When God Withholds

IMG_1672As a mom I have become a master at killing time, particularly those 3-4 hours in between nap time and bed time. For me, those are the hours that drag on forever. That’s the part of my day when I am most likely to end up putting myself in time out. It’s also the part of my day when I am most likely to raid the chocolate chip stash in the back of the freezer. (I’m way too healthy to buy candy, but I always have a secret stash of “ingredients.”)

So for the sake of my sanity and my waistline, it’s best that Shep and I go somewhere in the afternoons. And what better place to kill some time than Super Target? It is perhaps the one place on the planet where mother and child can experience equal amounts of happiness. Shep knows the drill: Starbucks, women’s shoes and accessories, then toys.  It’s a classic “win, win” scenario.

The other day we were in the toy section. I gave Shepherd 15 minutes to look around, told him that we were NOT buying anything, and clarified the consequence if he threw a fit. About 5 minutes in, he spotted a truck he really liked. It was a great truck. It was only a few dollars. He really, really wanted it. I had the ability to buy it. More importantly, I wanted to buy it. I wanted to make him happy. I wanted to grant his wish. I wanted to hear his sweet little voice say, “Mommy, you’re the best!”

So I stood there in the toy section incredibly conflicted – torn between the desire to give him what he wanted (the truck) and the desire to give him what he needed (a lesson in restraint).

As we walked out of the store that day (truck-less), it struck me that God never has that experience with His children. He is never conflicted. He never struggles to choose between what He wants to give us and what He knows is best for us. He never ever thinks to Himself, “Man, I really would like to give her ________________, but I probably shouldn’t.” He is utterly incapable of prioritizing our wants over our needs.  He absolutely cannot desire lesser things for us. Here’s why:

1)      He is sovereign.

That means that He is in absolute control over all things. He does whatever He pleases. There is not a single event in the entire universe that can occur outside of His domain.  The same is true of the small, ordinary events of your life. The Bible is replete with references to this amazing attribute:

The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation. (Ps. 33:11)

Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the LORD will stand. (Prov. 19:21)

There is no wisdom and no understanding and no counsel against the LORD. (Prov. 21:30)

Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him. (Ps. 115:3)

I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” (Is. 46:9-10)

All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, “What have You done?” (Dan. 4:35)

 [He] works all things after the counsel of His will. (Eph. 1:11)

Is God is in complete control over which “trucks” you get to take home and which ones you have to leave in the store? In other words, does He have absolute dominion over how and when and where the desires of your heart are fulfilled? Does He get to decide what’s best for you? YES – because He is sovereign.

2)      His wisdom is perfect.

Even the wisest among us are plagued with limited knowledge. We all know what it’s like to stress over an important decision, wondering if we’re are doing the right thing. We make our pro and con lists, seek wise counsel, get as much information as we can, and then do the best with what we know. Oftentimes, what we know is sorely insufficient. If you’ve never experienced that, you will when you become a parent!

God doesn’t have that problem – ever. He knows everything – past, present, and future. He can see what no human eye can see and understand what no human mind can understand. He never has to consult a source outside of Himself. As Jerry Bridges puts it in his book Trusting God Even When Life Hurts, “His wisdom is intuitive, infinite, and infallible.” Again Scripture makes this ever so clear:

With Him are wisdom and might; to Him belong counsel and understanding. (Job 12:13)

His understanding has no limit. (Ps. 147:5)

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. (Is. 40:28)

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”  (Is. 55:8,9)

Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are His. (Dan. 2:20)

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! (Rom. 11:33)

So not only does God have the power and authority to arrange your life, He has the wisdom to arrange it well. Perfectly, in fact. Because God is sovereign, He ultimately gets what He wants and because He is wise, He always wants what is best. He cannot desire something for you that is not in keeping with His perfect understanding of you, your life, your future, and (most importantly) your role in His overall redemptive plan.   

3)      He loves you.

Because He loves you He cares about you and delights in doing you good:

For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. (Ps. 84:11)

You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you. (Ps. 86:5)

Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits– who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Ps. 103:2-5)

Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. (Matt 10:29-31)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. (Rom. 8:35, 37)

There’s something incredibly sweet in knowing that I belong to a God who not only knows what’s best for me, but sincerely desires what’s best for me. He cannot want lesser things for His children. His perfect, unfailing, abiding, immeasurable love won’t allow it.

