I've been thinking a lot about how the way of Jesus and His Kingdom is often completely opposite to that of the world. Just when I think that I have figured out the way that God is going to do something or show up a certain way or answer that question, He flips the script. He does a new thing, a different thing. It says that God uses the weak to shame the strong, the foolish to shame the wise (1 Cor. 1:27). The Jews begged for a Rescuing King and they got a crucified and beaten man. All throughout the Scriptures we can see how God tends to move differently than we anticipate and most of the time, we love it. Or at least, maybe we just love it in the Bible because we know the end of the story. We know that the crucified man rose again three days later. But it just makes me wonder how if that is the way God was in the Bible, then why don't I assume that will be the way He is with me today?
Let me explain. I was talking with some classmates earlier this semester in my group counseling class about how hard it is to be in the position of asking God for something over and over again. We talked about how often our intent of asking can easily slip from question to demand when God doesn't give us what we want. And then I read this quote --
“It’s the questions we can’t answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think. If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact. But give him a question and he’ll look for his own answers. That way, when he finds the answers, they’ll be precious to him. The harder the question, the harder we hunt. The harder we hunt, the more we learn.”
And I realized... Sure, God's ways are higher than my ways, and He might respond in a way that I didn't expect (or pray for). And yes, God works in a backward way to the world and uses a prostitute to rescue the leaders of Israel (Joshua 2). But I wonder how often God's intent when we are asking questions, is not to answer because sometimes the lack of answer is the real thing that we needed.
I've been reading this wonderful book called Meant for Good that talks about how Jesus asked 307 questions Himself, and He was asked 183 questions and of those, He only answered three questions directly. The author says, "The One who had the answer to every single question was less interested in giving the answers and more interested in getting people to engage with Him, listen, think, and respond. He was far more interested in relationship than dishing out answers" (p. 11).
If the One who is our example lived His life in this way, isn't that how we should be living too? Rather than feeling the pressure to answer every question or have every questioned answered, maybe we can embrace this way of Jesus and make our home in the realm of unknown.
Just this past week, I was teaching the first and second graders in Sunday school and they started asking me questions about how God is the Trinity. I was just finishing up a whole semester of studying the doctrine of the Trinity and yet, when a couple second graders kept asking me "But how? How is He three?" I was stumped. I ended up affirming again and again that this is where faith comes in and that the fact that we can't understand God is only more reason to trust Him. But it felt like not enough. I felt like I was letting them down and surely I should've understood this concept better to be able to explain it. Until I re-read my words that I'd written a couple weeks ago.
For some reason, when it comes to my own questions and answers between me and God, it is frustrating but it is manageable. Whenever it is with someone else and I can't answer their questions or help them find the answers, I feel like I have failed. But God never said that was my job. God never said that I was meant to have all the answers to all the questions. In fact, God gave me the example of how to answer questions through Jesus... that is, to not. If there were 307 questions asked of Jesus, and He answered 3 directly and 183 with another question, that still leaves 121 questions without any answer at all.
So when we cannot get the answer, we make our peace with the reminder of who He is. He's the God of an upside-down kingdom who likes to do things His own way. And this is one way that we get to partner with Him. And maybe, the search for the answer is the answer in itself.
When I was in middle school, my parents decided that we were going to start doing weekly family bible studies. We were going through this one study on Hebrews and it had something to do with chocolate on the cover. At first, I looked forward to this time together as a family but my older sister was absolutely dreading it. Because of her attitude, I started to have a different view of the bible study too and so it would fall lower and lower on my priorities. I would forget to do the weekly homework because it didn't really matter if I did it or not since my sister never did. Now my family looks back on that time and just laughs at what a disaster it was. What should have been a good thing was a time of conflict and division because of one person's attitude.
I think of the Judges in the Bible and how because of their leading, the people of Israel would have rest and prosperity and peace. And then it says "But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them" (Jdg. 2:19). The people were so easily corrupted! And then I realize... the people is me. I am so easily corrupted and led astray and quick to turn to other gods.
