When It’s Okay to Tell God What You Want


When it's okay to tell God what you want

Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash

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Confession: I struggle with the word surrender. At least I struggle with the way some people use it. The way many Christians talk, it seems like surrender means we are supposed to achieve a Zen-like place where we no longer want…and no longer feel. We should be completely, perfectly happy exactly as we are. No wants. No needs. No regrets. No desires for the future.

But honestly? I don’t see that definition—or that example—in the Bible. When I read the Psalms, I read heartfelt pleas from unhappy people begging God to change their circumstances. Wondering where He is in the wait. Thanking Him for what He has already given, yes; maintaining deep respect for His sovereignty, always (or maybe I should say usually!)—but not giving up on what they’re praying for. Not letting it go until God gives the final “No.”

how to pray through grief

I don’t see David, living on the run from the murderous King Saul, praying, “Never mind, God. I know You told Samuel to anoint me as Israel’s next king, but don’t worry about it…I’m good. I’ll just live in caves as an outlaw forever. I surrender to being trapped in this situation.”

I see David saying,

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
(Psalm 13:1–2)

We don’t see the man whose son was tormented by demons saying to Jesus, “Lord, I’m content for my son to continue throwing himself into fire and water. I’m surrendered to his illness.” No, we see him kneeling desperate before Jesus and pleading, “Lord, have mercy on my son” (Matthew 17:14–20).

Jesus urges his followers to be persistent in prayer when He says, “Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7 HCSB). Jesus even tells the story of the feisty widow who basically annoys her local judge until he gives in and gives her what she needs! Jesus concludes the story by saying,

“And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.” (Luke 18:7–8) 

What can we take from this?

It’s okay to ask.

To want.

To need.

To feel.

It’s okay—and hang with me, because we’re going to talk more about this—to be unhappy.


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Our goal is not to shut off our feelings and hopes so we can robotically surrender to whatever happens…our goal is surrendered faith. And what is surrendered faith? Surrendered faith is about learning to hold onto conflicting emotions at the same time: hope in one hand, submission in the other. Hope that God can change our situation…but submission if He doesn’t change it now (or ever).

What do I mean when I say “submission”? I mean that even though we’re sad, we still thank God for our other blessings, and we do not resent Him for saying, “No for now”—or even “No forever.” We submit to God’s almighty, mysterious timing and ways, acknowledging that He knows things we do not (Isaiah 55:8–11)—even as we continue to plead our case. We fight to be content in the sense that we are okay—we choose to get up every day and live a Christ-focused, selfless life—even as we still pray for and long for The Thing we desire. We don’t shut off our feelings and hopes and mindlessly surrender to whatever happens…we seek surrendered faith.

Hope in one hand, submission in the other: it’s a picture we see many times in the Bible. And what does that picture look like? What does it feel like?

It looks like people tearing their robes and mourning and grieving for things that are lost…but then getting back up again. Learning to live a different life than the one they had planned. Choosing to still live and love and serve God in spite of heartache and loss. (See 2 Samuel 12:12–25. It’s a complicated story, but in it we see both persistence in prayer and surrender to God’s sovereignty…and, eventually, the grace of a second chance.)

It looks like Paul clinging to contentment and gratitude even through persecution, financial hardship, and loneliness: “ I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12–13 HCSB).

It looks like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego standing boldly before King Nebuchadnezzar, knowing they could be thrown into a furnace if they refused to bow down to an idol, but saying, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:17­–18, emphasis mine).

It looks like Jesus in the Garden, asking God to take away the sacrifice and pain to come…but wrestling in prayer until He could say, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done” (Matthew 26:42).

Surrendered faith means still praying, still praising, from the depths.

It means still honoring God’s wisdom and ways (and timeline) even when they don’t match up to ours. Still obeying Him even when we don’t like the way our life is going.

It means being grateful for what we do have now, even as we pray for what we don’t have yet.

It doesn’t mean pretending to have a full heart when our heart has a hole.

It doesn’t mean flogging ourselves with unnecessary guilt by saying, “I must be sinful—and God must be angry with me—because I still feel sad about a loss or an unfulfilled prayer request.”

More specifically, it doesn’t mean saying, “I shouldn’t still want to be married after all these years being single. I should banish that desire completely and be completely content with God.” (Should we all, single and married alike, be content with God as our greatest love? Of course. But I suggest we can feel both things at the same time: we can be content with God as our Husband even as we still desire a godly husband on earth!)

