Giving Up on God

This is a post from my blog The Wonder Years, based on a message I gave at my church for Christmas in December 2007.  I hope it encourages you this Christmas season!

If you are anything like me, you have a plan for your life. Maybe you've had that plan for your life since you were twelve years old… Something like: you would to college, meet the man of your dreams, get married, have 2.5 children, 2 girls and one boy (a boy first, of course), live in a nice 4 bedroom house with a pool in the backyard, have 2 cars (at least one SUV), your husband would make enough money for you to stay home with the kids for a few years (if not forever), and you would live happily ever after. Remember that game in junior high called M.A.S.H.? You would get so excited when it would land on all the choices you wanted, and you secretly hoped that the game would work and life would turn out that way.

Now that I am older (and hopefully wiser!), I have realized that I don't know one person whose life has turned out as they had planned. Most of my friends are believers in Jesus Christ, and have followed him most of their lives. We have dedicated ourselves to following God's will for us and obeying him.  Yet when things don't turn out as we planned, we all have something in common. Many of us start to wonder, "where is God?" "why is this happening to me?" "has He forgotten me?" The thoughts start out to be rare. They pop in here and there, we rebuke the questions, we keep reading the Word, and we try to have faith. But as the days go on, and our situation doesn't change or gets worse, we struggle more. The thoughts start coming more frequently "doesn't He care?" "maybe He's not even real!" we dare to think. We repent for our unbelief, we confess our lack of faith. But the days continue to go on. Our situation doesn't seem to be changing. In fact, it seems to be staying this way. And we secretly begin giving up on God.

We may not even realize we are doing it. The acts begin almost unnoticeably, but we start trying to take matters into our own hands. "This wasn't the plan!" we think, and so we begin damage-control. We start trying to fix things, to clean things up, to make things look pretty from the outside so that nobody will notice. Instead of praying and reading the Word, we begin researching how to change our situation. We fill our days with searching, talking, phone calls, consultations. These things make us feel like we are moving forward somehow, making our situation better than it was.

I think of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was between 13-15 years old, just living her life. She had a fiancee', she was loved, she was being taken care of by her parents… all was well. But in the blink of an eye, her situation changed. And it was not what she had planned. She didn't know that:

- She would be a pregnant teenager.
- She would almost loses her fiancee'
- She would be publicly disgraced & ridiculed
- She would leave her home and go to live with her cousin Elizabeth for 3 months.
- She would have to travel 70 miles when she was 10 months pregnant, on a DONKEY, no less!
- There would be nowhere to go when she started having contractions
- That she would have her baby in a barn – probably on hay- ouch!
- After a year or two, she and her family would have to run for their lives to Egypt because Herod was trying to find her baby and kill him.

Through it all, we don't read of Mary complaining or saying, "Why Me?" or "This wasn't my plan!" Instead, when she arrived at Elizabeth's house, knowing what was ahead, despite her fear, she broke out in praise and thanks to God.

What is my response when things don't go as planned?

- When I lose my job and can't find one for months
- When the doctor tells me I can't have children
- When one of my loved ones finds out she has cancer
- When we lose our house for financial reasons
- When my spouse leaves me for another person
- When I still don't have a boyfriend or husband after all of this time
- When I find out I need major surgery
- When one of my kids has a disease or disorder

Do I try to take things into my own hands? Do I try to "show God" how to handle matters and just do them myself? Do I give up on Him and His plan for my life, and just re-arrange things so they'll go my way from now on? Faith is not easy. It is a long road that often takes us down a path we did not intend to tread upon. Many times faith requires us to go the opposite way of what we presently want to do. Faith requires us to go against our need to control, and leave the control up to the Lord. Yet when we give him control, and rest in His care, knowing that he is responsible for the outcome (not us), our faith will be strengthened, and we will be blessed.

God's plan in ALWAYS better than ours.

Just Ordinary

Recently a friend wrote an interesting thought on her blog: "I have really begun to realize that I am no one special...I always used to think I was going to change the world someday.  Well, I've just realized I'm never going to change the world. I'm just not.  BUT...the world is changing me."

This statement is profound, because it takes so many of us a long time to figure this out.  So many people are still waiting to change the world, and they are so unhappy with their current state of life.  We tell ourselves, "If I was only doing this...then things would be different."  We wait...and wait...and wait.

