For some strange reason, when I started my blog, I thought I’d have something different to write about every week. I thought that each week I could catalog what God had been teaching me and doing in my life, and by putting my “lesson learned” into a nice little gift-wrapped package with a bow on top, I’d prove that I’d absorbed that concept and was ready to move on to the next in God’s series of lessons to teach me. But it’s been two weeks since my last post, and God’s still teaching me basically the same concept in deeper and different ways. With that realization comes the understanding that I’m never going to check off all the boxes of learning and “arrive” at the destination in my relationship with God; this whole thing is going to be one big, beautiful, messy, painful, glorious journey that will, quite literally, take a lifetime. Just because I recognize something is a problem doesn’t mean I’ve fixed it; in fact, hardly so. Because I’ve been focused on the finished product for so many of the goals and aspirations in my life, adjusting to this lifelong growth process is going to take a while. Thankfully, God’s faithful to stay by my side even when I’m slow.
I need to get started, so I’m just going to come right out and say it: I am bad at listening to and accepting advice, even when implementing it would cause a marked improvement compared to my current plan. I’m the last to admit I need help or to humble myself enough to ask for guidance, however desperate I may be in a given situation. My general attitude all too often tends to be that I’m independent, responsible, and strong enough to handle whatever life throws at me all on my own. Unfortunately, that perception typically proves to be more false than true.
Exhibit A: Last year as a prospective student at the university I currently attend, I became pretty familiar with the path between the admissions building and the student union. During my college search when I visited campus several times, it was the one place I knew I would always be able to find. I prided myself on knowing that one path so well, even though traversing the rest of the small campus still presented a challenge.
Fast-forward nine months: I’ve made my college choice and followed what I really hoped I had accurately interpreted as God’s call to a different school than the one I’d intended to attend for much of my high school career. It’s my second week on campus and I have to exchange a textbook for one of my courses because they gave me the wrong one by accident; the only catch? The bookstore is located in the student union, and in all my bustling about this direction and that finding everything I need the first week, this is the first mission since I’ve arrived on campus that requires me to locate the student union.
No big deal, I think to myself. If I could find it as a prospective, surely I can find it as an official student. So in all my puffed-up, “college student” confidence, I slide the textbook I’m exchanging into my backpack, tuck my wristlet into the front pocket, grab the notebook I’ll need for the next class, and embark on what I expect to be the first of many short, routine trips. However, once I make it through the library and emerge on the other side of campus, I realize that my plan has one fatal flaw: I only know how to get to the union from the admissions office, and I haven’t been there either since my last visit; in fact, I don’t actually know where either of the buildings are located right now. I should know this! As I glance around trying to get my bearings, I see a campus map on a big poster near our bell tower. I could easily go find my current location on the map, reorient myself to my surroundings, and follow the appropriate sidewalk to my destination of choice. But that would be too much like admitting defeat, and of all the buildings I could need to find, this is the one I shouldn’t need help with.
But I do, and I spend far too long wandering around the other side of our tiny campus wondering where on earth it could be hiding before finally recognizing the unmistakable spaceship-like structure that I know holds the bookstore. As I rush to make the exchange before my next class, I am forced to recognize the foolishness of indulging my stubborn pride–and, months later still, I begin to recognize the same pattern in my walk with Christ.
I mess things up on a daily basis; I understand that the term “things” is vague, but it must be if I expect it to cover the broad range of mistakes I make and sins I knowingly commit, from letting one thoughtless comment slip from my mind to my mouth to purposefully and habitually engaging in behavior that distances me from God’s will for my life. It’s not that I don’t know the good I ought to do; it’s all written out pretty clearly in the Bible, including this:
“Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” (James 4:17, NIV)
So, yeah. My sins are direct results of my conscious selection of my choice over the right choice, or maybe my choice to remain inexcusably ignorant to what that right choice might be. When I have such a reliable source of guidance and wisdom, why do I brush it off to the side and rely on my own faulty logic and lame attempts at reason to propel my actions? The root of the problem, I suspect, lies in a deep-seated desire to feel capable and in control. I think we all seek a measure of control in our lives, in different ways and to varying degrees, and this makes sense; we want to know that everything will turn out okay and the time in between now and when “everything turns out” will go as smoothly as possible. The best way we see fit to ensure our ultimate success is to take our paths into our own hands–after all, we trust ourselves more than anyone.
Therein lies the problem. When I choose my logic over God’s direction, I’m asserting my will over His and expressing a greater trust in myself than in the God I profess to trust with my eternity. What a sad state of affairs to find myself in! For He promises nothing less than to continually offer love, forgiveness, and guidance to those engaged in relationship with Him through His Son. He knows far better than I do what I need most in every situation, and I know this not only because of His outright promises in the Bible but also because He has proven Himself faithful time and again when I’ve humbled myself enough to see and follow His guidance. He brought me here in an unexpected twist of something much better than fate, and I am confident beyond belief that this is the place I need to be at this time in my life. So it’s no question of whose choice is better.
It does no good, though, to acknowledge my weaknesses unless I make a conscious effort–not necessarily to change, but rather to allow myself to be changed by Him. I can’t simply get better at following Him or strengthen our relationship by wanting to; in order to truly have a transformed attitude, it’s going to take a lot more power. My responsibility is to desire growth and do what I can to pursue it while asking Him to soften my heart and mold me into more of the person He has created me to be. And when I find myself believing the lies that our culture preaches day after day, lies that tell us that no one will care about me except me, that it’s a dog-eat-dog world, that the most important endeavors and the only ones worthy of my time and attention are the ones that benefit me and bring me more “success,” I have only to look to His Word for this guidance:
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–His good, pleasing, and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2, NIV)
The context of this verse includes an encouragement to offer our bodies (in essence, our entire lives) as sacrifices to God to be used for His purposes, which we know are for the good of all those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Another instrumental verse in my coming to this understanding of how crucial it is that I return to Him the privilege of decision-making , one that I often mistake for my right, was Isaiah 55:9…
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (NIV)
Here I am, settling for my own will and constructing my own plans in a futile effort to wholly control my life, when God has so much more prepared for me; even if it’s not what I expect, and even though the growth is sometimes going to have to come through challenges and pain, I have a God Who knows what He’s doing, one hundred percent, and is totally okay with me not knowing. But if I’m going to make a shift in perspective and get used to not knowing exactly the plan I’m supposed to be following but instead living from this one guideline, to follow God, I’m going to need a constant reminder. So part of my action plan for this week to help me keep in mind the higher purpose that my life is designed for was to have one of my friends write on my wrist in henna the word “ask.” “Ask” is the key word in another of the promises God has pointed out to me in this process, and having my wrist emblazoned with the word has brought it to mind repeatedly throughout the past week. Here’s the promise we’ve been made:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5, NIV)
When the henna wears off, though, and this post is buried deep in the blog archives, my prayer is that God will continue to remind me of His ultimate sovereignty and help me seek His will for my life above my own. Because while they say men don’t ask for directions, I struggle with it just as much myself (maybe more). I’ll close with a few lines from a hymn that’s been running through my head as I write; I’m pretty sure it’s no coincidence.
Take my life and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days,
let them flow in endless praise….
Take my will and make it Thine,
it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own,
it shall be Thy royal throne.
(Take My Life and Let It Be, Francis R. Havergal)