I think that idolatry is such an interesting concept to read about in today's context. Their idolatry is so quickly noticed and it's easy to point fingers and look down at them for their sin. But the Lord has been gently reminding and revealing to me how I am the same way -- astonishingly quick to worship the created over the Creator. And the truth is that we live in a world that is the enemy's playground. And just like in my family, I think that he is seeking after division in the family, in the home. It might be over the silliest or strangest of reasons, but if it keeps us from becoming more like Jesus together, then isn't that still his success?
I truly wonder what it would have been like to observe the Israelites in the time of Judges. Was it as quick as them hearing of the death of Ehud or Othniel and them going to grab their box of idols in the garage? Was it as simple as their first back to worship without the judge and they decide to sleep through their alarm? This may be taking a lot of liberties but I don't think that it was a huge shift immediately every time. I think it may have been in the subtle and slow moments, the attitudes and the avoiding that led to their sin. The repeated phrase of Judges is that "each of them did what was right in their own eyes." For a people group who God chose and unified, that sounds awfully solitary and individual. I wonder if the 2021 version would be "you do you."
This year has been hard. Not only is the world more divisive and angry and hurtful and scary than ever, but most of you are having to also field the questions and thoughts and fears of your little ones in the midst of it. I imagine that a time of rest feels like a distant memory. And now here we are asking you to take on a new, or adjusted, job of discipling your kids every week at home. I don't know for sure, but I would feel overwhelmed.
I heard someone say one time that maybe when Paul says that Christ is made perfect in our weakness, it's not our weakness in the way that we tend to think of it. Maybe it means more in our lack--
Our not-enough-ness perfects His enough-ness.
So that is my prayer for each of you. That as we are potentially entering into a new season of church and discipleship, that you would embrace the weight and know that you have the power to lead the people to righteousness or the family in avoiding bible study (*cough my sister cough*). And that when you are not enough, that's God's favorite place for you.
One of my favorite songs right now says "You were my portion when there wasn't enough."
Maybe this is the season we get to learn that lesson more deeply.
In our Friday night kid's ministry, we have been going through the book of Philippians and studying JOY! I have so enjoyed talking through this book with the older elementary kids every week. Last week, we talked about Philippians 4:4-7 and there is so much to learn from it (you should ask your kids and hopefully they'll remember ;)) -- But I want to talk specifically about the little phrase at the end of verse 5: "The Lord is near."
How strange it is to think of God in the time frame of near or far. When I first read the word near- I think spatially, physical closeness. Have you ever heard people say that you're the apple of God's eye? That's a phrase quoted from Psalm 17:8 and while I have heard it said, I have never really understood what it meant. If you had really pressed me, I would've thought maybe it meant something like "you're the sparkle of God's eye" -- like a term of endearment. But I learned this week that the Hebrew word for apple is actually translated as "little man." That's not at all how I interpreted that verse, so how did the original translators go from little man to apple?!
I think the phrase "You are the little man of his eye" is probably a little more confusing than the former. But the beauty of it is SO much better. Have you ever gotten so close to someone that you can literally see your reflection in their eye? That's what the author was intending with this phrase. God has literally gotten so close to us that He can see Himself in our eyes and vice versa. We are the apple of His eye. We are the embodiment of being so close that we are seen in the other's eye. God is that near.
But then there is the side of near that is more time oriented. As in, the near future. What once was a thing of anticipation is now in the very near future. The Lord our God is NEAR.
Near as in- He will never leave me, He is with me, He is so close to me.
Near as in- He could return at any moment, the anticipation of the fact that He’s on His way.
So I may be stressin’ about my near future and how I will get done all that I need to get done, or what will happen, or when will that thing that I've been praying for finally happen...
& then I’m reminded that He’s already there. He’s here with me now. But He also goes before me & He’s in that future, too. He’s that near. Close. Within reach. But also, He’s near. He’s coming back...soon.
I can tend to focus way too much on my life, my future, my story. And God is usually so gentle to remind me that it is not about me. I’m not saying that it’s bad to have a plan or think through the future... but I also don’t want to be so caught up in the future that I miss the present. The Lord is near, so why would I spend my present moments worrying about the future? The Lord is near, so why would I feel fearful and alone?
