Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


1 Comment

Apples and Oranges

IMG_5029

Have you ever heard the saying: “it’s like comparing apples and oranges”?  People use it when someone makes a comparison of things that are too different to be equivalent.   It’s unfair because the objects can’t or shouldn’t be compared by the same criteria.  Apples and oranges are both types of fruit and are roughly the same size, but trying to compare them or say which one is “better” is just plain silly.  Certain recipes clearly call for one or the other.   I love to make Cranberry Apple Pie at Thanksgiving, but I would never swap the apples for oranges.  The two aren’t interchangeable.  Each has distinctive qualities that make it uniquely suited for certain recipes.

We live in a culture consumed with making comparisons.  We’re constantly labeling, categorizing and judging.   Unfortunately we are prone to make unhelpful comparisons in our daily lives that do significantly more damage than comparing apples to oranges.  Have you ever encountered a person doing something amazing and inspiring and been tempted to feel insignificant and inadequate?   Maybe someone is sharing about a way God moved in her life and the whole time you’re comparing yourself, feeling threatened and thinking: “What does this mean for me?”  I’ll confess that I had one of those moments as I read Chapter 2 of What Happens When Women Say Yes to God.

Lysa TerKeurst shares a moving story about adopting two teenaged boys from Liberia, Africa.  She says that her family said, “yes” to God “not because [they] were completely comfortable with adopting, but rather because [they] completely trusted Him”  (p. 37).   It’s an inspiring story, but instead of praising God for working in her family and rescuing two boys from the grip of poverty, I read it through my own filter. Evaluating myself in comparison to her, I thought: “She’s better than me.  I would never be able to handle something like that.”  It is too easy to look at how God is moving in the lives of others and to play the comparison game.  We end up thinking we’re inadequate for not “measuring up” and don’t factor in the part the Holy Spirit plays in all of it.

When we compare ourselves and come up short, we are essentially telling God that we don’t like the gifts He’s given us.  We are deciding that what God has done in another life is better than anything He could do in ours.  God has unique promptings for each of us. He gives each of us specific gifts, skills and experiences, all of which can be used for His glory. We are uniquely suited for certain things.  We’ll miss out on hearing His voice and discovering how He wants to use us if we’re busy comparing ourselves to others.

Saying “yes” to God’s promptings is a slow building process.  As He softens our hearts and we align our wills with His, He begins to shape our dreams and desires.  This is not something that happens overnight.  The first steps may look small to you, but they are only the beginning.  It starts with saying “yes” to spending time with God every day.  It continues as you include Him in your daily choices.  Eventually, you may find yourself surrendering every decision to Him and asking for His direction in all that you do.   The experiences you have, the people you meet and the things you learn prepare you to be used in new ways so that you are ready to answer when you hear God’s call.

Lysa gave a great set of questions to ask ourselves as we consider responding to God’s promptings:

-Does what I’m hearing line up with Scripture?

-Is it consistent with God’s character?

-Is it being confirmed through messages I’m hearing at church or studying in my quiet times?

-Is it beyond me?  (ie:  I could never do it without God’s help)

-Would it please God?

Even people who have been followers of Jesus for many years always have opportunities to stretch and grow in new ways.  After all, we are on a continual journey and will never attain total maturity or completeness until we reach our heavenly home.  Perhaps you’re already living out a “yes” you said to God in the past.  Maybe He is preparing you for a new season of serving in a different way.  Has someone recently asked you to consider a new opportunity that is a bit out of your comfort zone?  It might be time to pray through Lysa’s five questions and see where God is leading.  The point is: we need to look at what God is doing in us, personally, instead of comparing ourselves to what He’s doing in others.

If you are criticizing yourself over your propensity to compare, keep in mind that even Jesus’ closest disciples were guilty of this habit.   In the final chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus gives Peter some specific instructions about his ministry on earth.  When Jesus finishes talking, Peter turns and points to John, asking Jesus  “Lord, what about him?”  Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?  You must follow me”  (John 21:21-22).  I like the way my Bible commentary explains Jesus’ response to Peter:  “The answer of Jesus had one purpose, to rebuke Pater for being distracted over John’s future.  It was enough for him to be concerned about doing God’s will in his own life” (The Wycliffe Bible Commentary edited by Pfeiffer and Harrison, p. 1122).  Maybe it’s enough for us to be concerned about doing God’s will in our lives too.

When I’m tempted to compare the ways God is using another person and to think I don’t measure up, I stop myself by saying:  “Celebrate, don’t compare.”  It is a different issue entirely if we make a comparison and feel convicted that we’re being disobedient to God or not using what He’s given us.  In that case, we need to confess in prayer and follow up with actions.  In either situation, being critical of ourselves serves no purpose other than to keep us from making a difference for God’s kingdom purposes.

