Ephesians 5:1-2 (the message)
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
Last night before bed Leah and I stopped to pray for her finger. It was caught in a shutting closet door a couple of weeks ago and the fingernail is giving her trouble. After we prayed, she told me sometimes she prays and “waits and waits and waits for days and days and he doesn’t come!” I wasn’t sure what she meant by saying He doesn’t come. I wasn’t sure what she was asking for! So I asked her, “Leah, what are you praying about and he doesn’t come?” Her answer was priceless. She said, “I prayed and asked Him to make me into a mermaid but he hasn’t done it.” Wow. I held my smile in, knowing my sensitive Leah would think I was laughing at her very serious concern over unanswered prayer. If you are a parent, then you know this is one of those moments when at first you have no earthly idea what to say! In the brief seconds that passed I searched my heart for words…how could I encourage my daughter’s budding faith in spite of her still-human legs?
Leah, do you know God loves you?
Well, because God loves you so much He wants what is best for you. And God always knows what’s best. He knows more about it than we do. So, even though you want to be a mermaid, it’s best for you to be a human because that is what He created you to be. Sometimes His answer is no. But that is still because God loves you. Make sense?
(Head nodding) Okay.
I’m not really sure how deeply Leah grasped this idea. I’m not sure how well I grasp it sometimes! But I am thinking I don’t really have to understand the theology. I don’t have to have it all nailed down mentally. My heart really doesn’t even have to like it! The only thing I need to know is that God loves me. And He is always good to me. Always.
Earlier in the evening yesterday I had another brief conversation with someone a bit older than Leah…smile…about trusting God when we don’t like the answer we are given or haven’t yet been given an answer. ‘Remember God is good’ was my encouragement (I know it reads like a cross-stitch or something). When we hear no or hear nothing, we can be encouraged to wait for the yes, in His timing, if we remember He is good. But, as I was reminded during a family movie we watched recently, we have to know this for ourselves.
In this movie, two little orphan sisters were sharing a room. At night the younger one would climb into bed with the older because she was scared of the dark. The older sister tried to encourage the younger that there was nothing to be afraid of, “everything is exactly the same, just dark.” The little sister responded, “Okay, Sal. But I don’t know that yet!” This clipped my heart! This is the crux of so much of trusting Jesus! Someone else, be it preacher, parent, friend, or blogger, can tell us how good God is. How He has a plan. How He can truly be trusted. And sometimes we mentally agree because we think it’s completely unspiritual not to do so, but inside we are really like the little sister thinking, Okay, I believe you. But I don’t know that yet!
The truth is I can write every day for the rest of my life but really I can’t convince you God is good. You might agree with me on some level, but maybe you, like the little girl, don’t know that yet. That is okay! Here is why I believe knowing it for ourselves is crucial in life: We won’t really trust God with our lives, the outcomes of our praying, if we don’t know He is good and has our best in mind. But if we become deeply convinced of God’s goodness toward us then we can pour out our hearts and pray confidently, believing with a strong trust that the right answer, God’s answer, is what we are receiving. If not, then we begin to feel like “wind-whipped waves” as James puts it. We can’t settle down. Can’t relax. Because even though we’ve prayed, we are unsure of the outcome. Unsure of our level of faith and whether it will move God to answer. What if we move away from trusting in our own limited faith and put our faith in His unlimited goodness?
How can we go from taking someone else’s word for it to knowing for ourselves that God is good, and because He is good, we can trust Him even if we hear a no or a not yet? The scripture above caught my heart this morning. I think the answer is in Jesus. Always comes back to Him. If you want to know what the Father is like, get to know the Son. If you want to know the Son, read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Ask Jesus to help you see Him and hear Him speak specifically to you as you read. Talk to Him throughout your day and practice having a quiet heart in those moments so you can sense Him responding through scriptures you have read or even in a “thought” that comes from deep inside. God is pretty good at finding ways to speak to us when we have ready, listening hearts. An email, a song, a message, a card, a book, a sunset, a child’s laugh. The devil will tell you that you’re making it up. Since Eden Satan’s first line of attack has been doubt. Sowing seeds of doubt in the hearts and minds of God’s children. My life and relationship with Jesus took a new kind of turn when I grew bold enough to believe He was actually speaking to me! And when I get it wrong, it’s okay. God always sees my heart.
His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. See, I believe if God says no to Leah’s mermaid prayer it’s not because He is so cautious and stingy in His goodness, but because He is extravagant and mermaid life is not nearly as good as what He has planned! Sometimes the only way to know His goodness for yourself is finding it right in the middle of what you thought was not good. Hmmmm…for instance, say you have been praying about a desire in your heart for a long time. And it still hasn’t become a reality. And you don’t think that is a good thing…it feels bad. What if in the middle of what feels bad you learn that “everything of Himself” that Jesus gave to you is enough to fill every need? Peace in uncertainty. Joy despite unmet longings. Supernatural strength in weakness. What if this knowing for yourself of His goodness only comes as you determine to walk through the dreaded no and finally see His yes. See, there is a yes. But so often we get stuck on the no and can’t get past it.
The scripture above invites us to Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Keep company with Jesus. Oh, goodness (goodness!), how I believe this is it. Maybe today would be a baby step. Maybe it would be a swan dive. It doesn’t matter if we will only move closer to Him. Keep company with Jesus. Sometimes I think about big front porches with swings! I imagine rocking with Jesus on that swing. Cicadas singing, a bit of a breeze. Smells of honeysuckle and freshly mowed grass lingering around us. We talk. It’s so easy because He understands what I’m trying to say even when I can’t say it right. He speaks truth to me in such a gentle way. And then we just swing some more. Laugh…you might think I’m crazy…but what I’m describing is in my heart how real keeping company with Jesus can be. Keeping company is how we get to know Him. It’s how we go from the little sister to the big sister…become an encouragement for others and confident that just like our surroundings are the same, light or dark, Jesus is the same — yes, no or not yet.
After all, mermaids are no good at front-porch swinging.