I don’t know about you, but I need to know that. As I wait for God to answer the cry of my heart in a very specific area of my life, I need to know He’s not conflicted. I need to know He is ordering my steps with an unwavering commitment to my good, which is ultimately for His glory. I need to know that when He says “no” He never regrets it or second guesses Himself. I need to know that He’s not the wimpy dad who gives in when His daughter throws a hissy fit. I need to know He loves me too much to give me want I want at the expense of what I need.  I need to know He wants much, much more for me than I want for myself.

So in those moments of doubt . . . when my unfulfilled longing threatens to undo me . . . when I am at a complete loss to understand what God is doing – I throw myself on the solid rock of who He is.

Upon that rock His sovereignty assures me of His absolute control, His wisdom assures me of His perfect guidance, and His love assures me of His faithful provision.

Together, they remind me that every “truck” withheld is both an act of divine grace and an oh-so-precious opportunity to deepen my trust in the One who holds my life.

Behind every bitter providence lies the promise of a better future. The very nature of your God guarantees it.

Processing this Tragedy

I wanted to take a minute and share a few articles that have really helped me process the horror of yesterday’s shooting. I never cease to be amazed at the sufficiency of Scripture in the face of unimaginable tragedy. Does God’s Word offer a complete answer to why God allowed this to happen? No. God’s ways are often unsearchable. This is one of those times.

But God is by no means silent. He has communicated volumes about evil and sin and justice. He has revealed His sovereignty, wisdom, and infinite love.

And where the pages of our Bibles might seem to fall short of offering all the answers our hearts crave, the Word-made-flesh speaks a clear message of hope and life and rescue from this sin-torn world.

That’s why I like these articles –  they reminded me of that. I pray they do the same for you.

Jen Wilkin, A Day for Hatred

Al Mohler, Rachel Weeping for her Children – the Massacre in Connecticut

Russell Moore, School Shootings and Spiritual Warfare

John Piper, How Does Jesus Come to Newtown?

David Platt, The Gospel in Newtown (this is a long one, but worth the read)

When God Doesn’t Consult Your Calendar

Note: While I highly value authenticity and transparency, I am  a  very private person. Private to a fault. Honestly, I much rather keep these words to myself, but woke up this morning with a very clear prompting to share them. After seeking the wisdom of my husband and some trusted counselors, here they are. May God be glorified, may your heart be encouraged, and may your faith be strengthened. 

September 11, 2012.

Certainly that date marked a lot of different things for a lot of different people.

For me it marked the start date of a new Bible study. It’s a date that has been heavy on my heart for a good 9 months as I have been researching and writing on the book of First Corinthians. It’s also a date that represented a lot of deadlines: workbooks had to be written, formatted, proofed, printed and delivered, a stage backdrop had to be built, video production details had to be set, and the first teaching lesson had to be written and practiced. Not to mention the first week outfit had to be selected, which is perhaps the most stressful part. I may or may not have tried on EVERYTHING in my closet Monday night. Yes, I’m THAT girl. Pray for me.

The months and weeks leading up to a new Bible study are intense, to say the least. That’s why I only write and teach one a year. My family can only eat so much take-out. My poor husband can only take so many months of retrieving clean clothes out of piles on the guest room floor. (If only folding were as easy as washing!) And my social life can only plummet so far before it starts to disappear for good.

Greg and I knew that September 12, 2012, and the weeks leading up to it, would be much crazier than normal. What we didn’t know was that they’d be some of the hardest weeks of our lives.

Enter trial # 1: My husband is a business owner and the past couple months have been the hardest/busiest of his entire career. I don’t think I have to explain how the atmosphere of a home and marriage can change when your husband is working 70+ hours a week and the load isn’t getting any lighter. Or when his iPhone becomes a permanent appendage. Or when 3:00 am becomes an “early” bedtime. Greg is INCREDIBLE at balancing work and family, but the work load of the last few months would bring any man to the brink of complete and total exhaustion.

A bright spot in all the craziness appeared in July when a pregnancy test revealed that we would be welcoming our second child into our family around March of next year. This was VERY exciting to us for a lot of reasons, the biggest of which was the fact that my sister-in-law would be having a baby around the same time. Needless to say, we were THRILLED to make the announcement to our immediate family.

Fast forward a few weeks. I’m lying on the exam table in the OB/GYN office about to see my baby for the first time. I look at the ultrasound screen and see . . . nothing. Nothing but an egg sack. With no baby inside. Then I hear the words “blighted ovum” . . . “type of miscarriage” . . . “D and C.” Everything else about that office visit is pretty much a blur.

