Need/Provision vs. Cause/Effect

I have been seeing a lot of things and being handed a lot of stuff on a silver platter, per se, that discusses what our relationship with God is supposed to look like.  Things that I should already know, but that somehow have not quite made it into the way I live out my Christian life.  And the difference is noted in my title.  I often still live life as if it is something I can control by cause/effect as opposed to an endless list of needs for God’s provision.  You may think that going with the second way seems to render one rather helpless.  Indeed, it does.  Because we are helpless.  We just like to pretend that we are not because it makes us feel better.

Now, to be truthful, the majority of the time cause/effect scenarios will hold true.  If we add 1+1, we get 2.  If we do A and B, we get C, pick your own situation.  However, there are more times than we like to admit that this is NOT the case – times when we did A and B perfectly, but instead got something like Q, and it rattles us.  We get shaken.  And if our faith is still built, even marginally, on the belief that some bit of our own efforts gives us certain rights, allows us some extra favor with God, then our faith is shaken with us.

We are uncomfortable, as a general rule, with accepting help for which we have no payment.  So, although we may take the initial step into God’s love and grace by accepting His forgiveness through the offering of Jesus as payment for our sins, it is all followed by an immediate act of will to clean ourselves up so that we will subsequently become acceptable to God.

I have a friend who recently sent me some amazing stuff that delves into this idea, so I just wanted to take a moment to say thanks.  You know who you are.

The common problem most of us have is that we do not recognize that all of our efforts to “do” Christianity within our own strength will be met with, at best, temporary success…or the illusion of temporary success – possibly even the illusion of continual success for those who have the energy to keep it up.  However, the man inside of us will always still be fumbling, floundering and feeling one of a few possible things: 1) that they wish they could get their inner man to catch up with the shiny exterior they have managed to portray; 2) that they cannot possibly keep this exterior up much longer because the inner man is so tired; 3) that they are greater and more disciplined than everyone around them who does not seem to be able to hold it together; or 4) guilty because they don’t even manage to keep the exterior looking very nice for a day. 

There are more Christian “do-ers” out there than there are any other kind, I would say.  They live life by whatever set of socially acceptable rules they have absorbed as their belief system, so to the world around them, they look very nice.  Perhaps I should not say “nice,” because they are not always nice people.  They look clean.  Like they don’t want to get messy.

Christianity is for those who know they are messy, and want to get cleaned up.  Jesus says so.  Mark 2:16&17: “When the teachers of the law [human effort] who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’  On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinners.'”

We come to Jesus knowing that we need His help, and once we get our “shot” of salvation, we go away and try to heal ourselves.  It does not work.  I cannot say that I am the expert on exactly how we are supposed to get there, but I know that the abundant life Christ promises us in John 10:10 has never found me while I was following a list of man-made rules, but while I was living in complete humility because I understood my complete inability to offer anything worthy to God.

The Bible is very clear about our offerings of righteousness being pointless: Isaiah 64:6 says “all our righteousness is as filthy rags.”  And in Genesis 6:5 that “every inclination of the thoughts of his [man’s] heart was only evil all the time.”  Those verses don’t leave us very much in the way of loopholes for trying to think much of our own righteousness.

So, if we cannot offer our works, our righteousness, our good deeds to God, then what are we to offer?  Psalm 51:17 answers: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  No wonder Jesus had a problem with the Pharisees.

All of this comes from being able to die to ourselves – be crucified with Christ and raised up a new creation – not just spending all of our time trying to polish up the old creation.  Doing that is literally like trying to please God with an animated corpse…we were dead in sin, but instead of allowing Him to transform us into that new, living creation, we are trying to make the old corpse do what we, in our limited understanding, have decided He wants from us.  It is simply a revised version of the law given to us in the Old Testament.  The things we do determine (to us) whether we are a “good” Christian or not – though we have just proved from Scriptures that nothing “good” comes from our own efforts of achieving righteousness.

So, if cause (right living) and effect (God’s pleasure and rewards) are not the route for us to take, then what is?  We are back to that uncomfortable acceptance of something that we know we have no way of paying for.  The Bible says that God is love. (I John 4:8)  For this example, I’d like you to remember the word charity, which now means, in our culture, giving to someone who is poor or ill and cannot repay you.  It’s original meaning was the love of God or Christ for humankind.  I think it means more when we combine these meanings: charity – the love of God or Christ for humankind, which means He gives to us, knowing that we need and that we are unable to repay.

God is the plumber who fixes your sink when he knows have no money to pay his bill – the accountant who gets your finances in order when you have no clue about how to do it yourself, and then does not take his cut.  God is not the plumber who brings you a wrench and then tells you to fix it yourself, nor the accountant who brings you a calculator and expects that is going to put you on a budget.  It is rare to find God this way, through the actions of people.  Therefore, we think it impossible that God is actually this way.  He must want something from us.  He only wants our choice, our need for Him. 

I know some of you read the paragraph above, and were a little put off.  I’m sure you thought, “Yes, but doesn’t God give us the tools we need to live our lives according to His will?  What about ‘teaching a man to fish instead of just giving him one’?”  YES, God teaches us to “fish”.  He teaches us that our only true provision comes through Him, and that fishing in any other water is only going to lead to a different kind of poverty – and that includes the waters of our own abilities.  Have you ever noticed how often God works through people in the Bible out of their inabilities?  The resumes of Bible heroes would not read so good.

