Something rather strange-sounding is beginning to emerge in my attention. But it is probably only strange because I, like all everyone else on this planet, was born with inverted assumptions about what is 'normal'.
What is bringing this to my attention right now is that I am facing some deadlines in my business that tend to impose themselves on my heart as sources of potential discouragement. I say 'potential' precisely because that totally depends on what I choose to use as my reference of reality.
You see, if I view my situations the way I often have done and the way pretty much everyone around me views it, then it appears that things might be looking rather desperate for me meeting my goals for this month. And since meeting my goals requires much more interaction in the arena of interpersonal relationships, especially establishing new ones which does not come very natural or easy for me, my heart is under pressure to begin allowing thoughts of failure and fear and financial desperation and other such kinds of emotions to begin to leak in and infect my thinking and feelings.
But I am aware that God has put me into this situation for some very specific purposes to train and mentor me and to mature me in areas that have long been weak all of my life. This is the much bigger picture and the far more important issue involved far beyond the little requirements and goals that are laid out for me in some business plan. And God has been making it rather clear that He has His own agenda, His own schedule of development that is far more vital for me to pay attention to than begging Him to help me meet the goals that I think are important for me financially.
As I got up this morning I began to feel that pressure to feel discouraged moving in on me. I pushed back and began to praise God for who He is as well as what He has been doing to bless me lately. I have been finding repeatedly that anytime I start to feel discouraged or tempted to fear, that the very best antidote is to focus my attentions on God, on His character, on who He really is as He has been revealing that to me over the past few years. Instead of allowing my prayers to become filled up with the fears that are trying to suffocate me and obscure the truth about God in my heart, I find that my only hope and a very effective source of strength is to force myself to remember what He has been revealing to me about Himself and to fill my mind and imagination with those things. As I do that my heart begins to benefit from the trickle down principle and then it too can begin to participate more actively in the praise.
That is the incredible power of praise. This is a power that is so deficient in most religions today, although I pray that it will be different by God's grace as soon as possible. And I certainly cannot expect anything I hear on the news or from the government to inspire me to praise unless it is to remind me of how good God is by contrast. Choosing to praise God is almost always a choice that I have to make inside myself in spite of circumstances, not because of them.
As I thought about my situation this morning and considered the facts that I am dealing with concerning my business circumstances, I began to notice something more clearly that could actually become a source of excitement if I continued to remain in the light of how heaven perceives things. This has to do with the seemingly common practice of heaven to wait to the very last minute to answer our desperate prayers when we would prefer that God send us answers much sooner than that.
One of the pivot points of my thinking along this line is connected to a story that is well known to the listeners of a very high-faith missionary that I know. In his own stories of faith I see the patterns that God often uses to increase a person's faith and I know that He is very likely to take me through similar lessons to increase the same kind of resilient faith in my life. Very often that means taking a person right down to the wire when there is some sort of deadline involved as a means of testing our faith to see if we will hang on even when circumstances are screaming that God is not going to come through in our behalf.
In this story the missionary tells of coming down to the very last day under immense financial pressure where he had gone out on a limb and it appeared nothing was happening to answer his urgent prayers. He had waited eighteen months and still no money had come in that he had felt promised that God would provide and that he had even written a check on in faith. As he faced the last twenty-four hours he was pleading with God to provide the needed funds and he suddenly felt like the Holy Spirit slapped him in the face and said sternly, “Stop begging me!” Shocked he at first reacted, “Then who am I supposed to ask?”
In reply he felt God saying to him, “Stop begging me and start thanking me for taking care of all your needs.”
Stunned, this man then asked, “What am I supposed to thank You for?”
“What do you need?” came the reply.
“Well, I need 1.5 million dollars right now,” he said.
“Then start thanking me for 1.5 million dollars. Do you need anything else?”
The man thought and then responded again, “Well, I also need 600,000 for this need and 400,000 for that one.”
The Holy Spirit said to him, “Then start thanking me for all of those needs and quit begging me to supply them.”
The man took this very seriously and spent the rest of the day singing praises to God in every language that he knew. And by the end of the day God had miraculously provided every penny of the total amount that he needed.
As I thought about this common practice of God where He so often seems to specialize in waiting until the very last minute to answer urgent prayers, it began to dawn on me as to one of the reasons why He uses this method so often in our lives. If I received the answers for my prayers more immediately, then the hidden roots of fear, unbelief, doubts about God's care for me and all those kinds of related negative thinking and lies about God that still lurk in dark recesses of my heart unnoticed would not be flushed out into the open so that He could expose and replace them with real truth about Himself.