This friend and I grew up in similar circles, and we were told from a young age - "God is going to use you to change the world!" Yet many of us are still waiting.  We haven't changed much at all.

Two years ago at Catalyst, Erwin McManus spoke on this very topic.  He stated that we look at people like Moses and David and Paul - the people who really did change the world - and we get frustrated that God isn't using us like that.  We start to feel like we must have done something wrong; we must be missing His calling somehow.  But then he started to share about how God uses just ordinary people, and the Bible is full of ordinary people just like us.

It is hard to realize that we are ordinary.

In a culture where 26% of teenagers expect to be famous by age 25 (source), and 54% want to be famous when they are old (source), it is no wonder that these teenagers will grow up one day and be dissatisfied with their lives if they have not reached some level of fame. As Christians, we can easily fall into this mentality as well.

Head over to any church conference and you will overhear questions such as "How big is your church?" or "How many books have you written?"  We read books on "Platforms" and influence, and somehow equate Twitter followers and Facebook friends as evidence that we are changing lives and influencing others.  We start to believe that these things will make us more than "just ordinary."

Maybe we all need to get to the point that my friend is at; the point where we realize that we're nobody special and we're not going to change the world. Maybe we need to stop telling our young people that God will change the world through them, because even if He doesn't, it's okay.  When we get frustrated that God isn't using us to change the world, we are likely more focused on ourselves than we are on Him.

Being ordinary is okay, because God uses ordinary people. He may not use us in the way we had hoped; we may not be famous; we may not reach our goal of Twitter-followers and Facebook friends.  Yet if we are taking our eyes off of ourselves and keeping them on Him, then He will use us right where we are - even in an audience of 1.  Even in an audience of 3 children at home.  Even in an audience of 23 adults who sit to hear you preach on a Sunday morning.  Even in a classroom of children who don't seem to be listening.

Take heart - most of us are just ordinary, and that's right where God wants us to be.

Someone to Look Up To

I cannot stress how important it is for young women to have other women to look up to, especially within the church.  For years a woman's role in the church was restricted mainly to that of the "pastor's secretary" or the "children's director."  In the past 10 years, though, there has been a shift in thinking and in practice, and now women comprise many other roles on church staff. We still have a long way to go, however.

After I felt a call into full-time ministry (when I was 15 years old), I was desperately seeking female role-models who were also in ministry.  All around me were strong men of God who spoke encouragement into my life and gave me opportunities to serve, yet I still needed the influence of women.  Thankfully, my youth pastor's wife was an integral part of our youth ministry, and took on all roles necessary including preaching at our youth meetings.  With 3 young children, she modeled for me how to put family first yet still use her gifts.

As I sought these female influences, I found them, although not always in close proximity to where I lived. I would see these women at camps, conferences, and church meetings, and immediately wanted to be close to them.  In many cases I took a risk and asked if they would mentor me, even from afar.  One of these women (Kara Powell) was a youth pastor from a church in San Diego, and every time I saw her I soaked in every word she had to share.  Her life and calling amazed me. I honestly don't know if she realizes what an influence she had on my life, just by being present and being available.

When I arrived at college, there were an amazing amount of women to look up to and seek as mentors.  This is where my own ministry truly started to form, as these women poured into me and encouraged me to dream big. I had not grown up seeing women in these roles before, and it was as if a whole new world opened up before me.

As I got involved in ministry, girls younger than me started to seek me out as a mentor. I felt inferior, unqualified, and insecure.  Yet these were girls who came in, just like me, who just wanted someone to believe in them.

My friend Jo quoted recently - "You cannot be what you cannot see."  (Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of Children's Defense Fund)

Whether you are a stay-at-home mom, a work-from-home mom, a woman in ministry, someone who works behind the scenes, or someone who is up front, reach out to the girls younger than you. They need you. They need to know that God can use them in whatever stage of life they are in. They need to know they are not invisible.   Allow God to use you to pour into the young women He has placed in your life.  You never know what kind of influence you could have - it may be just what she needs.

Read other stories of "Patron Saints and Spiritual Midwives" over at Sarah Bessey's blog.