It doesn’t mean saying, “I shouldn’t still want a child after all these years trying for a baby.”

It doesn’t mean saying, “I shouldn’t still want my wandering child to turn back to God. I should let them go.”

Maybe surrendered faith means we can say, “I may never stop wanting…to get married…to be a mother…to see my child come back to the Lord… but even if God never grants those desires, I will still love Him, serve Him, and trust Him, and I will still live a life filled with love and purpose.”

Maybe faith is taking our prayers from,

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart? (Psalm 13:1–2)

to

But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13:5–6)

When David starts praising God, his problems haven’t gone away yet. (Notice these verses come from the same psalm!) David is likely still hiding in caves, fleeing his enemies, waiting for God’s promise to come true, but his faith is intact. Even as he waits and questions and prays, he finds gratitude and praise. He knows he is safe in God’s hands. He thanks God from the cave. He trusts God in the wait.

Now that’s a definition of surrender we can all fight to embrace. That’s surrendered faith.


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When Waiting Is Quiet


when waiting is quiet

I’m sitting in the doctor’s waiting room, magazine in hand. The room is filled with people, but they’re unnaturally quiet—so quiet I can hear the clock on the wall marking lost time…all the wasted life I’ll never get back because I spent it breathing stale air in this crowded room.

I flip a page and stifle a snort: another celebrity has lost all her pregnancy weight in three days, and if I’ll only hire myself a personal chef who serves me a delicious diet of kale, chia seeds, and fresh fish imported by helicopter from Siberia and then boiled in colostrum and coconut water, I too can sport a postpartum six-pack. For the hundredth time, I wish I’d thought ahead and brought my computer—or at least a good book.

A nurse opens the swinging door with a whoosh, and everyone in the room looks up expectantly. I think I see a lady near the door slipping a fiver into the nurse’s hand, as if she can bribe her way to the top of the list.

“Mrs. Smith?” calls the nurse. Everyone not named Mrs. Smith heaves a despairing sigh. Mrs. Smith leaps up with a grin so broad you’d think she’d just been named the next contestant on “The Price Is Right.” (You know you’ve been waiting forever when going in to face the gynecologist with all her evil torture devices feels like an improvement on your situation.) I can’t decide if I want to offer Mrs. Smith a congratulatory high-five or shoot her an envious glare. The room falls silent. I go back to my magazine and mind-numbing stagnation.

Some waiting seasons are active, jerking us up and down and all around, keeping us guessing, dragging us through wild detours that may be insane but at least keep life exciting. As we wait for The Thing we want, we may be terrified out of our minds, wondering what twist awaits around the next curve, but at least we’re moving; at least we’re doing something!

But then you have the other kind of waiting season: The quiet kind. The monotonous kind. The boring kind. The kind when we’re stuck in life’s waiting room, in between phases, where nothing ever happens and nothing ever changes. Life feels useless, meaningless, a song stuck on repeat. Every day the same: Same old classes, same old job, same old apartment. How we wish things would change, how we long for the next thing—The Thing we are convinced we cannot be happy without…but The Thing won’t come. Life won’t change.


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In times like this, we face a choice: We can either sit there filling our time with empty, brainless things—reading magazines about other people’s lives, scrolling through Instagram pictures of everyone else’s Big Exciting Adventures… or we can fill our own time in meaningful ways. We can find ways to use the “down time,” the life in-between, with purpose. But how do we do that? Find purpose in pauses?

How to wait on God via @lizzylit

We don’t often think of Him this way, but Jesus was no stranger to waiting. In a way, He spent His whole life waiting: Waiting for the cross, the day of suffering that haunted his future like a daily shadow. Waiting to be set free from this broken world and His soon-to-be broken body. Waiting to return home to heaven and be reunited with His Father.

How did Jesus fill His waiting days? Not worrying about Himself or His own needs—no, He filled His days with service. With love. With constant communion with the Father He missed. We too can fill our in-between days by walking in His ways. By finding people to serve, needs to meet, ways to give.

In Luke 9:23–24 Jesus tells us, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (NLT). It’s not easy, but selflessness is the way of Christ. The way of purpose and meaning. Selfishness leads only to frustration and discontentment.

