Believers Are Not Prey Animals

My mouse is dying, and I guess sometimes I am too.

Cougar is an adorable little fancy mouse I bought from a pet store over a year ago, and she’s determined to live up to her name. All my daydreams about holding her in my hand or carrying her in my pocket Mr-Bojangles-style ended when she refused to have any sort of physical contact with me that didn’t involve her teeth.

And now she’s dying–literally killing herself with a form of OCD that involves chronic scratching. It hurts me to see her so weak and in so much pain, knowing that at this point all I can hope to do is make her comfortable.

Fancy mice are prey animals. Prey animals such as these will hide any sickness or weakness as long as they can so they won’t be weak targets for predators. Often, when their weakness becomes too much for them to hide, they’re too far gone to be saved. Once their weakness shows, it’s too late.

I suppose it makes sense if you’re a prey animal living in the wild. It makes a lot less sense for humans, and yet so often we act the same way.

We were meant to live in open community. We were meant to share our concerns, our joys, our sorrows, our fears, and even our sins–not only with God, but also with one another. Yet our instinct, at least in the West, is to put on a happy face or a Christian face or a perfect face while we’re killing ourselves on the inside. We keep pretending we’re fine while we scratch ourselves to death with fear of someone finding out the truth.

For the greater part of this year so far, my family and I have gone through a hell so terrible that words cannot describe it. I reached a point where I was sitting on a bed in a hotel room, completely immobile in my weakness. I literally didn’t know how to survive the next five minutes of my life. I didn’t know how to stand up or walk or shower or get dressed. And I was deeply hurt that no one in our church small group had called to check on us. But here’s the thing: we didn’t tell them what was happening. We had put on a happy face that everything was fine, and we’d hidden our weakness until we were at the absolute bottom of a dark pit, scratching ourselves to death in sorrow.

So I sent a message to some of our small group friends, and they began praying. They shared the request with our leader and others, who also began praying. And somehow our family was able to take one more small step, and one more small step. Hiding our weaknesses weakened us. Sharing our weaknesses strengthened us.

In times of severe weakness, one verse always comes to mind: “We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-11, emphasis added)

Note the communal aspect of his statement: that he was completely honest about his struggles, that many people have helped him by praying for him, and that many people will share in glorifying God as a result of those answered prayers.

The good news is: unless you’re dead, it’s not too late. You’re not too far gone to be saved. It’s not to late to share your weaknesses and sicknesses in a safe community. There are predators out there who will take advantage of your weaknesses. But there are also communities of believers who thrive when weak people are honest about their weaknesses. If you don’t have a safe place among genuine believers, I encourage you to seek one out. You are not a prey animal. You are not meant to go through this alone.

Is there a weakness you’re struggling to hide? Do you have a safe community of believers you can trust with your weaknesses?

about that godly MMA

This Friday is the two-year anniversary of what I can only call the worst night of my life. I’m not going to dwell on the details of that night, not now. Because as traumatic as the night was, it was the resulting realizations that almost killed me. That’s not a hyperbole—I was suicidal again for a while, coming to terms with it all. The biggest realization, the hardest truth to swallow was that I, for all my relationship with Jesus, had zero faith in him to save anyone.

I had been discouraged by backward steps of my unbelieving friends and, as I saw it, God’s refusal to open their eyes, no matter how often I fell on my knees, weeping for them. I had been discouraged by the physical world, as well—awful, terrible things that happened to people I loved most, things I wish to God had never happened for their sakes. I had been discouraged by the blatant blasphemies and insults from other people I loved, I had respected, and who instead chose to condescend to me and twist the Word of God. I was at a point in my life where I thought if I just worked hard enough, volunteered enough in various ministries, and prayed enough, people would be saved. I didn’t realize at the time I was thinking in terms of my ability to save and not Jesus’.

