I haven’t been actively blogging for some time now, but I realize it’s the best way to share thoughts that have a little more “meat” to them. Facebook is a bit awkward for sharing ideas of any substance. You know, once you’ve scrolled past something you really, really wanted to read, it’s maddening trying to find it again. With blog posts, the material is easily available on my WordPress site, should you need to wait for another pot of coffee to brew to make it to the end (not that I’m “long-winded” or anything…)
Pastor John Bowen, Jr., preached yesterday morning about God being in control. On the surface that sounds like a pretty basic idea – not too hard to get it into our minds and hearts: we’re like the dust of the earth and he’s the King of all kings. Obviously he’s the one in control.
But at what level do we know how much “in control” he really is? Our startle reflex kicks in when we encounter trouble and we clutch things we thought we were holding together by our own strength. We grasp at the familiar and keep it close, even as we watch it fall apart in our hands. Because holding open, empty hands is way too scary.
I’m in the process of becoming an empty-nester. You talk about wanting to grasp and let go at the same time! It’s like learning to walk again to let someone go, let them try and do and make choices that aren’t always “healthy” from the perspective of a parent, who, by the way, has had the chance to make my own choices over my lifetime, learning from the good ones as well as those that weren’t so good. Advising versus telling what to do or even demanding that it be done the way I say is a tough balance to maintain. Riding this bicycle takes a whole new set of training wheels.
It goes far deeper than even the control of this moment that we’d like to be able to influence. It goes back to letting our kids sit on the floor playing with a rattle in an environment made as wholesome and godly as possible. Or rocking them in our arms while singing a brand-new song we made up about Jesus keeping them while they sleep. There’s something in us that desires to make things work out well for our kids, and so we start when they are babies with their education and training and putting the right things into their lives. I remember when I decided it wasn’t too early to pray and read the Bible with my baby. By the time she was three she would remind me if I seemed to forget.
I’m not bragging – it was by the grace of God that anything was done well – but the point is, what do we expect to get out of living right and bringing up our kids in the fear and admonition of the Lord? I’ll tell you what we expect. Results, that’s what we expect. A child who comes to know the Lord in truth, and responds heartily, and who God fills with His Spirit, and then when they hit adulthood they live happily for God ever after. That’s what we expect. WE put the right things in, so God will do his part. Right? …Right???
Let’s pause to look at one of our least favorite Bible characters in terms of those we love to identify with: poor Job. We all like to think we’d have the fortitude and faith to take the trial he took the way he did it, but we sure don’t want to find out. The thing that’s struck me lately in reading his story is the detail I noticed about his children. They were rich, of course, because Job was rich. They had a practice of feasting in one another’s homes. The Bible doesn’t indicate they were lazy or shiftless or misusing Dad’s money, but they were well-off enough to be able to share some of the bounty, and they did so by feasting together. In the description of Job’s life before the trouble came, it was said in Job 1:5 that when their feasting was “come about” each time — which I take to mean “completed” — Job would offer sacrifice for them, in case they had sinned. I’m sure he felt better about them each time after that.
No matter the age of our children, I believe we will always bear concern for their wellbeing and will especially be concerned about their spiritual welfare. Job felt, no doubt, that he had it covered. He would do the right things, and they would be OK.
But of course, horrible, unspeakable, tragedy fell: in the same day that Job lost all his possessions, a great wind came and “smote the four corners of the house” where they were and it fell and killed all his children. What were they doing when they died? Feasting. What had Job not had the chance to do for them? Offer the sacrifices that he trusted would cover them spiritually. He didn’t get to do what had helped him feel safer about his children’s eternity. He had to let them go without knowing if they were OK. All those sacrifices. All that teaching. All the work to make sure they were ready to meet God. He had to let them go without knowing. I believe it wasn’t just their loss that had to be overcome for Job to turn and worship God. It was the sense that, “having done all that, this is what I get in return” — not seeing the reward for his labor in the one area that mattered the most to him.
You see, we feel it is one of the things we get for teaching our children, molding them almost as clay with our hands, from the day they are born, changing our own behavior and level of commitment to make sure our children get the chance to get more from God than we did, making sure they have the best of everything when it comes to living for God. We scrape up the money to pay for youth camp, hoping they’ll get an extra blessing and be more resolved to love God for themselves. We ride to youth meetings with them, knowing we may not get to bed until 3:00 the next morning. But it’s nothing to us, because anything that can help firm up their love for truth is a great investment.
