Full of questions in a season of change

My eighth-grader and I started having conversations with the high school guidance counselor in January.  Emails.  Phone calls.  Face-to-face meetings.  Then another round of all of the above.

She has filled out forms and answered questions, made requests and submitted papers, sent  emails and then replied to the replies.

We’ve been prayerful, deeply prayerful.  When her plans don’t work out exactly as she wants, we’ve gone back to our knees, prayed again, and tried something new.

While she’s been prepping for her first year of high school, my son is on his own transition to a new season.  Last week  we walked into the elementary school with a folder of paperwork,  I handed over the form and just like that–he’s registered for kindergarten.

We’re praying over that, too, over teacher decisions and classmates and friends he’ll make.

Seasons of transition are seasons that should draw us into prayer and that’s me right now.  Praying my way right on through!

I read in the book of Judges this morning about a familiar Biblical scenario:  the Angel of the Lord visited a barren woman and told her she would give birth to a son.

He then gave her some specific instructions: don’t drink alcohol or eat anything unclean while you’re pregnant.  Never cut his hair because he’ll be a Nazirite from birth and “he will begin to save Israel from the power of the Philistines.”

The woman excitedly told her husband about the message from the Angel and her husband, Manoah, does something I’d probably do:

He asked for more information.

He said, “Let’s pray and maybe the visitor will come back and tell us more about how to take care of this child.”

The Bible says, “God listened.”  He heard their prayers and did indeed return.

I’ve had my own questions these past few months as I’ve prayed for my children, so I “get” Manoah.  I understand wanting to make sure we do this right., wanting all the answers to all the questions.

My daughter breaks down into tears a few times  in this process, and I realize she has this tremendous pressure to do it all exactly right, make every decision perfectly.  If she chooses one wrong class, if she makes one wrong course selection, then maybe it will mess up everything–college choices, career options, the timeline of her life.

I remind her  (and myself at the same time) that God is tenderly gracious.  He guides us and redirects us and when we seek His will, He helps us know what to do.

If she’s seeking Him, she’s not ruining her life.

And I think about what  this means for my own transition season.   At least a dozen people have asked me in the last few months, “What are you going to do when your youngest starts school in September?”

Maybe I’m feeling the same kind of pressure as my daughter.  To make every right decision so I don’t mess up the transition or waste the opportunity.  I have my own questions to  place before the Lord.

I realize today as I read, though, that Manoah didn’t ask the right questions.  When the angel of the Lord came back , Manoah didn’t ask the things he originally said he was going to ask.  He didn’t say, “What do we need  to do to parent our son well or help him follow the Lord or fulfill his calling?”

Instead, he said this:

 “When your words come true, what will be the boy’s responsibilities and work?” (Judges 13:12 CSB).

Oh, Manoah.  I totally get you.

He said he just wanted some details about what they should do as parents, but what he really wanted to know was the end of the whole big story.   Tell me the grand plan.  Tell me everything about what my son is going to do as an adult and what your mission and purpose is for him .

Lord, tell me everything. 

But the Angel of the Lord ignored that question as if it had never been asked and simply repeated what he said before: your wife shouldn’t eat anything unclean or drink any alcohol when she’s pregnant.

He didn’t tell Manoah what’s going to happen 20 years from now. when their son, Samson, became an adult.  Instead, he only told Manoah what needed to happen in the next 9 months.

I need this same redirection for my heart and I need it frequently–that when I need to know what the next step is, He will show me the next step.  For my children and for me.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track (Proverbs 3:5-6 MSG)

 

When It Seems Too Hard…

I sorted through the papers in her school take-home folder: homework, tests, notes and announcements, and pictures from her friends.

When I held the unfinished math paper in my hand, I turned it over, around and even upside down trying to figure out the mystery.math

The paper was covered top to bottom in multiplication word problems, hard ones like: “Sam bought 21 cookies from the store every day for a week.  How many cookies had he bought by the end of the week….” or something like that.

This wasn’t simple 1×1 = 1 and on up the single-digit line, the kind of multiplication you learn through sing-songy repetition, simple songs, and homemade flash cards.

This was 64 x 6 and the like, problems I would pull out the scratch paper (or the calculator) to figure out.

So, I asked my daughter, “Who gave you this paper?,”  thinking to myself her teacher had missed a few lessons in the math book.

But no, not her teacher.  Another school staff member gave the kids a challenge with the promise of free ice cream from the cafeteria as a reward.

To my daughter, free ice cream in the cafeteria was enough incentive to make her don hiking boots and climb Mt. Everest.

Yet, reading through the problems, I just kept thinking that it was all too hard and maybe a bit unfair to offer the incentive of free ice cream and then make it unattainable.

I grabbed the paper at the top in order to fold it down and quietly slip it into the trash can, hoping my daughter would forget it and the disappointment.

But I stopped.

Suddenly, I saw beyond the questions and started reading my daughter’s scribbles and answers.  She had made charts and graphs, tally marks grouped together, tens columns and ones columns and rows and rows of addition.

And she had answered the questions correctly.  (I pulled out my calculator to be sure.)  Then I called her over to explain it all to me.

She spoke in a whirlwind.  Why she had arranged the numbers this way.  How if you did things like this or that it would work it all out.  I couldn’t understand it, these complex and abstract ways to think math.

And I had thought the paper was too hard.

I do this in life and call it being “practical” or “realistic,” writing off tasks as too difficult, promises as too out of reach, dreams as too unattainable.  And I take words like “hard” or “difficult” and turn them into “impossible.”

Sometimes I even give up.