Did I mention I was sick as a dog? I was. So, so nauseous.  Oh, and I gained close to 10 pounds. (Hormones and I are NOT friends!) Experiencing the loathsome side effects of pregnancy hormones with no viable pregnancy felt like cruel and unusual punishment. The two weeks between the suspected blighted ovum diagnosis and the D and C felt like two years. I was at an emotional and physical breaking point. Spiritually, I wasn’t much better off.  All the while, I had to finish writing the 1 Corinthians workbook and get ready for the launch of the study.  Everything in me wanted to curl up in a little ball on the couch and nurse my sadness with chocolate and all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls. (Depression looks different for everyone. For me, it always includes junk food and Lauren Graham.) Instead, I had to figure out how to simplify and explain head coverings, prophecy, and the gift of tongues. No big deal.

Fast forward a little more to this past Monday – the day before the big launch. As I got Shep ready for bed, I noticed a few red bumps on his bottom, which I thought were bug bites. The next morning, there were a few more so I figured it was some kind of rash. By nap time on Tuesday, there were even more and he was scratching like crazy. Greg and I assumed it was a bad case of hives – nothing Benadryl, calamine lotion, an oatmeal bath, and time couldn’t fix, right? Wrong. By Wednesday afternoon, his body was covered with sores and his hands and feet were swelling to the point that he could hardly walk or hold a toy. So, two hours before I was scheduled to teach again, I was at the doctor with a VERY miserable little boy. The diagnosis: a fairly rare skin reaction called Erythema Multiforme Minor.  In his case, the cause is unknown. The nurse practitioner who saw Shep had only seen it once before – in a dermatology book in med school. Crazy, right? Wednesday night as I taught Bible study my heart was breaking for a little boy who was in an enormous amount of pain and couldn’t quite understand why mommy and daddy couldn’t make it go away. After a couple days that I am very tempted to describe as “hell,” the steroids have kicked in and he’s doing much better. His waffles were space ships again this morning and he’s already “bulldozed” a house plant. A healthy child is truly a gift. It’s so easy to forget that.

All of the things I have mentioned (and some I haven’t) would be a challenge if they happened all by themselves at a time when nothing else was really going on. The facts that they all happened at pretty much the SAME time at a period in my life when I was ALREADY struggling to carry all the things on my plate made them almost unbearable. Apart from the perfect sufficiency of God’s sustaining and enabling grace, I’m confident they would have been my undoing.

What I’ve just described is not uncommon, which is why the phrase “when it rains, it pours” is one we all know and have probably all lived. Apparently, God doesn’t consult our Outlook calendars before ordaining the events of our lives. Apparently, the request for His protection and provision in those intense seasons of life do not exclude us from adversity. Apparently, His “perfect timing” can look and feel really, really IMPERFECT and even cruel from our perspective.  Apparently, doing ministry doesn’t grant us immunity from trials, but actually makes us more vulnerable to them.

I know this.  I’ve taught this. I’ve written this. I could list a whole bunch of Scriptures that confirm this. But there’s something about living it that makes me wish it wasn’t true. There’s something about crying those tears that makes me want a God who clears things with me first. There’s something about watching your three year old suffer a random and unexplainable skin reaction at the WORST possible time that makes you want to look to God and say, “Are you kidding me?!”

Here’s what I know and have clung to in the midst of the tears and questions and frustration and overwhelming STRESS of the past few months:

My God is sovereign over all things, even my pain. Sometimes His providence is sweet. Sometimes it’s bitter. It’s ALWAYS perfect. (Is. 46:9, 10; Dan. 4:34, 35; Job 42:2; Eph. 1:11; Rom. 8:28)

My God is good and all His ways are good. Feelings aside, I know this to be true. Sometimes it’s the one and only thing that keeps these crazy emotions of mine from plunging into the depths of discouragement and depression. (Ps. 100:5; 119:68; Rom. 8:28)

God doesn’t consult my calendar because He works according to divine “Outlook.” My life-line through all of this has been Psalm 31:15: “My times are in your hands.” He can see what I cannot. He knows what I don’t. And He has plans and purposes that are way bigger than this little earthly life of mine.

I am an instrument in His hands. Sometimes instruments have to be sharpened. That’s just the way it is. As the grit of disappointing and challenging circumstances rub against this fragile heart of mine, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He knows what He’s doing. He loves me more than I will ever know. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things” (Rom. 8:32)?

