God, the Master Painter

God is like a master painter or sculptor. However, instead of working with a canvas, paint, or clay, each one of us is His medium. “We are his workmanship” we are told (Eph. 2:10a).

He is in the process of building a masterpiece out of each one of us. Through trials, tribulations, and discipline, He is working to create the ideal of what He wants us to be. It takes time and discomfort on our part to form the final product. 

The reason that we’re not formed into our ideal selves overnight is because it takes materials, time, and precision to create a masterpiece. Not much skill or paint is needed to make a watercolor picture on an 8 1/2 X 11 piece of plain paper. To make a masterpiece, like He wants each of us to be, requires a lot more resources.

To be certain, God could change us instantly, but that’s not the way He does things. He prefers to work within the bounds of this physical world he has placed us in. He uses the circumstances of our everyday lives to mold and make us into something better.

Each trial or challenge that we endure and come out on the other side of changes us just a little bit. Every time that He disciplines us and we learn from it, we move one step closer to what God wants us to be. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11).

If we were instantly changed, then we could not enjoy the process of seeing ourselves become better. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean that our pathway is always pleasant. Far from it. Change is difficult, and even more so when we buck against the system that God has in place.

Far too many times, I’ve rebelled against God’s discipline. I’ve railed against Him for allowing so many challenges and tribulations in my life. It feels hypocritical even to write about this because I’m one of the ones who most needs to take all this to heart.

My rebellion has gotten me nowhere. Getting mad at God because of some trouble in life never has done me any good. I always regret it later, tell Him I’m sorry, and vow to try harder not to let the trials of life knock me off course.

I’m still working on all that obviously. I need to allow God to mold me into the piece of art He wants for me.

How are you doing with it?

The Lasting Way to Deal With Life’s Difficulties

Maybe you’re like me and really dislike dealing with the many struggles of everyday life.

No matter how tired I become of them, these struggles continue relentlessly, however.

I wish life were simpler and easier to take. So many mornings I force myself to get out of bed, only to realize I have to face another day of drudgery. I stumble into the shower to freshen up, hopeful I can get energized enough to face the day. Surely there’s more to life than this, isn’t there?

You’ve probably been there yourself. Just wondered why you’re here on this earth and what the meaning of it all is.

I’ve felt stuck, trapped, useless, like there’s no point in going on. I gotten mad at life and mad at God for putting me here on this earth with no real purpose in doing so. Or maybe I do have a purpose — just to suffer until one day I don’t wake up or until Jesus comes back.

Not a very pretty picture, is it? Have you ever felt this way? Maybe 100 times? 1000 times?

So, what’s the answer?

There are many approaches you could take if you’re at this kind of place in your life — philosophical, practical, positive, negative, Christian, atheistic.

The best way I could advise anyone (myself included) on how to deal with these sometimes overwhelming thoughts is simply to trust.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding (Prov. 3:5).

Trust that there’s a God. That He’s big and He loves you. That He’s got your back and He wants the best for you.

As far as I can tell, this is really all we’ve got. There’s nothing else much certain in this world (except death and taxes as they say).

I’ve returned to the above verse countless times in my adult life. Sometimes I completely forget about it. At other times I recall it to mind, but I quickly dismiss it.

At those times I think, If God were really trustworthy and really cared about me, I wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place.  

Deep down I think these kinds of thoughts originate from the dark side, planted there to keep me from completely trusting God, from giving myself fully to Him and His will.

In these times I have tough choices to make. Do I listen to the Holy Spirit whispering truth in my ear? Or do I let my flesh take over, allowing myself to wallow in self-pity and even self-loathing.

I’ve learned over the years that this critical point is where everything can turn — either for good or for bad.

Trust God and feel better. Or give in to doubt, fear, and uncertainty. My rebellious nature loves to just say, Forget it. I’m not trying any longer.

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But that doesn’t get me anywhere, especially not in the long run. The result is what much of my life has looked like — a very long cycle of earnestly drawing close to God, then bouncing away from him in rebellion, very similar to how the like poles of two magnets repel each other when they get close.

The point of all this? Only to say that as I’ve matured into a full-blown middle-aged adult, I’m finally coming to some realization that it’s time to stop all that sort of nonsense and just embrace God. Every day. All the time. On good days and bad. When things are going how I want them to, and especially when they’re not.  

I have to make the choice to trust God and His goodness — over and over, day after day.

Fitness professional Gail Pyne hits the nail on the head,

Whenever I have made a substantive lasting change to my life, it has always been due to a decision that I have made, not because someone told me to do something differently. The choice to change (and it IS a choice) must come from within.

Have I arrived? Certainly not. Will I keep trying, even when I want to quit? I hope so.

Do you have thoughts or reactions you’d like to share?

 

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Photo by Olga DeLawrence on Unsplash

A Rough Week

This week I’ve been mad at God, at my wife, at the kids, at my coworkers, everybody around me.

I feel like maybe God has kind of “given me over” to all my anger and rebellion this week. Like maybe He’s saying, “OK, that’s what you want? You want to be bitter and angry and good for nothing? You got it. I’m not protecting you from yourself anymore. You’re on your own to allow your flesh to consume you.”

Of course, I don’t know if that’s it, but I’ve felt that way. I’ve had no real pull toward God, toward wanting to be a good husband or a good father. I’ve only felt like satisfying my desires, what I want and what I think I need.

Honestly, it’s not been a good feeling. I’ve felt very distant from God, like He was a million miles away in another universe or something. At heart I want to serve God. I’m just so frustrated with life I don’t seem capable of pulling myself together to serve Him.

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I was reading in a book earlier tonight that God wants to give us good things, that He wants us to be happy and successful. On the one hand I don’t know if I agree with the happy and successful part, but the bible does say He wants to give us good things, just like our earthly fathers do.