So when the young boy was dying and I knew in my heart, without a doubt, he was already dead, and I had to gather his friends together and encourage them to pray for him, pray for healing, pray for a miracle, I felt like a fraud. I led a group of 8th graders in a prayer I didn’t believe. I was a faithless liar who thought, “If I can’t save this boy, no one can. Not even God.” I didn’t know all this at the time, of course. I was not near as self-actualized as I am now. It took a couple months of counseling and countless hours alone with Scripture and prayer to really grasp the magnitude of that moment. At that point, I became just like Jacob at Peniel.

Quick summary: Jacob, Esau, and parents were living in Canaan. After Jacob stole Esau’s blessing, he escaped to Paddan-Aram to find his uncle’s family. On the way, he sets up camp for the night, God appears to him in a dream, promises tons of blessings, protection, land, descendants, the works. Jacob sets up an altar, anoints it and names the place Bethel (meaning “house of God”), and makes a conditional vow with God, that if God fulfills all those promises then he’ll serve God as his God. He goes to Paddan-Aram, works a lot, gets a couple wives, has a bunch of kids, and then God tells him to go back to Canaan.

On the way back, Jacob is camped by himself when God appears to him again, this time in the form of a man. Jacob and God wrestle—physically wrestle—all night. Jacob is winning the match, but God touches his hip and knocks it out of socket. Jacob demands (another) blessing from God. God, in response, asks him one thing: “What is your name?”

Here’s where it gets good. Craig Groeschel once touched on this in a sermon—why did God ask Jacob his name? As Craig put it, God wanted Jacob to admit who he really was. Jacob’s very name meant “deceiver” and he’d spent all of his life up to this point living up to his name. He had deceived one person after another, and what God was saying to him here was clear: admit who you are. Acknowledge your sinful nature and admit your identity as a deceiver. Once he did, God changed his name from Jacob to Israel, blessed him, and left. Jacob had to come to terms with his identity without God before he could have a new identity in God. He limped on, stopping again at Bethel, this time to build another altar and name the place El-bethel (“God of Bethel”). God had fulfilled all his promises and Jacob was finally ready to serve God as his God.

So there I am, all over that story. My wrestling with God two years ago resulted in him asking me the difficult questions and forcing me to acknowledge my sinful nature. I had to admit my identity as a sinner without God before he could show me what it means to have a new identity in him, to be a new creation.

Two more things to notice here:
1. Jacob had a limp. He had been touched by God, it was painful, and it had lasting effects. Sometimes God leads us to difficult moments so he can open our eyes to his nature and make us aware of our identities, even our hidden motives. Sometimes it hurts and has lasting effects. I commented to a friend last night, “Friday is the two-year anniversary…I’m wondering how many years have to pass before I stop counting.” She, having been through a traumatic experience as a young girl, replied, “Probably not for a while…It will be 12 years…on May 2nd.” But I keep thinking, where I am now is because of where I was then. And I wouldn’t change where I am now, not for anything. My relationship with Jesus is stronger than I would have ever thought possible, and it grows daily. Walking with a limp just means I have to rely on him more than I did before.

2. Jacob built an altar. As if the limp wasn’t enough, Jacob needed to put up a permanent fixture, a sign to let people know, “This is what happened. This is why God is my God.” And, as an even more permanent (if that’s possible) sign, God wanted to include this story in the Bible so people for thousands of years would read about it and know what happened. My altar is a book I began writing back then, a manuscript sitting abandoned on my hard drive somewhere. I’m waiting to see how God wants me to build it. Until then, this blog is part of my altar, my way of saying:

“This is why God is my God.”

about good plans & God glasses

I was seven. We were on a family road trip from Texas to Oregon. I pointed out the window and asked my parents, “Are those horses or cows?” Everyone thought I was kidding, and finally they told me, “Rebecca, those are hay bales.” So we figured out maybe I needed glasses, and the confusion among horses, cows, and hay bales became a running family joke.

I had glasses until seventh grade when contacts became an option. My eyesight is bad and has gotten worse over the years. I have a slight astigmatism, too much that normal contacts cause me problems but not enough that astigmatic contacts will do me any good. But I can’t stand to wear my glasses most days. Call me crazy, but having peripheral vision is something I value.