Even when we don’t know what in the world He’s up to, we can be confident that He’s loving, providing, refining, revealing, and preparing. The longer I think about that, the more thankful I become that He doesn’t consult my calendar or clear things with me first. His ways are higher, better, and wiser than my own. For goodness sake, I never would have put “redemption” on my own calendar, but oh how thankful I am that it was on His!

Let’s face it, from our perspective God’s timing is terrible sometimes. But when we allow the truths of His Word to lift our eyes above the fog of the present, we are able to see the rich and glorious reality of a God who is working ALL THINGS for our good and His glory and know in the very depths of our being that every bitter providence is a guarantee of a better future (Rom. 8:18).

God is good. All the time.  And today – September 14, 2012 – I am more confident of that blessed truth than I’ve ever been.

O let my trembling soul be still,

And trust Thy wise, Thy holy will!

I cannot, Lord, Thy purpose see,

Yet all is well since ruled by Thee.

C.H. Spurgeon




The Lord Has Heard Your Weeping

“I am weary with my sighing; every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears. My eye has wasted away with grief; it has become old because of all my adversaries. Depart from me, all you who do iniquity, for the LORD has heard the voice of my weeping. The LORD has heard my supplication, the LORD receives my prayer.” Ps. 6:8, 9

The God of the universe;

The King of every king;

The Lord of every lord;

The One who spoke creation into existence;

The consuming fire;

The great I AM;

The Lord of hosts;

The God of infinite glory, infinite strength, infinite wisdom;

The God who is totally, utterly COMPLETE in Himself;

The God who measures the waters of the earth in the palm of His hand;

The God who is seated on the highest throne;

The everlasting God whose ways are unsearchable;

THAT God . . . hears.

Not just my praising;

or my  Scripture quoting;

or my witnessing;

or my testifying;

or my singing;

or my Bible teaching;

. . . He hears my WEEPING.

MY weeping.

He hears it as clearly as my praising. He receives it as willingly as my offering.

There’s no, “get over it.” No, “your life really isn’t that bad.” No, “why are you crying?” No, “enough already.”

Just compassion. Love. Sympathy. Forgiveness. Mercy. Grace.

Lots and lots of grace.

He understands the depths of my heart even better than I do. He sees the tangled mess of emotions and is actually able to make sense of them. He knows the “why” behind my weeping . . .

. . . And He loves me anyway.

Oh how I praise Him that He loves me anyway!

For my sisters in Christ who are weary with sorrow, who have soaked a pillow or two with tears, whose eyes are blood-shot with grief, whose deep anguish has drowned out words, whose prayers sound forth from a place of bitter providence . . .

“The Lord has heard the voice of your weeping. The Lord has heard your supplication, the Lord receives your prayer.” (Ps. 6:8, 9)


There is STILL Comfort in Christ

One of my favorite old-timey Christian authors is the English preacher and theologian J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) who I “met” for the first time in my first semester of seminary. If you’ve never heard of him or read his writings, I count it a privilege to introduce the two of you today!  I recently came across this quote and can’t help but share it with you. For all my sweet sisters who need to be reminded (as I often do) that there is STILL comfort and rest in Christ . . .

But what if your heart be right with God, and yet you are pressed down with a load of earthly trouble? What if the fear of poverty is tossing you to and fro, and seems likely to overwhelm you? What if pain of body be racking you to distraction day after day? What if you are suddenly laid aside from active usefulness, and compelled by infirmity to sit still and do nothing? What if death has come into your home, and taken away your Rachel, or Joseph, or Benjamin, and left you alone, crushed to the ground with sorrow? What if all this has happened? Still there is comfort in Christ. He can speak peace to wounded hearts as easily as He can calm troubled seas. He can rebuke rebellious wills as powerfully as raging winds. He can make storms of sorrow abate, and silence tumultuous passions, as surely as He stopped the Galilean storm. He can say to the heaviest anxiety, “Peace, be still!” The flood of care and tribulation may be mighty, but Jesus sits upon the waterfloods, and is mightier than the waves of the sea. The winds of trouble may howl fiercely around you, but Jesus holds them in His hand, and can stay them when He lists. Oh, if any reader of this paper is broken-hearted, and careworn, and sorrowful, let him go to Jesus Christ, and cry to Him, and he shall be refreshed. “Come unto Me,” He says, “all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).

Go to Jesus Christ . . . cry to Him . . . and you will be refreshed! What a sweet, sweet promise for us today.

There is STILL comfort in Christ, friend. Don’t you forget it!

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