My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4 NKJV)
In short, there are simply many vitally important lessons of truth about God that my heart must learn that would be missed if I did not go through experiences of testing, times when God seems to hold back from providing answers to my prayers for certain needs in my life. Of course that tends to bring to the surface the common lies believed by most of us in this world that God doesn't really care about us very much. God wants to flush those very beliefs up to the surface and into the open from my own heart so that I can not only become more aware of them but can then take ownership of them and turn them over to Jesus and have them replaced with real truths about Him. Let patience have its perfect work...
When I finally begin to get the real significance of this truth of reality, I believe that I will actually begin to feel differently about these times when it appears that God is holding out on me when I am feeling more and more pressure to meet some human deadline. God repeatedly wants to remind me that my deadlines are seldom His and that my real need is to learn to trust His heart, not my perceptions of what His timing should be or what I think He has to do in my situation to help me. He has been teaching me enough peripheral lessons about this that He is starting to expect me to put some of them together and begin to relate to Him on a more mature and stable relationship.
I need to be maturing in my relationship to God and not remain stuck in a childish complaining mood whenever I don't immediately get things that I want and ask for. Anyone who has raised children know that when a child is very young there is little problem with a parent overlooking the child's cries for help, expecting someone to come immediately to their assistance and supply every little need. But it becomes sad and even tragic when a child fails to mature and grow out of that mode of relating to their parents and the world around them. In fact, that is one of the major problems in our country right now, the mentality of entitlement, that the government and society owes us a living no matter how little we feel like working or contributing to the care and needs that we experience.
So if I can learn to see these situations where I feel a growing urge to become anxious about a looming deadline or when something or someone is threatening my sense of well-being, if I could remember to see it from heaven's perspective I could actually get a little excited because it is clear that God is using this as a means of increasing my faith and my depth of connection to His heart. And since joy is experiencing closeness with another heart, then it is much easier to see in this verse that trials and tests are simply means of increasing joy, of exposing and potentially expelling the things that still cause me to distrust God. And anything that causes me to distrust God's heart is a very serious issue when it comes to being prepared for the final day of revelation when God's glory is going to become so intense that any such impurities in my heart would prove fatal if they are not all completely cleaned out.
I actually am praising God right now even for showing me what I have just written down. I often have an overwhelming compulsion to write things down anytime I hear God's Spirit sharing something like this with my heart because my memory cannot be trusted to hang onto it for over a few minutes very reliably. And then after it is written down I often feel compelled to allow others access to it in case God wants to use it to help someone else.
But more importantly I believe, at least for me personally, the very act of writing out what initially comes to me as a tiny seed of exciting insight or truth greatly helps to deepen and widen and expand my own perception and internalization of what it is He is seeking to share with me. If I didn't take the time to sit before Him, listen carefully with an open heart and have time to let it soak in much deeper through the process of writing I would likely loose much of the benefit of what He is seeking to teach me, and then I have to come back sometime later and learn it all over again.
So as I face my current deadline still short of the requirements that I need to meet my financial goals, I remind myself quite forcefully that God is my Provider – explicitly and unequivocally. I insist that my heart accept this without quibbling and all doubts about this must be instantly referred to Jesus to be dealt with sternly. Then I pray and seek to see my circumstances in the light of heaven so that instead of feeling pressured to fear I can start to get excited that God is actually caring enough about me personally to put me into such circumstances because He is developing character in me if I will choose to relate to these things the way He sees them.
I choose to praise Him for His characteristics that He has been teaching me about over recent years. I choose to turn away from the negative spin that Satan seeks to put on the facts in my life and repeatedly turn to God to ask for His perspective and what He is up to that will eclipse the way I typically feel about things. As I turn to Him over and over I will find my heart beginning to feel the joy of the One who has promised to never leave me alone and is always with me in every situation and emotion. I may even be able at times to feel it joy when I find myself facing yet another test instead of just intellectually making myself 'count' it all joy. That may be necessary at times, but I would like to move past that stage and begin to react intuitively with trust and faith in joy instead of reacting with fear that God may have overlooked something when it comes to meeting my needs.
All of my trials are designed to bring me to the one place that is necessary for me to relate to God as I must if I want to spend eternity with Him. I must learn to trust His heart and the real truth of how He feels about me under any and every circumstance. That is why God allows me to go through so many different kinds of trials, because even though I learn to trust Him in one area I may still be too weak in some other area. He is in the business of shoring up my trust in His heart in all areas of life just as He did with Elijah. I am grateful for that work of God in my life and I thank Him for doing whatever it takes to grow that trust and love for Him in response.