Let’s find people to serve, needs to meet and ways to give, even while we wait. If we reach out to comfort or befriend, to serve or to save even one soul while we’re waiting, this time is not lost. Waiting time need not be wasted life. We can redeem waiting times by giving them to God, so that when our name is finally called and our time in the waiting room is over (hallelujah), we can dance out of the waiting room feeling great about how we spent our time there. We might even high-five a few new friends on the way out.

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When There’s Beauty in Waiting


Finding beauty in suffering

This was the view through my windshield the other day as I was waiting in traffic, stuck sitting through many cycles of the same traffic light. I’d been sitting there, frustrated and bored, wishing I was somewhere else—anywhere else—but then I looked up. For the rest of the wait, I sat, awestruck, and watched Him put on a show. If I hadn’t been stuck waiting, I would have missed it—but waiting gave me the opportunity to sit and revel in God’s power and artistry.

Waiting can be a bleak and painful time, but life is still beautiful—God is still doing great things for us—if only we will look up. We may find beauty in relationships, in unexpected kindness, in spiritual growth we didn’t see coming.

When I was waiting for true love, I found greater joy and intimacy in my walk with God, in learning to rely on Him for daily comfort and strength.

When I was waiting to get pregnant, God surprised me with new friendships that gave me the hope and comfort I needed to survive the struggle.

I didn’t yet have the things I was praying for, but God gave beautiful gifts along the way, unexpected blessings that eased the pain and lent joy to the journey.

Even now, as I wait on several Big Life Things, God is teaching me perseverance, humility, compassion. Showing me how to find joy in small things. Showing me that beauty is everywhere, even when we are waiting…we only have to look up.

I recently shared this story on Facebook Live, a.k.a. Lizzy Life Live! In the same chat, we talked about practical tips for having heart-to-heart talks with kids at all their different ages and stages. How do we draw quiet kids out? How do we connect on a heart level? How do we bring God into our daily conversations? You can watch the recording here

Finding beauty in waiting seasons and having heart-to-heart talks with our kids!

Nai-post ni Elizabeth Laing Thompson, Writer at LizzyLife noong Miyerkules, Marso 29, 2017

This post is expanded from my new Instagram account, @elizabethlaingthompson, where I am posting scriptures, encouragement, and humorous thoughts to help you through your waiting journey. I’d love to see you on Instagram!


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When You Walk Through a Valley


When You Walk Through a Valley

Images courtesy of Pixabay

Who doesn’t love Psalm 23? For three verses it’s all smiles and peace, all dancing through flowers.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

   He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside quiet waters, 

   He restores my soul. 

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

We read this and we’re like, Woohoo! Christianity means I get to be happy, happy all the time! “Green pastures, quiet waters, restored soul”? Sign me up! “He guides me in paths of righteousness”? Yes please!

But then we hit verse four, and our happy dance skips a beat: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.” Wait, what? Valleys and shadows and evil? That doesn’t sound very Psalm 23-ish. I don’t feel like dancing anymore.

We back up and read verse four again.

            Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…

Yep, we read it right. What’s Death Valley doing in the middle of Happy Land?

How does this:

when life is hard for Christians

turn into this:

barren-field-mountain-view

???

If the Good Shepherd Himself is leading us on paths of righteousness, how can we end up in the valley of the shadow of death—the dark place where evil lives? Did God’s GPS stop working? Did he abandon us mid-journey? Confused, we are tempted to hurry past verse four, eager to get to the “my cup overflows” part at the end.

But let’s pause here for a minute. Let’s take a good hard look at the phrasing, the way verse three leads into verse four (I’m using the NIV, 1984):

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.

So we start out in verse three with God leading us. We’re cavorting down paths of righteousness. Life is good! We’re godly and happy! And then something goes wrong…or does it?

Notice that the psalm writer, David, doesn’t say, “And then we wander off the path and abandon God’s righteous ways, and that’s how we end up in the valley of the shadow of death, being punished for our sins.” No—one minute we’re following our loving Shepherd down paths of righteousness; the next we’re in the valley of the shadow of death.

Do you get what this means? Sometimes God’s righteous paths take us to the dark places. Sometimes God Himself leads us into the valley. We’re still on the path, still being righteous, still in the loving care of the Shepherd, but His righteous path is leading us where we don’t want to go—so close to death we feel its shadow.

