Don't know about you, but I'd rather not stagnate!
In the interest of always moving forward, always reaching up and on, sometimes I need to shake things up a bit.
In the summer time, I set up a typical backyard kiddie pool for my punkins. The flattest part of our yard is under a big, beautiful shade tree. But this shade tree drops leaves, seed pods, and bugs into our clean, cool water. The results aren't pretty. In no time at all, that crisp, cool, straight-from-the-hose water is green, slimy, and smells awful. Yuck. Seriously, a B-horror movie monster could live in there. In order to clean the pool and return it to appropriate playability, I either have to add chemicals or dump the whole thing out, scrub the pool, and refill it (and repeat often). Neither solution is easy. I worry about chemicals in water my young kids will play in and likely, despite my best efforts, drink. But dumping, scrubbing, and refilling wastes tons of water and time, not to mention the lost play time.
Addressing stagnation in my life is equally challenging. It's painful. It requires work. And there's risk. But remember the alternative? I don't want to be a dead shark. Or a slimy pool.
So in an effort to avoid stagnation, I sometimes seek ways to change and, hopefully, improve. But sometimes change finds me.
Several weeks ago, during a small group lesson at the home of our friends Jeremy and Tahlia, we were discussing prayer. Jeremy said that he was beginning to grow uncomfortable with some of the "typical" prayers we lift to God. When someone asks if anyone has any prayer requests, the most common things we mention are health-related: healing, safety, relief from pain. These are not bad requests. But what is the point of these prayers? What are we seeking to gain? These prayers may be a little limited in scope. Jeremy said he was beginning to understand that we need to be praying that God will be glorified. So rather than merely praying for healing or relief from pain, we need to be praying that God will be glorified through our illness or injury, surgery or hardship. Praying for healing is not bad, but it's not the end of the story. We need to reach beyond ourselves, beyond our physical, mortal bodies. We need to be praying that God's glory may be known through our experiences and how we respond to the challenges of life.
This really impacted me.
After my last post, many of you commented that my attitude and joy were really impacting you. I'm glad! But I want to be clear: my attitude, my joy, are not from me. You see, I started praying differently after that small group conversation. While Jeremy was sharing what he was learning about prayer, God reminded me of an interview I had heard on the radio years before while driving to work at the fantastic East Town Mall in Knoxville. The lady on the radio was saying that she thanked God for her cancer. A statement like that is something your ears perk up to. She went on to explain that if she didn't have cancer, people wouldn't notice her, wouldn't "hear" her. Instead, battling cancer gave her a platform and an audience. Thus her life had an impact. And God was glorified through her cancer.
As I drove across the train tracks that afternoon, I remember praying, "God, if I ever get cancer, I pray I can glorify you through it the way she does. I pray I can see it as a blessing."
I don't have cancer. But I do have an incurable and largely untreatable genetic connective tissue disorder, which has led to another incurable and largely untreatable autonomic nervous system disorder. When I was undiagnosed, I prayed a lot for answers. I thought I was crazy, that everyone feels this way, that for some reason I was just too weak to take it. I was losing my mind. God did bless me with answers (thankfully!), but also with the opportunity to glorify him through this journey. How I respond to the bad days, to the pain, to the limitations and challenges can either look exactly like everyone else in the world: woe is me, life is so hard, this is unfair, there's so much pain. Or my response can look different, odd, noticeable. The world can look at how I respond to illness and say, "Wow, imagine that! Imagine thanking God for illness!" Maybe the world will see it as odd. Maybe I'll seem crazy all over again :) But maybe they'll wonder what my secret is, how I can still smile in the midst of my pain and hardship.
My answer is no secret. The answer is
That night at small group turned my prayer life upside-down. Since then, whenever I have a bad day, I still hurt, Iget discouraged, and sometimes I even curl up and cry. But God has opened my eyes to all the blessings. When you seek to have purpose in your pain, the pain seems less, and the blessings seem more. So I can smile :)
Friday night I fainted in Wal-Mart. It was scary, embarrassing, and generally unpleasant. But I was also very blessed:
- Nathan was in the store and was able to come to my aide quickly.
- Oren stayed by my side and didn't run away.
- An associate found me and offered help.
- I made it to a shelf of tote boxes and slid to the ground, avoiding falling hard or hitting my head.
- And sitting the 45 minutes until my head cleared enough to go home gave me time to read from the Bible app on my phone.
Here's what I read:
6 Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. (Acts 16)This has always struck me as odd. Here Paul and his companions were trying to go, to spread the gospel. And God said no.
Sometimes God's answer is no.
Maybe that means we aren't healed. Or the pain won't cease. Or we'll even be allowed to die.
But that's not the end of the story!
When Paul and his companions were stopped from going where they planned to go, God sent them elsewhere. Paul had a vision, they met Lydia, healed a slave girl,
and wound up in prison.
Looks bleak, right?
But that's not the end of the story!
God freed Paul and Silas from their chains, but they stayed, and they sang God's praises and ministered to the jailer and led him to Christ.
When the answer is no, look for the blessings, the opportunities, and glorify God. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced the flames of the furnace, they said that their God was mighty enough to save them, but that even if he didn't, they would still praise him.
God may save you from your hardship. You may find healing. But even if you don't, God is still good, and maybe there's someone you're supposed to impact through your hardship. When you're facing the furnace, can you still praise God even if his answer is no?
I don't want to be a dead shark or a slimy pool. I don't want to stagnate. God turned my prayer life upside-down, and in doing so, turned my life right-side up. Change is rarely easy or comfortable. But we need change. Without it, we stink. And no one likes the stinky kid!
So when you pray, pray for God to be glorified, even when the answer is no, even when you face the furnace, and that if you find yourself in jail, you'll sing his praises and preach the gospel to your jailer! May God be glorified through your weakness. God made us limited so the world can see he is limitless!