or to speculate on their motivations, or to offer my opinions for a resolution
Instead, I want to talk about the importance of our reaction to the perceived violation of our rights. The way we respond when we feel our rights are being trampled on reveals whether we are trusting in God or in ourselves.
If we’re honest, the moment we feel our rights are violated, all bets are off. When it comes to a relational conflict, we tend to resort to catty remarks, abuse, or even ending relationships. On a larger scale, when rights are violated by the government, we often see rioting and violence.
Are these healthy, productive, or godly responses to being oppressed? Absolutely not. But they are also not the problem; they are merely a symptom of the problem.
The root of our problem is our sinful pride that causes us to demand our rights – from our co-workers, from our boss, from our friends and family, from society, and even from God.
“Oh, but that’s not me.”
“I can’t help the way I am.”
“It’s purely chemical.”
“It’s the way I was raised.”
“It’s my family history.”
“It’s not my fault.”
We’re often asked the question, “When life hurts, where do you turn?”
It’s a good question, and it challenges us to learn to turn to Christ in the hard moments of life.
But I want to pose a slightly different question to you today.
“When life hurts, who do you blame?”
“Life is pain.” – The Princess Bride
We live in a world of instant gratification. We want what we want and we want it now. But there’s a danger in getting comfortable with (and then beginning to expect) quick fixes. Unfortunately, when things aren’t easy or quick, we can be prone toward anger and we can often be guilty of taking our anger out on those around us. Our discouragement and frustration usually end in giving up (failure to overcome our struggles) and giving in (isolating and indulging ourselves to deal with the failure).
Our reaction to hardship in life reveals the biggest idol we all struggle with: a pain- and problem-free life.
On the surface, this seems like it shouldn’t be an idol. It seems like a good thing. And we certainly don’t want to have a pain- and problem-FILLED life. So what’s the problem here?
The problem is that when we fail to surrender this desire for ease and comfort, we can be guilty of making decisions based on whether we believe it will increase our ease and comfort or not, rather than based on God’s goodness, love, and ability to provide for us regardless of our circumstances.
When we have a goal of living a pain- and problem-free life, we begin to do whatever it takes to get it – whatever the cost.
We all like to talk about God being all that we need, but the sad reality is that while we are good at talking about God being all we need, many of us are living as though God is not all we need.
Yes, God is enough. But if we’re really going to be happy, we also need this relationship.
Yes, God is enough. But if we’re really going to be content, we also need to live in this particular neighborhood.
Yes, God is enough. But if we’re really going to show kindness to those around us, they need to show us respect back.
Yes, God is enough. But when hurt and disappointment enter my life, we really need to be able to distract from it by indulging in junk food, TV, shopping, or maybe even a substance.
Yes, God is enough.
I think one of the biggest blind spots many of us possess in life is idolatry. After all, we don’t often see people worshiping blocks of wood or statues of gold, so we find it easy to brush off idolatry as something from Biblical times that’s not really an issue anymore.
The result? At worst, we can be guilty of dismissing idolatry as a modern-day issue altogether. At best, we may find ourselves resorting to the Sunday-school teaching of associating idols with things such as video games, TV, and money. And while to a certain extent that can be true, the truth is that the most dangerous idols we worship are not physical objects.
A few days ago my husband and I were running errands and I played a podcast to help pass the time. Normally it’s a light-hearted and fun show to listen to, but occasionally they get into some deeper topics, and this was one of those times. During the course of the conversation about struggling with your relationship with God, one of the hosts made an interesting comment. The gist of it was this: “It’s crazy how things can be going just fine and all of a sudden you wake up and realize you’re far from God.”
“All of a sudden… far from God.”
Is that really possible? Is it really that simple? Is it really that… sudden? I’d dare say it’s not.
In fact, I’d say quite the opposite.
It’s crazy how one little step turns into another, which turns into another, and yet another, until suddenly you realize you are a hundred steps away from God.
The only thing sudden about finding ourselves far from God is the actual moment of revelation that we’re not as good as we think we are. The process itself is not so sudden; in fact, it’s a slow, gradual process that contains not giant leaps or huge falls, but little compromises here and there.