It’s big, the valley of the shadow of death. Mile after mile of barren wilderness. The path through stretches long—no shortcuts across. The path of righteousness may wander around dark lands for days, weeks, months—even years.

Perhaps you’ve walked those dim paths before. Perhaps you’re walking them now. It goes something like this:

You’re graduating from college, faithful to God. It should be the best time in your life—the future stretching wide, so many options—but you? You have no plan. Not only are you jobless and date-less, you’re also directionless. Everyone else has a Great Life Plan—how they love revealing those plans in epic social media announcements—but you? You just feel lost. Lost and alone.

You’re sad. Endlessly sad. You don’t know why, and you can’t pull out. You pray, you work on yourself, you try to get help, but the sadness remains.

Your biological clock is sending off insistent daily alarms—BABY TIME BABY TIME BABY TIME—but every month, your own body betrays you.

Or maybe you have a family, but your family is struggling. You’ve tried to instill faith in your kids, but they’re fighting you, fighting God.

In times like this, fear rises. Confusion reigns. You start doubting God, doubting yourself: What did I do wrong? Is God mad at me? Does this suffering mean I’m being punished? Did I accidentally wander off the path of righteousness?

Psalm 23 says no. God says no.

There is more to Christianity—and life—than quiet naps by gentle streams. There’s deep comfort for dark times. Living under our Shepherd’s protection and care doesn’t mean we will never wait, never suffer, never experience disappointment, decay, or delay. God doesn’t promise us an escape from hardship; He promises to guide and protect us as we go through hardship, all the way to the other side. No matter how dark the path. No matter how long the journey. That’s the real message of Psalm 23.

 

The more I think about this truth, the more beautiful this psalm becomes. Because who lives beside quiet waters all the time? Who experiences a life of constant peace and endless blessing? Not me! Sometimes I have, sometimes I do, but not always. Not today.

Psalm 23 doesn’t promise a life of never-ending peace and happiness; it promises strength and help and hope through all life’s ups and downs. We have a Shepherd who loves us and meets all our needs. He knows when we need rest, and He knows how to provide it. And when He leads us down into the valley, He does not leave us alone. His rod and staff—His presence—are there to comfort and guide us all along the way.

We may have times when we’re wandering, but we’re not wandering alone. We may have times when we’re sad, but we’re not sad alone. We may have times when we’re waiting, but we’re not waiting alone.

He is for us, He is with us, and if we will just keep to the righteous path, He will guide us all the way across the valley, however long it takes. Eventually, He will help us find our footing as the path climbs back up the mountainside. We may be out of breath when we reach the top, homesick and road-weary, but He’ll urge us to rest beside a bubbling mountain stream. He’ll ask if we’d like some water, and we’ll hold out our cup and say, “Yes please.”


Want more from Lizzy Life? Sign up for my newsletter, and you’ll receive a free ebook:

How to Find God—and Joy—When Life Is Hard


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When Life Is Uncertain


When life is uncertain

 

Some seasons, life is boring, predictable, uneventful: all the same things, all the same people. Same familiar road we’ve traveled a thousand times before, the view never changing.

We complain about monotony.

Dream of excitement and change.

no bends in the road

Photo credit: Marcelo Quinan, Unsplash.

And then…and then: A sudden bend in the road, a detour. The path unpaved, the future uncertain. We’re off-roading, exhilarated and terrified in equal measure. All in a rush, life takes us somewhere we’ve never been: New stages or roles, new places or people… Unfamiliar, intimidating territory. Situations and difficulties we’ve never faced before, in myriad forms.

curve in the road

Photo credit: Orlova Maria, Unsplash.

During times like this, I cling to Isaiah 42:16: “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

Light to my path image

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Let us find comfort in this:

Where we are blind, God can see.

When our path is unmarked, He knows the way.

When the road is uneven, He can carve a smooth path.

When ankles turn, legs burn, and lungs cry out, He can grant strength.

Where shadows gather, our God—world-spinner, star-maker, light-giver—can shine sun.

And no matter how long the journey, no matter how winding or perilous the path, He never forsakes the ones He loves.

“Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10).

Wishing you safe travels, friends, wherever He leads you, now and always. 

(Want more from the Bible on this? Read Psalm 121, Psalm 23, Psalm 18:36, Isaiah 40:28–31, Psalm 119:105, Psalm 18:28, Psalm 33.)

A lamp to our feet

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

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