If Jesus returned tomorrow, have I been faithful to all He entrusted me with today? He is near!!
I trust Him with my past and I trust Him with my future, but do I actively trust Him with my present? He is near!!
I'm not a parent (yet!) but I have led my fair share of students over the years. I remember one year in particular, I was chosen to lead this particularly hard group of girls in our high school ministry. They hated the church and God and every other leader but I was a new face so they didn't hate me yet and their parents made them come, so my leaders told me to give it my best shot. And let me tell you, those girls gave me a run for my money. At this point in my walk with Jesus, I hadn't experienced much. I was homeschooled, raised in the church, the kid on church leadership, etc. For these girls whose lives had been full of one hard thing after the other, with divorce and abuse and abandonment, I had no idea where to go with them. I remember driving home after my first night with them and weeping out loud to the Lord because I didn't know how to lead them and if I was being honest, how do I even love them well, too?
I think sometimes in my attempts to do it well and perfectly, I forget that that's never what God asks for.
All throughout Scripture, when God spoke and asked someone to obey, it was never about the result of the obedience, it was simply about the obedience.
I didn't know how to love or lead my girls, but what God asked of me was to show up. And so I did. I would show up week after week and I would apologize on behalf of the church and the Lord and the people who had hurt them so much. I would cry when they would tell me the stories because I couldn't imagine going through that. They would look at me funny because to them, it was just normal. it was their life.
Until one night, in classic me fashion, I was driving home crying and praying to the Lord and I said "I just don't know how to help my girls!" and I felt so strongly the Lord say "They're not yours. They're mine."
I cried harder because I had again, taken on more than God intended for me. My job was to be there with them, not take on responsibility for them. My job was to show up, not fix them. My job was to obey the Lord and be who HE created me to be, and HIS job was to change, grow, encourage, and LOVE them.
Sure, He uses me and it's one of my favorite things about the Lord - that He allows us to partner with Him. But also, He doesn't need me. He doesn't need you.
The thing about faith is that it's not generational. No matter how well I love the Lord, it will never overflow into the kids that I lead, or Lord willing - my actual kids someday!
God is never a grandparent. He's always the Father. He's never a generation apart but His presence is just as close to me as it is to the girl I led to the Lord.
And that simple truth removes the pressure. Those girls were never mine. They're His. Your kids aren't yours. They're His.
Your job is to show up and be who HE created you to be. And His job is all the rest.
I know that it's a very different story when you're the parent of the child, and that once I have my own kids I'll have a very different take on it, but for now, these are my thoughts.
God chose you as your children's parents. He looked through all of time and chose you and your kids to be together. You are the best mom or dad for their personality, their habits, their intelligence, their gifting. You were chosen for them. But that doesn't make them yours. Because just as you belong to God, so do your kids.
He loves them most, that's why He gave them you!
He loves them best, that's why He gave them you!
My professor in seminary says all the time that faith comes on the scene when the scene gets hard. I'm not sure where you are at today, or what you might be feeling toward God or your family or yourself! And I definitely don't want you to feel that I am oversimplifying some really hard situations, because believe me, I know that life is not nearly as black and white as I may have written it to be. But I also know that God is faithful and God is purposeful and God is sovereign. in all things, in all ways, in all people.
So my encouragement and my prayer for you, wherever or whoever you may be, is that you would embrace the childhood of being in God's family -- with all of the freedom and fun and peace that comes with it! And that you would be affirmed in God's intention and care with your life -- You are where you are for a reason and He sees you. He loves you! He chose you! I pray that you would continue to show up in all the intricate and unique and beautiful ways that God made you and that your eyes would be opened to the ways that God is showing up in your life, too!
Hi there! My name is Alicia and I am the Children's ministry intern. I'm currently studying biblical counseling at Dallas Theological Seminary and I am so passionate about helping to bridge the gap between theology and psychology! I love writing and tend to think in pictures and I'm praying that this can be a space where you can find grace and experience Jesus and feel less alone. Much love!! Xoxo, Alicia