We know somewhere in our hearts, and even say with our mouths that “kids don’t come with guarantees”, and they may not always make the choices we like. We say that, but in our hearts, we really believe that if we do all the right things, say the right things, and “hold our mouth right” when we say them, that we will be the exception to the 85/15 statistic of how many kids pull away from church as adults vs. those who stay. Don’t think you’re expecting that from God as the reward for your efforts? Try this: what’s the first think that comes to your mind — whether you say it or not — when dear saints of God have children who clearly backslide from God? Don’t you wonder what their parents possibly could have have done differently to have kept that from happening???
I know I did. It’s a lot like the way we want the details of an auto accident, which I once thought meant we were just inherently nosy, but now I take to be a sort of self-preservation at work: “If I know what caused that one, I can try to avoid that happening to me.” I worked hard to avoid judging parents whose kids had gotten out on their own and had seemed to leave what they were raised with. I knew that such judging (condemning someone without the facts or for doing something I may secretly have been doing myself),beyond being unfair and out-of-bounds in God’s eyes, was a sure way to reap something I didn’t want to sign up for. I knew of too many kids whose upbringing seemed to have been done to the best of the ability of faithful, godly parents, who just chose other paths at some point in their adulthood. I can honestly say, though that this was a club I never wanted to join.
Let me pause here to say, I have a beautiful daughter who has not left the principles she was raised with. Do I agree with all her choices in this first phase of her adulthood? No, but that would be no great revelation to her. Have I freaked out when I saw things that I felt were trending in a less than positive direction? Oh, yeah. She could tell you some stories, for sure. And to be honest, she hasn’t seen half of the freaking out I’ve done in private. Only God gets to be the audience for those. So what is the point of this wandering tale?
Control. We were talking about control. In the midst of wondering what I should be doing to help, where I should be “taking a stand” or when I should be just listening, or what in the world I might be doing “wrong” in the situation, along comes a message from my pastor reminding me I am not in control anyway, only God is.
You see, God didn’t cause Job’s trial or even allow it because of any sin in Job’s life — the Word is very clear on that. But God didn’t waste the trial either, rather using it to help perfect Job’s view of his Maker and himself. Does God reward faithful people with the desires of their heart? Usually, but God is sovereign, and can do what he pleases and what works best for his purposes in the bigger picture. Do the good and just suffer some things, even though they’ve served him? Yes, sometimes, (anyone remember the Cross?) but always for a reason which may only be apparent later.
I fully believe great things are ahead for my daughter, and that her walk with God and service to God will exceed mine in days to come. But that can only happen if I can make myself get out of the way and allow God to work in her life as he would do. I realize that will involve choices, mistakes, triumphs, failures, and “trying on” this faith in her own way at her own time. I cannot make the pieces go together, I can only break them by insisting on trying to do so.
To wrap this up, on the way to church last night, I heard a radio spot describing a “hydraulic”, a phenomenon that occurs in some rapids. A hydraulic is otherwise known as a vertical whirlpool, and is extremely difficult to survive for anyone ejected from their boat. A jet of water actually pushes the person up a waterfall, then shoots them back down, only to pick them up again, and so forth. In a hydraulic, the only way to survive is to do the last thing anyone would want to do in other dangerous circumstances: remove the life vest. The thing designed to save them in other emergencies keeps the would-be swimmer buoyed above water, and unable to dive below the turbulence and swim out — the only method for successfully leaving a hydraulic.
In a similar vein, the message last night at church, from Bro. Josh Settlemire, was on keeping our eyes on Jesus in the midst of a storm. In the message, he spoke of Peter’s opportunity to step out of the boat once he heard Jesus say that it was him who was walking on the boisterous waves toward them (not a ghost). “Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come.” (Matthew 14:28-29a) Remember, the boat was the thing the frightened disciples believed had been keeping them somewhat safe in the storm. They were trying desperately to row, to bail water, to labor to get out of this on their own, to somehow just make it through the storm. Jesus — walking on the very thing that was about to take them down — bid Peter to step out of the safety of the boat and walk where no man but Jesus had ever walked before. And he did. By the power of the one who parted the Red Sea and rolled back the Jordan River three times (for Joshua, Elijah, and Elisha), Peter walked on water.
The take-away? Trials cause us to walk where we’ve never walked before. We can cling to what we know — trying to control every thing in our world, including the choices of others around us — or we can step out of the boat and realize, as Job had to, that we are simply Not.In.Control.
Oh, there is freedom in reaching for his hand when it doesn’t make sense to leave the boat behind.