I remember gym class in elementary and having to take my glasses off, probably to play dodge ball or some other masochistic game they made us play. People looked like trees walking around, faceless and ominous. I knew what they should look like, but for some reason, at that moment, all I could see were trees.

We’d take class field trips to Palo Duro Canyon. If you’re not from around here, basically it’s like the Grand Canyon’s runt sister. I’d look over the edge down at the canyon, and I was terrified my glasses would fall off. I envisioned them crashing down on the rocks and busting into pieces as they tumbled. Looking back, I’m certain my glasses were high quality enough to have remained on my face, but at the time I kept holding them on lest they fall. Most of the pairs I had were thick plastic, wine red versions of Urkel glasses. Someone should have told me they weren’t cool, but I liked them and they got the job done for a while.

This past year my main prayer has been to maintain focus. Through spiritual attacks and human attacks and self-destructive attacks, I prayed to keep God’s perspective. I know that no matter what happens, if I can just keep seeing things the way God sees them, I’ll make it through. If I could just keep my God glasses from falling off my face and crashing down on the jagged rocks in the canyon looming before me, I’ll make it through.

But here’s the catch: when I was a kid, my glasses didn’t fall off my face. And God’s glasses? Way higher quality than wine red Urkel glasses. They don’t just slip off. The only time my glasses came off was when I took them off, usually to shower or sleep. And God’s glasses are the same way: they come off when (and only when) we take them off. We stop seeing things through God’s perspective when we stop seeking his perspective. And we get those Glasses (capital G for lack of confusion and redundancy) through a regular quiet time with God.

The funny thing about glasses is they’re eventually going to be taken off. And the further you get away from them when they’re off, the harder it is to find them again. At least, if your eyesight is as bad as mine, it is. I’ve accidentally knocked them off my nightstand before and had to crawl around, feeling my way for them, under the nightstand, under the bed, into the trash can, somehow across the floor. God’s the same way. The further we get away from him, sometimes the harder it is to get back to him. We get so used to feeling our way around, stumbling through each day, trusting our own senses and feelings, expecting to come across something to help us see. And it doesn’t work that way. When I start to get too lax in my quiet time, my perspective suffers as well. That’s when I know it’s time to fall on my face before God. Literally. I spend a significant amount of time on my face worshiping him. Not complaining about things that may be wrong in my life or praying for help or interceding for others. Worshiping him for who he is. Period. And almost like magic, I put on his Glasses and things begin to become clearer.

Sometimes we take off our Glasses when we think we don’t need them anymore, or when we don’t want to see what we know is there. One of my friends on Facebook posted a status about wearing her contacts while showering one day and realizing how dirty the shower was. I relate completely. Usually I shower in the mornings before I’ve put in my contacts, but on the rare days when the contacts come first, I’m suddenly overwhelmed with a desire to start cleaning things. Funny how that works. The dirty in my life is there all along, but if I don’t have my glasses on or contacts in, I can pretend it’s not there. That’s the problem with the Glasses. We know there’s dirt in our life, but we don’t want to see it. Once we put on the Glasses and trust God’s perspective, we also have to acknowledge the dirt or soap scum in our own lives that we’ve allowed to accumulate for way too long. And man, how that sucks. But if we trust God to show us what needs to be cleaned, we allow him to work in our lives the way he wants to. Or maybe we take off the Glasses because we don’t like what we see. The major thing God has shown me this year, the one idea he’s now pushed me to write an entire book about, is this: God’s good plan doesn’t always feel very good. But God is always good. When you read in Scripture about God’s good plan for salvation, you think it sounds fantastic. Then you realize the entire plan involved the excruciating suffering of an innocent being, and suddenly it doesn’t sound very good anymore. It’s so easy for us to celebrate Christmas as the wonderful birth of our Savior and yet completely overlook the fact that his sole purpose on this earth was to suffer and die. And no, I’m not saying we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas. I’m just saying sometimes we get so caught up with the beautiful parts of God’s plans that we refuse to accept the ugly parts. We refuse to believe something so ugly could be so good. But it was, and it is.