Most of the time I really don’t see any evidence of God’s desire for good things in my life. If that were true, why do I feel so miserable? Why have I been unhappy and depressed so many years? Wouldn’t God have stepped in by now if He really cared? Wouldn’t He have rescued me from this drudgery called life by now? How can I continue to hope for the best and be optimistic after all these years? For the most part I have been miserable all my adult life, at least 24 years. How much longer do I have to wait until something changes?

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Maybe I’m what needs to change. I read a quote today that said, “When you feel like God is doing nothing, that’s probably when He is doing the most.” That stuck with me. Maybe a breakthrough is around the corner and life will change for me. Or maybe not my life, but simply my attitude toward life.

I guess I need to remember, however, that I may never have the life here on earth that I think I should have. I was never promised that after all. I am promised eternal life in the company of my Savior. For that I should be thankful and happy everyday.

There is nothing on this earth so bad that it could ever tarnish the thought of eternity with God. Even after living with and loving Him for 1000 years — and that’s a long time — I’m just getting started. And even after another 10,000 years (which I can’t possibly fathom), it will still be like I’m just getting started. My existence and fellowship with God will never end. It will keep on going and going.

We humans can’t get a real grasp on eternity because the longest any of us has ever lived is a few decades, which to us seems long. God created the concept of eternity for us. He lives outside time. He always has been and always will be. Quite simply, He is timeless. Time is an invention of His for us to use while on earth. After our bodies die and we join Him, time has no meaning to us either. We just are — and will continue to be — forever.

Expletive (NOT) Deleted

This topic is difficult to write about, as it paints me in a negative light. I believe, however, that this is something that needs to be said.

Ever since I accepted Christ as my Savior when I was 15, I have wavered back and forth in my faith. I have gone through many different periods when I was close to God, seeking His will daily in my life. On the other hand, there have also been many times when I have rebelled from God, committing sins and living a lifestyle that I knew deep down I shouldn’t be.

If I’m at a point in my life when I’m closer to God and trying to live the way I believe He wants me to, Imagethen the harshest words I might use are “heck” or “dang”. During these times, it’s natural for me to react more softly to daily trials and tribulations. It’s something I don’t really even have to think about, but instead comes as a result of regular bible reading and prayer. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34b).

On the flipside of this, however, during times of rebellion I do not hesitate to take God’s name in vain. When I get angry or bitter about something that isn’t going my way, I tend to put His name in front of “d****t”, making this expletive even harsher and more cutting.

At the moment that this pair of words comes out of my mouth, it is as if I am saying to God, “I really mean what I’m saying here. I’m not kidding around.” For instance, suppose I’ve had a particularly bad day and then on top of it all my favorite shirt rips when I’m putting it on. After spewing out those two words I might grit my teeth and yell something like, “I have absolutely had it with this day!” At that moment I may as well be yelling to Heaven, glaring with my fist raised to God, telling Him that it all needs to stop now because I’m not going to take it anymore! Or else!

Or else what? one would ask. Or else nothing actually. What am I really supposed to do if I’m mad at God. Of course, there’s nothing I can do except sit and pout.

In the moment, my childish nature is completely ruling me, yet all my anger and rebellion seems effective to me.

I realized several years ago that I could use my response to stressful situations as a kind of barometer of my spiritual condition.

If something unnerving happens in my day, and I simply smile and shake my head, then I realize that I’m on track spiritually speaking. Look back over recent days and weeks, I’ll be able to see that I’ve made strong efforts to live for God. On the other hand, I know my spiritual life is in the gutter if “GD” comes out of my mouth.

I have found this barometer most helpful to my spiritual life in the area of comparison. I can either stop and think to myself, Boy, I’ve come a long way in the last six months. I remember when I use to get all bent out of shape being stuck in traffic. Or I can think, It’s sad to realize how much my spiritual life has deteriorated in the last few weeks. I really need to get back on track with God. In this way, the barometer either serves as kudos for myself, or as a convicting reminder.

ImageMusic has played a huge role in my life, ever since I was about five years old. Over the years I’ve often written about its effect on me.

Along with the profanities (or lack thereof) that come out of my mouth, I discovered several years ago that the type of music I’m listening to at any given time is also a kind of barometer for my spiritual state.

For example, if I’m content listening to lighter music such as KLOVE, and I feel “nourished” by it, then there’s a good chance that in recent days I’ve actively been trying to please God and not rebel against him.

On the other hand, if I try to listen to KLOVE, but all it really does it irritate me (because who is that happy and content anyway to be able to sing in such a “smily” voice?), then it’s probably something harder, edgier that I really crave — maybe pop or even hard rock or metal. If I pause long enough to reflect on my situation, I’ll realize that I’m most likely not at a point at that moment where I care enough to live my life for God.

There are many nuances to this music barometer. I could go into great detail describing scenarios for the different types of music I listen to. It doesn’t really matter, though. The point is that the music I’m most comfortable with at any given moment reflects my spiritual state.

Yes, of course, I realize that the reverse is also true. What I allow into my ears (and consequently my mind) has a huge effect on my attitude and my desire to live for God. “Garbage in, garbage out,” as the experts tell us. Here I must assert that often I will choose to listen to something “better” (read less rebellious and more spiritual) if I realize that my walk with God is suffering.

Referencing these indicators is not meant to belittle my faith in God. As human beings, most of us value our appearance. We look in a mirror to give us an idea of what we look like to other people. Over the years I’ve realized that because I’m thankful to God for His salvation and I want to worship Him, I can use these behavioral barometers to get a quick check of my spiritual condition — kind of like taking a quick glance in the mirror to see if I have anything on my face.