We live in a culture that is all about making a name for yourself. We're constantly bombarded with messages from both secular and Christian sources that tell us to be all that we can be, to leave our mark on the world, and to stand out. I, myself, struggle with the desire for recognition and the temptation to not do something if I don't think it'll be appreciated or noticed. But the truth is that Scripture actually calls us to live quiet, humble lives that draw attention not to us, but to Christ.
Mary was a humble woman, content to live her life behind the scenes and make much of Christ. Instead of making a name for ourselves, let's be determined to make Christ's name known - and in the process we'll earn eternal rewards instead of the temporary ones that recognition in this world offers.
I marvel at this aspect of Mary's life, because I so easily give into the temptation to WHINE instead of WORSHIP. And when I consider what makes me whiny, it’s always something so insignificant, especially when compared with what Mary was facing. For me it could be I overslept my alarm, or maybe I was overcharged and have to call the internet company. Sometimes I’m just tired and I don’t feel being nice to someone, yet God has pushed them right in front of me to interact with. And I whine.
Mary faced incredible difficulties – difficulties with her family, with Joseph, with the culture around them. She faced physical difficulties of carrying a child and the childbirth to come – without medication! And she would face many more than she did not even know yet. And she worshiped.
Instead of focusing on our inconvenience, or on our fear, or on our exhaustion, let’s choose to focus on God – let’s choose gratitude for His wonderful acts, His mercy, and for choosing us to be part of His plan to reach those around us.
I think it's easy for us to get comfortable in life.
Comfort zones can be danger zones, though. When we get comfortable, we tend to become self-centered. We take things and people for granted. We stop giving. We start taking. We become proud. And God's not a fan of our stagnation, and He tends to only let us stay comfortable for so long before He begins to create some friction in our lives. Gently, at first, and then with increasingly more force as we stubbornly hold on to what we believe we need and have a right to - whether that's a certain emotional state of being, a particular relationship, an orderly set of circumstances, or even a way of thought and belief that is comfortable to us.
Our response to these disruptions reveals our heart. The right response is surrender to what God doing, trusting Him, and being obedient even in the hard things. When we surrender, we grow. We change. We become strengthened emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.
But often we respond negatively, with anger, resentment, and a stubborn refusal to change. That's when things tend to get bad, because God often has to use pain to motivate us to change, as most of refuse to budge until the pain of staying the way we are is greater than the pain of change.
Jonah is an example of someone who had a very clear comfort zone in life, and when God began to challenge him, he responded in anger. His desperation to maintain control over his life and choices made him emotionally unstable and ultimately estranged from God.
I'm excited to share this study on Jonah with you. it's one of my favorite lessons to teach. And yes, I know, I'm breaking the cardinal rule of blogging by publishing an article that's over 1,300 words - but I felt like it would be worth it.
I recommend you pull your Bible out and follow along. For the sake of time and space, I'll only be including key verses as we go through. Start with reading the book (it's just 4 chapters) to familiarize yourself with the story.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
(Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV)
I find myself continually affected by the incredibly obvious truth in this passage. There's certainly quite a lot of truth in the passage, but what most continues to convict and excite me is the simplest line -- "let us throw off everything that hinders."
Interesting, is it not, that sin is addressed separately? That there are things that hinder us, which we must lay aside, that aren't even sin? Though, depending on how we treat the things that hinder us, they can quickly become sin through idolatry.
It's a simple question of priority.
If my priority, if my goal, is to not just finish the race, but to win the race, why would I hesitate to make whatever adjustments necessary to do so?
Some things must be sacrificed for the greater goal of victory.
In the grand scheme of things, is there really anything worth holding on to? I think not.
How wonderful to be able to have the freedom to run to Jesus completely unhindered!
The consequence of all these things would be to block the work of God in your heart and in your home and in your church. You cannot afford to do it. Time is too short. Judgment is too certain. Eternity is too long. God is too wonderful, and Christ is too beautiful, and Heaven is too glorious for us to allow anything in our lives to hold us back from winning the race of life.
-A. W. Tozer
In a word: passionate.