Lately there’s been a lot of disappointment in my life, and a lot of very hard decisions. And every time I spent significant time alone with God, listening to him, focusing solely on his perspective. That perspective led me to make decisions that hurt me deeply, decisions that hurt others deeply as well. But I am completely, 100% convinced they were the right decisions because they were made while wearing Glasses. I was looking down into huge canyons, clinging tightly to God’s perspective, lest it fall away from me.

That’s not to say I don’t lose focus, because I do. Daily. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be human. I’m still learning, but every time I get even a momentary glimpse through God’s Glasses, I’m reassured that his plan is good, always good. No matter how it feels, it’s good, and I can trust in that.

Merry Christmas, and I pray for God’s Glasses to be the one thing you seek most this holiday.

about spiders in your chair; i.e., object lessons

Several years ago I had an awesome roommate friend named Misty. Misty and I were sitting in the living room watching TV and I wanted–no, needed–something from the kitchen. I’m sure it was a soda or snack or ice cream or something that wouldn’t take long to get, but I was feeling extraordinarily lazy at that particular moment. I asked Misty if she’d get it and, feeling lazy herself, she told me No. I waited a minute, then screamed and exclaimed, “There’s a spider on your chair! It’s right there!” She jumped up and spun around, looking for it. It didn’t exist. Oops. I said, “Oh, well, while you’re up, can you go get that from the kitchen?”

In case you’re wondering, she told me No again and sat back down on her principles. I still think it was a brilliant plan.

Now, there’s a lot to that story that has nothing to do with godliness. God isn’t lazy, he doesn’t lie about spiders in your chair (or anything, for that matter), and he definitely doesn’t need us to do anything for him. But what I’m realizing lately is sometimes God takes drastic measures to get our attention. Or, better said, he uses drastic circumstances to get our attention. He uses spiders in our chair to get us going.

If you’ve ever read Isaiah, you probably feel like I do, pretty lost and confused about the whole book. You’ll be reading along, and there’s a lot of doom and destruction prophesied, and every once in a while you come across a verse you’ve heard since you were in Sunday School class, and you get really excited, like you’ve hit some kind of mile marker. Then you find chapter 20, and “the Lord told Isaiah son of Amoz, ‘Take off the burlap you have been wearing, and remove your sandals.’ Isaiah did as he was told and walked around naked and barefoot.”

Um, awkward. Isaiah’s been prophesying to this person and that person and speaking God’s word and just generally having a great relationship with the Creator, and suddenly God pulls a fast one on him and tells him to get naked. And not just in front of his bathroom mirror. He walks around that way. So you feel a little self-conscious but keep reading and the next sentence says, “Then the Lord said, ‘My servant Isaiah has been walking around naked and barefoot for the last three years…'”

Uh.

Firstly, how did we travel three years in between two verses?

Secondly, he’s been naked for three years? That had to be cold, that had to be uncomfortable, that sure as heck had to be awkward in conversations with the dude. I’m sorry, but if Isaiah and I are friends and I invite him to come play some Apples to Apples at our house and he shows up naked, we’re done. That’s a deal-breaker for my friends. Not to mention, Ronnie would probably give him a good beating for being naked in front of me, because that’s just not right.

Thirdly, how did Isaiah not even ask God why he was naked? Keep reading: “This is a sign–a symbol of the terrible troubles I will bring upon Egypt and Ethiopia. For the king of Assyria will take away the Egyptians and Ethiopians as prisoners. He will make them walk naked and barefoot, both young and old, their buttocks bared, to the shame of Egypt.” Up until that point, three years after Isaiah dropped his drawers, I think we can safely assume Isaiah didn’t know why he was naked. I feel like if God asked me to walk into the backyard naked I’d put up a fight. Or at least demand a reason. Not Isaiah. Maybe he was just really comfortable with nudity, who knows? I like to think he wasn’t, though. That God said, “Do this” and he did this, without question, without argument, and without hesitation.