And now I would like to quote a few passages from a book by Madeleine L’Engle called “Walking on Water.”

“For the opposite of sin is faith and never virtue, and we live in a world which believes that self-control can make us virtuous.  But that’s not how it works.  How many men and women we have encountered, of great personal virtue and moral rectitude, convinced of their own righteousness, who have also been totally insensitive to the needs of others and sometimes downright cruel!…To quote H.A. Williams again, ‘When I attempt to make myself virtuous, the me I can thus organize and discipline is no more than the me of which I am aware.  And it is precisely the equation of my total self with this one small part of it which is the root cause of all sin.  This is the fundamental mistake often made in exhortations to repentance and amendment.  They attempt to confirm me in my lack of faith by getting me to organize the self I know against the self I do not know.’  …And Williams continues, ‘there is a sort of devilish perversity in this organizing me not to sin by means of the very thing  which ensures I shall [the flesh].  Faith, on the other hand, consists in the awareness that I am more than I know…such faith cannot be contrived.  If it were contrivable, if it were something I could create in myself by following some recipe or other, then it would not be faith.  It would be works – my organizing the self I know.  That faith can be only the gift of God emphasizes the scandal of our human condition – the scandal of our absolute dependence on Him.  I have to depend completely upon what very largely I do not know and cannot control…justification by faith means that I have nothing else on which to depend except my receptivity to what I can never own or manage.  And this very capacity to receive cannot be the result of effort.  Faith is something given, not achieved.  It is created by God’s word in Christ.'”

That was quite a quote, I know.  But the point is that most of us are trying to quell the sin of our flesh by using our flesh and that is just not possible.  We have to be given the grace of God’s spirit and the faith that God will guide us out of it, in spite of our flesh, not through its efforts.  To reiterate: “Self-control cannot make us virtuous.”  It can make us look virtuous, but is that what we are really after?  A life of appearances that must be kept up, when we are supposed to have lives of freedom?

And that is the wonder of all of this – living in the freedom of our own helplessness releases us from living lives of both terrible guilt and of terrible pride.  It brings us to a place of forgetting ourselves so that God can most effectively work through us, because we have stopped trying to work through Him.


Quote #3

“To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, not even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery.  It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”

Emmanuel, Cardinal Suhard

Who’s Controlling Who?

I think (really I know) that I’ve mentioned in the past how I have recognized when I get that desperate, grasping, panicking feeling about something, it is never from God.  It is always me stressing about making sure I am getting what I want or what I think I need, and not trusting God to do it.  So, as time goes on, I learn to recognize it more and more quickly, and back off when I’m pushing for something because of that feeling.  Well, that happened last week.

See, I’ve been pretty broke…yes, I know I live in a tent and all, but between the staph infection bills and having to get a new car (another story for another day) and the unexpected shortage of work I’ve been having, well, let’s just say I’m not really getting ahead.  I was “making it” before when I had rent, and now I’m “making it” without it.  So, God knew what He was doing because if I had rent right now, well, I’d be gettin’ kicked out for not paying it or going into major debt one of the two.

In response to this, I have been evaluating whether it might be time to get a “real” job instead of all of the random things I count on, especially since I cut out the nannying, which to be fair, is part of the reason (not all of it) for my shortage of work, and was a decision I made myself. 

But, in all of it, I have not felt out of God’s will.  At one point, I asked Him if He wanted me to be out pounding the pavement looking for work, and I got a “No.  Just keep doing what you’re doing.  I’ve got it.”  So, I’ve been doing a lot of writing that I felt was God-inspired, and, let’s be honest, a lot of relaxing.

So, a friend of mine brings up a job that is about to come open at the same place she works.  She said it’s a great environment, the same position she holds, just in a different department.  She works closely with them, and says that if she were looking for a job, she would want that one.  She asks if I would be interested, and I said, well, maybe.  She told the supervisor for that position (who she is good friends with) about me, and that girl seemed excited about the possibility & said she would keep a lookout for my application.  I’m thinking this is God’s provision and a great opportunity at this point. 

When the job posted, my friend sent me the link and the job code to apply online, but for over a week, I couldn’t get the website to come up.  So, after that week, I started to get panicky…did I mention I’m really broke…so I called my friend.  “Can you get the website to come up?”  She tries, and she can’t.  So, she said she’d call HR and see what the deal was, and I said OK.  She wasn’t at work yet.

But a couple of hours later, I realized that I was having that feeling I started telling you about…the one where I am graspy and stressed out about missing something I need.  The one I get when I am trying to control God instead of letting Him take charge of my life.  So, I let go.  I called my friend.  “Don’t call HR.  If I’m supposed to get it, it will work out.”  And she didn’t.

Two days later, she calls me – the supervisor for the position called her and was flipping out because she just found out that the HR website had been down since the job posted so as of yet, they had 0 applicants, and need to fill the position by a deadline.  So, the supervisor asked if I would forward my resume directly to her.

Haha.  Thanks, God.  When I let go, instead of me grasping for making sure I got my resume to these people, THEY were grasping for me to get it to them.  Now, this doesn’t mean I’m going to get the job.  But even if I don’t, it was a lesson of how letting God handle stuff instead of pushing because you’re scared is much more effective. 

As a disclaimer, I think that sometimes God wants us to push.  I’m just starting to recognize when I’m pushing because He wants me to and when I’m pushing out of fear and distrust that He can handle it.