Maybe it’s just that we all have a way of complicating the simple.

We try to make issues of statistics and timelines, resources and probabilities, and God cuts through all of that:

“Trust and obey.”

When Moses gave God’s commandments to Israel, it could have been all so overwhelming.  God was practical.  God was specific.  He seemed to have something to say about every aspect of their lives from skin diseases to eating habits to relationships with their neighbors.

But God summed it all up for them: “Do not add to or subtract from these commands I am giving you. Just obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you” (Deuteronomy 4:2).

No matter how confusing and complicated we try to make this holy life, it’s always as simple as this: “just obey.”

Yes, God says,

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach….No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it (Deuteronomy 30:11, 14).

And yet, they failed.  Years and years after Promised Land living, the book of Judges tells us how many tribes “failed to drive out the people living” in the land, failed to take possession of the promise (Judges 1).  They were living a compromised life without victory.

They didn’t fail because it was too hard, though, and not because God was unfaithful or incapable or too weak or bested by the false gods of the enemies.

They failed because they looked at the task and decided it was just too difficult and wasn’t it better to stay safely out of the way rather than try at all?

Maybe if they’d been promised free ice cream….

Or maybe if they had realized that if God promised it, He could do it.

If He gives the vision, if He calls you out, if He assigns the task, if He creates the passion, if He directs Your steps…. then conquer those tendencies to make it so complicated and excuse-laden, so bogged down in the overwhelming and the fear-filled.

“Just obey.”

Keep it that simple.  Let Him handle the rest.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in November 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

A Penny for Your Video Game

He said he was selling his Wii for a penny.

She believed him.

A little boy in my daughter’s class announced on Friday that he had decided to peddle his $150 video game system for the bargain of a lifetime.  One cent and it was yours.

On Monday morning, I tousled my daughter’s hair as she slept and told her it was time to wake up and get ready for school.

“I’ll get up if you give me a penny,” she announced.

I thought she had been dreaming and was still half-asleep.

Three attempts to get her moving into the morning routine failed.  I finally discovered her reaching for her piggy bank to find her own coins.

Then the truth came out.  She had set her hopes on that one-cent treasure.  Her Daddy carried her to the couch and held her as she cried from disappointment when we told her the ugly truth.

That sometimes people don’t say what they mean.  Sometimes they make up stories.  Sometimes they talk without thinking—and certainly without asking their parents.  Sometimes they make promises and don’t keep them.

We’ve all felt the painful dashing of hopes and the shocking let-down of reality.  Whether it’s disappointment in ourselves or other people or disillusionment with God, it’s reason enough for a long cry on someone’s shoulder.

Sometimes it’s because we’ve been tricked.  Satan has duped us into settling for less than God’s best.  We’ve fallen prey to false advertising and empty promises.  We’ve trusted in people and, unfortunately, people aren’t always trustworthy.

The nation of Israel learned this lesson the hard way.

God specifically told them not to make treaties with the surrounding nations as they entered the Promised Land.  They were to conquer each territory completely.

The people of Gibeon knew that Israel was headed in their direction and they had heard how Israel had destroyed Jericho and Ai, so “they resorted to a ruse.”

They sent a delegation out to Joshua.  These men were dressed in rags and patches with broken sandals and dirty faces.  Their wineskins had cracked and been mended.  They even remembered to stash some moldy bread among the supplies.

Then, they told a lie: “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us” (Joshua 9:6).

Our bread was warm and fresh when we started this journey.  Our clothes were brand new when we set out.  See the proof.  Believe what we are telling you.

Scripture tells us, “The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD.  Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live (Joshua 9:14-15).

Three days later, Joshua found out who the Gibeonites really were.  They weren’t strangers from a distant land.  They were neighbors.  And they had tricked Israel into disobeying a direct commandment from God.

This commandment was for their benefit and protection.  God knew that Israel wouldn’t stay true to Him if they were surrounded by nations who worshiped false gods.   By the time of the Judges, “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals.  They forsook the LORD, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them” (Judges 2:11-13).

The Israelites settled for less than God’s plan, all because they hadn’t inquired of the Lord.  They hadn’t asked for His input, discernment or insight.  Instead, they trusted in fake promises and had been disappointed in the result.

Have people let you down?  Have you trusted their promises only to discover lies and tricks?  Have you made poor decisions because false advertising made it all sound so good?

Remember to bring God into the midst of your every decision.  Inquire of the Lord before signing treaties and shaking hands in agreement.  There’s no need to rush or settle for what the world offers; be willing to wait for God’s best. 

Perhaps, though your disappointment isn’t with other people.  Maybe it’s with God.

Maybe you did trust in Him, waited for His best to come and yet you haven’t seen the answer to prayer . . .still.  Maybe you stood up for Him and don’t feel like He defended you.  Maybe you thought the Christian life meant perpetual blessing and prosperity, but your bank account, the doctor’s office, and your relationships aren’t the fairy tale life you imagined.

What then?  What do you do when you’re disillusioned with God?

Tell Him about it. Cry at His feet.  Tell Him how you’re heartbroken and hurting.  Mary and Martha weren’t afraid to tell Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”  They poured out all their pain and didn’t hold anything back.

We can be honest with God.

Then, keep praying.  Keep waiting.  Don’t ever give up on God.  He invites us into prayer with perseverance.  Pressing in before the throne, we keep “asking, seeking and knocking.”

He may not answer you in the way you expect.  He may not answer you as quickly as you’d like.  But He is committed to faithfulness, true to His promises and He cares for you.

You can read more devotionals about this topic here:

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King