I mean, I feel like God could have just said that whole thing about Assyria taking the E&Es captive and not put Isaiah through three years of nakedness, but God was making a point. Maybe he had to use something less than desirable to make that point, but that’s the method he chose, and who would Isaiah have been to question it?

When you read in Jeremiah you come across the same type of situation. For the most part, Jeremiah’s assignments were more family-friendly than Isaiah’s, with the exception of chapter 13 when God makes Jeremiah take off his underwear and hide it in some rocks. (How many of you just pulled out your Bibles to see if I was making that one up? I wasn’t.)

In chapter 18, God tells Jeremiah to go hang out with a potter and watch him work. The potter makes a jar that doesn’t quite look how he wanted, so he crushes it and starts over again. God says, “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand.”

In other places, Jeremiah had to go buy a jar and smash it in front of some people. He had to wear an ox yoke. Ezekiel had to lie on his side for 390 days and follow some weird high-carb diet. And each of these to prove a point. You would think God could just say, “Hey, here’s a new lesson. Go share it with everyone.” And, in fact, when you read through the books of the prophets, that’s mostly how it goes. So why did Isaiah and Jeremiah and others have to do something drastic? Why did they have to perform some action to make a point?

The answer, of course, is: I have no idea. But I think it’s because that’s what it took to get people’s attention, and even then it didn’t always go smoothly for the prophets or the people to whom they were prophesying.

There are so many lessons of obedience here. God tells me to invite someone to church, and I fight him kicking and screaming. He tells me to give a little extra to bless someone, and I start thinking of all the other uses I have for that money. And yet, reading all this, I should be thankful for such easy tasks. I don’t have to wear a yoke or eat only carbs or walk around naked (trust me, you should be thankful for that one too).

Go back to Isaiah, chapter six, verse eight:
“Then I heard the Lord asking, ‘Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?’
I said, ‘Here I am. Send me.'”

You’ve heard that one before, right? Maybe you’ve even made that your own personal response to God. But do you mean it, really mean it, enough to speak the truth as boldly as Isaiah did? Enough to obey God instantly, dramatically, no matter how bizarre or personally shameful his commands may be?

This–obedience–wasn’t my point. But it’s a great reminder worth mentioning. My point, back from the beginning, is about our attention. God wants our attention, and if we’re claiming to hear him but really not listening at all, he’ll get our attention. Lately in my own life he’s used some less-than-desirable circumstances to show me where he wants me. It’s not like I wasn’t listening to him or wanting to be obedient to him. But sometimes I get so comfortable in my life that a big change is just not something I want. It’s easier to keep going in one direction, even if I feel increasingly unsettled. I knew God was wanting me to move on from my position at the church, but I just wasn’t ready to leave, because I was familiar with it. It was comfortable. Then he basically gave me the equivalent of “get naked and go for a walk.” Eek. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t comfortable. And if I have to be honest, I’m still feeling pretty naked. But I’m beginning to see his point.

God uses object lessons all throughout the Bible, and we’re so quick to let them lie in the past. But we have to recognize he still uses them today. And sometimes, especially when we’ve been ignoring God on an issue, how that ends up looking is a lot like a spider in our chair. Maybe the spider is the issue and maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s just a catalyst to get you going, to get you moving, to get you listening.

If there’s something in your life that looks or feels like a spider in your chair, maybe God wants you to jump up and go get something from the kitchen. Ask him if that something is an object lesson, and ask him what to do about it. Who knows, you might end up naked for the next three years or hiding your underwear in a rock. And if that happens, you can’t come over to our house for game night, but I’ll be praying for you anyway. And I have complete faith God is going to use that to make a point in your life that will bear fruit as you become increasingly obedient to him.

Finally, in a rare moment of meta-blogging, I’m still working on this website but would love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Feel free to comment below and let us know what kinds of object lessons God’s been using in your life lately.