This past Sunday, I was out walking my dogs, when -- out of the blue -- some thoughts on God, and the way we try and "capture" Him and how He is came flooding into my brain. God does that sometimes -- He'll allow a thought (or three) so sit in me until -- BOOM! -- suddenly, insight hits me square between the valves of my heart. So, once I got back inside, I grabbed a pen, trying to remember what all I was talking about and praying aloud (and, in the process, making my neighbors think Im just a little wackier than they had already surmised). Written below is what I scribbled down on a notepad, trying to re-capture all the thoughts that I'd been given:
- We try to craft God in our own image, not the other way around (the Bible does state we were made in His image). Our Western society/culture has it the worst: we craft our prayers to what God "wants" to hear, or how we think we "should" pray -- almost to manipulate or curry favor with God. Like He wouldn't be smart enough to see through our feeble attempts, whether they're intentional or not -- whether they're crafted that way because of the upbringing we may have had in church. Like He didn't already know what we were going to say.
- By crafting God in our own image -- by focusing our prayers on what we see/feel/want -- we conceivably limit Him. A spiritual being, sung to daily as "indescribable" -- we try to make Him into our own image (idolatry, maybe?), so we feel more comfortable with Him. So we can wrap our perception of truth, of our changing, transmutable minds and bodies onto a constant that never changes.
- We're not trying to fit a square peg into a round hole: we're trying it fit a square peg into a cloud. ...and watch the square peg (what we ask for) drop to the ground. Watch our life -- watch our desires -- watch the way we want to run our lives -- watch it all drop and lose out against what he wants.
Matthew 6:33 -- Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. (THE MESSAGE)
So, after I write all this stuff down, I crack open this book that Ive been reading: Surprise Me: A 30-Day Faith Experiment by Terry Esau. And -- lo and behind -- what was today's little journal entry about?
Surprise Me could have that same problem [of people thinking God wants to make "us" flourish]. And it probably will. Some of us will look only for the sparkly toy surprises from the vending machine, the "good" surprises like the little gold rings and the rubber action figures. When a big dollop of "here's-what-I-see-in-you" come rumbling down the chute, well go, "God, how come you're not there answering my prayers? How come you're not sending any surprises my way?" All the while God is going, "Duh. I just sent a mirror down -- did you look in it?"
So that worries me a bit. Another thing that has me a bit concerned is that some of us will attribute everything that happens as an act of God. You know what I'm talking about, right? Some of us will wake up in the morning and pray, "Surprise me, God." And then we'll go get a primo parking spot at the mall and the cell phone kiosk will have a special on the very camera phone we were thinking about buying... ... And then we'll get together with some friends and in a religious voice that isnt our normal speaking voice well say, "Praise God -- He is soooo good to me," and we'll list the trivial train of blessings. One of our friends who is trying to figure out this whole God/Jesus/faith thing will hear this litany of toy surprises and wonder why God just let her brother die of cancer. After all, she'd been praying for him as best she knew how for the past two years. Was God too busy helping someone get a good parking space? Is that how God works?
Surprise Me, the experiment, could do a lot of damage if we bastardize it; if we make it about us and what we want. ...
Youre probably thinking right now, "Okay, Esau, well then how are we supposed to know if anything that ever happens to us is actually from God? Whats from Him and what isn't?"
You might not like this answer, but the truth is I don't know. ...
How could I know? How can we ever know, without a sliver of doubt, that whatever happened to us was a God thing? Unless He slaps a Post-It Note on it, that says, "This one's from me, you dimwit -- I did it." But, the flip side to that is, just as we can't prove something is from God, we also can't say that it isn't. We cant rule out His involvement.
So what do I say to the woman whose brother just died of cancer when she has been praying for him for two years? I dont know. I wish I could explain that, but I can't. Thats a pretty awful surprise. Do I shoot out some clichéd line about how all things work together for good? Probably not. Do I put my arm around her and say, "I'm really sorry about your brother he was a good guy"? Yeah.
That's a good start.
Other than that, I don't know.
So as you can tell, I've been hit between the eyes about this. See -- this was all part of a struggle I've been having when I pray. I feel like...I don't know. I've settled into a comfortable routine. A pattern. And how often have I been asking for God to work in or through a circumstance, and not through me. To take me out of a situation, disregarding the spiritual aspects.
How many times have I prayed, not seeking first the Kingdom, but seeking what my perception of the Kingdom should be.
There are some really crummy situations in my life right now. Potentially life altering, potentially life breaking. (And no, Ashley and I have not broken up. Shush). Other things -- parts of my past which won't die, which I re-live over and over and over again. For FOREVER, I've been praying that God take me out of these situations, take me out of the pain, of the hurt.
Not that God wants to see me suffer, but never not once, have I prayed to see what He's trying to show me in the situation. I've been too focused on the negative here-and-now to see what the future could hold. To see where I could be led. To see something better.
Methinks I need to start revisiting that verse above, and stop thinking of myself as a latter-day Job.