Monday, 10 November 2014

Trust in the Lord with all your heart?

How easy is it to live out Proverbs 3 vs 5-6 when your life does not seem to tally with what it appears to promise?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

I admit to occasionally using this as a slight cop-out. Perhaps in a situation where things don't go as I hope and where I can't understand what God is up to. You know, the old 'well, we can't rely on our own understanding, God is in charge, blah blah blah, it will all be fine in the end.' Because I've not taken time to think over what this passage is really saying. Is it really stipulating that everything will be just fine and dandy? Does God 'making our paths straight' mean that all will be well - that everything we do will go how it should? What does it mean to say that 'he will make our paths straight?'

The times I haven't used this verse as a cop out catch all, I have often instead ignored it altogether. My life doesn't show that my paths are straight, so therefore I don't trust in God with all my heart,' goes my thinking, or even 'I tried to trust God with all my heart, but my paths aren't straight and therefore this verse is wrong'. So I don't think about it an awful lot. But two things have brought my mind to it lately - one person asked me to think upon it, and I heard Christy Wimber speaking on it at the New Wine Women and Leadership conference this weekend. And she didn't, in fact, say that trusting God made everything alright; she didn't say that her paths were straight. She actually said that 'some of the most powerful times I have had with the Lord are when there is a great tornado going on around me'. It was trusting amid the tornado which increased those powerful times.

So how on earth can a 'tornado' be in any sense a 'straight path?' Delving further in, it seems to me that it could be more rightly understood as 'right path' as in the path that follows God, the path that is guided by God, the path that we are best to be on because if we are walking with God than that is the best way for us to walk. None of this implies anything about it being an easy or healthy path. A safe path for our souls, yes, but not always safe for our bodies, our emotions, our health. Does this mean that God means for us to walk in suffering - that our suffering is our 'right path', the path God guides us on when we trust God with all our heart? Huge question - and I'm not sure I have the answer to this. What I do know is that when we are trusting in God with all our hearts, the path feels safe, the path feels right. The path doesn't always feel pain free. I wish it did, of course, but also have found, like Christy, that the times when the storm comes are some of the more powerful and intimate times with God, in the midst. I think that the storms are part of the path, not that I have somehow strayed, and somehow not that God sends the storms to teach me something, either. I am aware that I am being a tad contradictory, but I rarely write without a good dose of stream-of-consciousness-and-emotion thrown right into the mix.

So, the question comes down to, how can I really trust God with all that I am? It's easy in a sense to 'not lean on my own understanding' - I'm aware of how very flimsy that is, you only have to look at that last paragraph to see that. How can I trust with integrity, with fulness, without that slight cop-out of simply saying -oh, trust and it'll be fine? Because trusting with integrity actually means saying 'trust and it may well not be fine.' It means saying 'trust and know that you will be walking with God on the right path, not that the path will be an easy one.' Am I willing to throw in my full trust to that extent?

If there's one thing I've learned, it's that loving God does not make pain go away. It does not stop awful stuff happening and it does not make life easier. But throwing it all in with God, trusting to that huge extent, does something else instead, something greater. Something that makes life work, makes hope work. If I am throwing everything in, I can be confident that I am being who I am created to be, and living in the freedom of that, and everything seems to look right. Even for a fleeting moment, like sunshine bursting through cloud. That feeling won't always be there, but the fact is, and holding on to that, the absolute and burning love of God, is what carries me through, again, again and again.

So can I quote Proverbs 3 vs 5-6 without being a cop out or without ignoring the difficulties therein? I tentatively say I think so. Sometimes. I'll trust, and I'll lean not on my understanding, and in all my ways attempt to acknowledge God. I'll keep getting it wrong, as well. I'll rely on myself again and forget to acknowledge God. But then I'll remember this thing that works. God making my paths straight - God walking with me on those paths which feel fairly wobbly, but are nevertheless my right paths.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Where is God when it doesn't hurt?

I've been pondering on this one a little of late. Over the summer, after I came out of hospital in early June, I felt considerably better. For a considerable amount of time - around two months in all. I had some glimpses into 'normality', whatever that may be - life without pain, without my lungs feeling constantly full of rubbish which won't go no matter how much physio I do and without all the associated stuff that goes alongside this. It was great! At New Wine I stood up a lot in worship times. Big deal? yes - for me. The year before I'd felt out of it, or at least felt out of it when I decided to allow myself to wallow in Feeling Out of It. I'd had to sit down a lot anyway and watch people standing up in front of me blocking the words on the screen. They could worship and I couldn't, went my little pity script. I'd soon given up on that one, thankfully, and found something deeper. But then this year I could stand, and it was different, and I did feel more part of it.

The truth is that when I feel 'well' I feel more part of life, I feel like I am a useful cog in the machine as busyness swallows up my time instead of lying down attempting breathing. I feel strong. And the question I am asking myself is, does my perceived strength in these (admittedly few) times make me perceive God as stronger?

I'm the first to jump on the Philippians passage about God's power being most evident in weakness and all that, and firmly believe it. But I wonder if, when we are feeling strong and busy, we don't take time to realise this, and our strength becomes more important and becomes what makes God 'strong'? Did my standing (and even dancing!) at NW make God more happy than my sitting and being? It's definitely the strong that get noticed and the strong that make things happen. And strength is certainly not purely physical, many people talk of others being strong despite physical difficulties. But I wonder if we all need to be weak sometimes, in order to more fully appreciate how God works in weakness, and how God loves the weak.

I'd prefer my whole life to be like that two months, of course - but then would I know so well of God's profound presence in my suffering, and identify with Jesus' suffering, and know so clearly of God's great desire for those who are suffering to find comfort and peace in God? I don't know. I might be too busy rushing around, enjoying the feeling of busyness and the feeling of usefulness. I know I do this, and then when I am forced into inactivity I get grumpy for a while, but then begin to live in acceptance, and then it's sort of OK. And it's those times that I experience God's strength more powerfully - not in the times I can 'do'.

I have found the book 'Where is God when it hurts?' really helpful, but would like to ask the question 'where is God when it doesn't hurt?' Is God more in the not hurting times because God doesn't want us to hurt, or more in the hurting times because God wants us to know God's love in these times? And do we miss God in the not hurting times because we can be so full of us? I think I do a little bit, and I'm not speaking for anyone else, but it's worth a thought or two.

Since that two months ended abruptly with a most uninvited buggy guest taking residence in my lungs, I've been back to my normal, with a lot of pain and a lot of rubbish. I hate it and wish it would go away. I liked the good of the not hurting. But the good of the hurting is that God hurts too and that God knows how it feels and that God is somehow in it with me. Does that mean hurting is good? Never. But it means we can be real about it. And perhaps for me it means that next time I have a 'well' period I might just take the time to think about where God is, rather than where I am at this moment in time.