Advertisements


1 Comment

Saying “Yes” to God is about Obedience, not Results

IMG_5010

“Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth.  He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.”  Psalm 96:12b-13

 Navigating my mountain bike down the steep, rocky trail was requiring all of my concentration.  Looking up for a split second, I caught a flash of pink ahead.  As I squeezed the brakes and slowed down, I discovered the blur of color I’d seen was a beautiful tree in full bloom.  It was tucked off to the side of the trail down a steep and rocky ravine, the top branches just barely visible.  Stopping to admire it, I wondered how many people would have the chance to see it during its short spring blossoming season.  It seemed like a waste for it to be missed.

Later, as I thought about the tree again, it made me realize that sometimes we have our own moments of “blossoming.”  I think of these moments as times we’ve chosen to say, “yes” to God and to obey Him, even if we’re the only ones who know.  We may not see immediate results, but God is honored, nonetheless.

A few years ago I had a series of “yes” moments that left me confused. It started when I learned that an acquaintance had lost her father to cancer.  Having my own dad pass away six years ago, I felt a pang of sadness and a strong urge to reach out in compassion to this woman, even though I barely knew her.  Before I let anything else distract me, I wrote her a card, bought some flowers and brought them to her house.  She was touched by the gesture and thanked me profusely.  My act of obedience felt good and I knew it was the right thing to do.

Two days later, she called to thank me again.  “I’ve been reading and re-reading your note all weekend.  You have no idea what comfort it has brought me.  It’s so good to know someone else understands my pain.  There is one question that is nagging at me though.  I’m not sure where my dad is now and this is really scary for me.  Can you relate to that?”  Gulping, I breathed a prayer asking for the right words and responded gently:  “Well, that really hasn’t been an issue for me.  My dad had a strong faith in Jesus, so I’m at peace knowing he’s home in heaven.”  Without missing a beat, she responded:  “I’m religious too, but I guess I never really saw the personal connection you just described.  Do you think we can get together and talk about it more sometime soon?”  What else could I say but, “yes”?

Before you jump to the conclusion that this is just another tale with a happy ending, let me stop you.  Lysa TerKeurst gives a fantastic example of this in Chapter One of What Happens When Women Say Yes to God.   In her story, she offers her beloved Bible to a man she meets on a plane.  Later, she learns that this act eventually leads him to give his life to Christ and to impact others in significant ways.  My story has a slightly different ending.

Over the course of many months, my acquaintance and I had several meaningful conversations.  She made it clear she was seeking spiritually and even asked me if she could come to church and Bible study.   I invited her to various outreach events and social gatherings.  She would respond enthusiastically, only to cancel at the last minute or just not show up. Instead of explaining or apologizing, she would avoid me for a while afterwards until I initiated again. I wondered if I was doing something to offend her, often criticizing myself and assuming I’d used the wrong approach.  My intentions were pure; my motivation was selfless; I was obeying God, but I wasn’t getting the results I expected!

I wish I could say that eventually my questions were answered and that she accepted Christ and went on to have a vibrant relationship with Him.  In reality, she ended up moving away, never even showing up for the final meal we had planned to say goodbye.   I may never know why things happened as they did, but I finally recognized that there was a reason for her behavior that had nothing to do with me.  I felt sad at the way things ended, but at peace knowing I’d shown God’s love and had obeyed His promptings.

This relationship was not the only time I said “yes” to God and had less than fulfilling results. While there have been times people have responded favorably, it is not unusual for me to extend myself to someone, point her toward God and have her suddenly start avoiding me.  Even though my actions are bathed in prayer, sometimes people just aren’t ready to delve into spiritual topics.  I have to trust that a seed has been planted, if nothing more.  If my goal were immediate results, I would have stopped long ago.  Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with wise people in my life who encourage me not to look at the “results,” but to keep obeying God and remembering that He has been honored by my “yes” to His leading, whether or not the person responds.

Even in the Bible we see Jesus give commands to His followers knowing that they will not always produce results.  In Luke 10 he sends seventy-two disciples out to share the gospel saying:  “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you.  Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’  But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you… He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”  When the seventy-two return later and report back to Jesus, they are pleased with their results saying “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” He replies: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”   The disciples revel in their successful results but Jesus counters by telling them to rejoice in their salvation.   Showing obedience to God reveals our love for Him, whether or not it produces results in the lives of others.

That brings us back to the blooming tree I saw tucked in the ravine along the trail.  Whether or not anyone ever notices it, it stands with its branches reaching heavenward in testimony to God and His amazing creation.  It doesn’t care about the beauty resulting from its blooming.  If the petals dropped from the tree before a single person saw it, God would still be smiling on it for fulfilling its purpose on earth.

We live in an incredibly results-driven culture, but what God cares about is our hearts.   Lysa TerKeurst says:  “When you look at your everyday circumstances through the lens of God’s perspective, everything changes.  You come to realize that God uses each circumstance, each person who crosses your path, and each encounter you have with Him as a divine appointment.  Each day counts, and every action and reaction matters.  God absolutely loves to take ordinary people and do extraordinary things in them, through them, and with them”  (p.16).  The extraordinary thing is your obedience; just leave the results up to Him.  When you obey, your tree is blossoming, even if no one ever stops to notice.