Tuesday, July 26, 2016

When the Story God Writes Isn't a Bestseller

I remember my reaction when I first read an article by Ed Welch called "Ordinary is the New Cool". I must admit that I was put-off by it, which was my first clue that it was hitting a little too close to home. I didn't like Dr. Welch's proposition that I should be content with a "normal life". I didn't like it, but I also knew that there was a whole lot of truth in it. It's true that we have bought into a belief that we are supposed to be important and extraordinary, and it's true that we define these concepts very differently than Scripture does. In fact, that idea is far from biblical. It's more educated by our culture than the Bible, but it rings true with our sinful desires for fame and power, so we figure out ways to make it sound spiritual. ("God, give me a platform for your glory!")

As I was working on We Win!, I read a book called The Insanity of God. In it, the author describes the difficulties faced by Christians in areas of persecution and their incredible faith in the midst of suffering. All of them remained nameless out of concern for their safety. Even the author uses a pen name to protect his ministry and the subjects of the stories he tells.

As I've turned these thoughts over and over in my head, and as I've put them together with other lessons learned in the last year, I've come to realize that my fear isn't that God isn't writing a great story through my life. My fear is that the story He's writing won't be popular.

I don't doubt whether God will use my writing in the lives of readers. I doubt if He will ever give me a "viral" blog.

I don't doubt God's faithfulness to us in ministry. I doubt how large that ministry will be.

I don't doubt God's provision for our needs. I doubt if He will provide for my wants (even the really spiritual sounding ones).

I don't doubt if I am being faithful to make Him known. I doubt if He will be "faithful" to make me known.

But God never promised to make my life extraordinary in terms of reach and influence. He promised to make me able to stand (Romans 14:4). He didn't promise to give me a following or the opportunity to be a part of a large ministry. In fact, He assured me that the most popular teachings will not be biblical at all (2 Timothy 4:3). But He has reminded me that the reward for faithfulness is a crown of righteousness that He is ready to award to all who have loved His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8).

God has reminded me that the most extraordinary lives are often anonymous. They are lives defined by faith and a longing for the eternal reign of Christ. He has given me a godly jealousy for those persecuted believers who have held to the Truth in the midst of unthinkable suffering.

God rarely writes great stories through lives whose deepest desire is a great story. He writes great stories through lives who deepest desire is to make His greatness known. In fact, we rarely realize when God is writing His greatest stories. They usually appear normal, even painful, at the time that they are written. It takes a Kingdom perspective to recognize them for what they are.

Are your prayers defined by a longing for a life of greatness or a life of faithfulness? Do you see a life of faith as the goal or a means to receiving God's blessing? Are you comfortable with being unknown if He is made known through you?

He is continuing to alter my definition of a "great life". With each passing day, greatness is defined less and less by being known and more and more by making Him known. And that's pretty great, actually.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

This Quiet Joy

I've always thought of joy as this loud, exuberant, in-your-face kind of emotion. I'm not really sure where I got this picture. Maybe it was from the "I will become even more undignified than this" phase of my Christian growth (aka middle school).

But over the last year, that picture has faded and a new one has taken its place. Completely by God's grace, I'm experiencing a new kind of joy that I didn't anticipate or think to ask for. I've found myself quietly enjoying moments that used to be stressful or empty. I've been delightfully surprised by this quiet joy in the midst of a very difficult year of multiple transitions.

The latest of these transitions has brought me to China. On Monday, July 11th, we welcomed our beautiful, precious son Li into the family.

The 16 month process was long and sometimes tedious, but it was absolutely joyous as well. Now, please know that I am not known for my patience. It's been a major area of development for me. But adopting Li was a time of joy and peace, not impatience or frustration. (Glory to God alone!)

I wish that I could give you a concrete reason why this was true, but I can't. The only thing that I know to tell you is that I have learned to trust Christ more completely than ever before. He has graciously taken my worries and desire to control and turned them into sweet trust. That trust has produced a deeper experience of joy than I have ever known.

It isn't loud joy. It isn't dancing joy. It is quiet joy.

  • A joy in trusting that God's timing is perfect.
  • A joy in trusting that I wouldn't miss a single moment with my son that God wanted me to enjoy with him.
  • A joy in trusting that God saw every detail and went before us into every step of the process.
  • A joy in trusting that God loves my son even more than I do, and His choices would produce good for me and my son if I would trust Him to do His job.

Even now, as we're in a culture that we do not know, that quiet joy covers every step.

  • A joy that trusts the itinerary developed by our agency, even when we're not comfortable with it.
  • A joy that trusts that God will protect us in a country that doesn't appreciate our value system or faith.
  • A joy that trusts our guide as an authority provided to us by God for our benefit (and she has been wonderful!).
  • A joy that trusts that we will be here as long as it is best, and that we can benefit from every moment we spend here.
  • A joy that trusts that there is more adventure than inconvenience in our time in a foreign land with foreign food. (Honestly, though, I love authentic Chinese food! It's the ordering that's a challenge.)
  • A joy that trusts that God knows every step of Li's future, and every difficulty and challenge can be used to draw him into deeper relationship with the Giver of Joy who is worthy of all of our trust and all of our lives.

Our little guy only knows very little English, and he has a few health concerns (including a current cold that has caused a lower respiratory infection), but I'm not worried. There isn't room for worry. There's only room for joy because the same God who brought my son into his forever family is the same God who walks with us each and every day. The same God who orchestrated for Li's care as a sick newborn is the same God who will orchestrate his life as a child, a young man, and (by God's infinite grace!) as a man of God who will take the truth of our King into a world that is desperate for the joy of the Lord.