Out of Character

I once saw a Chick-fil-A employee yell at customers in the drive-through line.

The employee sounded frustrated. It was around lunch time, so Chick-fil-A was busy. Employees were outside taking orders on both lines before the customers merged into one lane to wind around toward the window to pick up their orders. As is the nature of drive-through lines, the traffic was very stop-and-go, so a lot of customers were on their phones while in line, resulting in a number of customers caught off guard when the line started moving.

I heard the employee yell, “Pull forward!” as she motioned for the cars to keep moving, but her overall tone was more peeved than patient. She made a couple of other remarks that further reflected her mood, each one surprising me and, admittedly, somewhat disturbing me. Her comments and tone seemed out of character for a Chick-fil-A employee.

Experience has taught us that Chick-fil-A employees behave differently than employees elsewhere. There’s a calmness to their demeanor, a patience to their interactions, and a genuineness to their service. We know them to be held to a higher standard, and we’ve come to expect that high quality of character when we visit a Chick-fil-A. So when I saw an employee who seemed to act in a way that ran contrary to that standard, the experience struck me as wrong. Things aren’t supposed to be this way, right? Something’s off here.

You can find the same kind of experience when you pay attention to how we as Christians sometimes act online. Christians, those people who are supposed to look like Jesus in the world, the group that is supposed to reflect a different set of values and a different approach to life, sometimes act in ways that seem contrary to the way Christ acted. Rather than reflecting humility, we demonstrate arrogance. Rather than embracing lowliness, we fight for power. Rather than loving the body of believers, we slander and bite and draw dividing lines within the fold. When we consider the standard, however, we should feel the same sense of surprise as we feel when he hear a Chick-fil-A employee shout at customers. We should be a bit disturbed at the dissonance between the character of Christ and the behavior of his people.

And I think the critique should start with oneself. I am often a fearful man, doubtful of my Lord’s goodness and unfaithful to his commandments. I am often an arrogant man, desiring recognition and glory and kicking against anything that might reveal my weakness. I am often a sinful man, choosing self over God and others.

By grace, however, I’m not lost in my sin. The Lord has saved me and remade me, and he enables me to follow him. I fall short, but I find encouragement to keep walking. I fail, but I find mercy for my failures. As I see all the varied ways I fall short of the glory of God, I find fresh ways the Lord meets me with love. And I pray I will be conformed more and more to the character of Christ, that I might better reflect him day by day.


Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

Change and Constancy

The train is now departing.
I stand upon the platform and I wonder,
Did I choose rightly when I chose to stay?
Is this the better way?
What life would now be starting
If I had stepped aboard and joined the thunder
Of racing steel and distant storms, away
From where I stand today?

But who could say?

Life is a series of decisions,
Of written words without revisions.
I wish I never made mistakes.
I often do.
Yet on clear tracks and in collisions,
You meet our needs with good provisions.
Through all that mends and all that breaks,
You remain you.


Photo by Stefan Kunze on Unsplash

Note: A quick Google search revealed that the line “Life is a series of decisions” has been used in many other works. While I didn’t have any specific source in mind when I decided to use that line, I recognize that the wording isn’t original to me.

Sufficient

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”

2 Corinthians 12:9

His grace is sufficient. But sufficient doesn’t mean that grace makes weakness and suffering nonexistent.

Consider Paul’s life. He writes verse nine immediately after describing his pleading before the Lord that a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, would be taken from him (2 Corinthians 12:7-8). The account of such pleading follows an extended list of Paul’s many sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:23-33). And the letter in which we find these sections begins with the admission that Paul’s sufferings were once so great that he and those with him “despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10). God’s grace sustained him, strengthened him, and enabled him to fulfill the work set before him. But Paul’s life was still filled with tremendous suffering.

I’ve written recently about the longing for rest in difficult seasons, for relief from burdens, for peace in the midst of fear. Life hasn’t been easy for some time. But in the midst of an extended, hard season, God’s grace has been sufficient. He’s given strength for the work, provision for the day, and sweet moments of rest in the busyness. He’s consistently proven himself faithful to be strong in my weakness, often in times when my weakness has seemed too great, the season too hard. He remains wise and good.

I’m learning that sometimes grace doesn’t feel sufficient, but it is. God’s grace may not deliver you from the season you’re in, but it may sustain you through it. It may not keep you from suffering, but it may provide what is needed to endure it. You may be tempted to despair; God’s grace can enable you to hope. You may feel downcast and brokenhearted; God’s grace can cause you to rejoice.

I’m grateful for God’s grace. At times, I wish it did more than sustain. I wish I could be stronger than I am. I wish he would heal and deliver in ways that felt more comfortable. But as I learn to rely on the grace of the Lord, I learn to trust him more fully, to follow him more closely, and to rest in him more completely. And I think that growth is more important than my comfort in this season. So I pray for grace to trust him more, to follow him more, and to rest in him more, thankful that he sustains me.


Photo by Mathieu Bigard on Unsplash

Sometimes

Sometimes,
Faith is stillness in the quiet
When you begin to question
Whether or not
You heard his directions correctly
Before.
When doubts grow loud
In the absence of his voice,
When fear fills the silence,
When the once clear call
Is suddenly less clear
And you cannot discern his purposes,
He is still God.
Hold fast.
Wait.
Worship.
Hope.


Photo by Nazar Hrabovyi on Unsplash

Longing for Rest

I’m tired.

Life has been busy for some time. That’s nothing new. Between school, jobs, and ministry, my weeks stay pretty full. I enjoy my work, and I’m grateful for the Lord’s provision. I know the busyness isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But I’ve noticed myself feeling worn lately, looking for a break but not finding one.

But it’s not just busyness that’s been weighing on me. There’s a heaviness to life these days that I can’t quite escape. People I love are walking through great difficulties, times of fierce testing, and prolonged seasons of waiting. Weariness and discouragement affect many of us. We’re working to bear each other’s burdens, but we’re feeling pressed.

And personally, I’ve also been wrestling with more confusion and fear lately than I’m used to. As I’ve tried to discern the Lord’s leading and sought to obey him, I’ve found myself often faltering, often straying, and often feeling more out of step than surefooted. I want to be faithful, but I feel more faithless. I want to be strong, but I feel weak.

What do you do in such times? How do you respond when life seems heavier than normal?

I’m reminded of the words of Jesus:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

A few observations from this passage bring some comfort in this season.

First, rest is found in Jesus. I’m tempted to look to other sources for relief: to entertainment or to escape or to some new experience. But rest isn’t really found anywhere else but in Jesus, in knowing him and joining him in his work.

Second, we’re invited into rest. In spite of our sin, in spite of our doubt, and in spite of our weakness, Jesus loves us and offers us rest. He knows our state, knows our need, and brings relief.

Third, the road does not end here. There is a way forward, a way of good work and learning from the Lord himself. Thus, rest does not necessarily mean we cease to be active, but rather that we learn to follow the lead of the good shepherd (John 10:11). When I’m tempted to believe I’m stuck, that I don’t have anywhere to go, Jesus’s words remind me the path continues on with him.

Though I’m not good at it, I’m trying to learn to rest in Jesus. He is good. He is kind. He is faithful. So we can trust him in our weariness and find rest that satisfies our souls like nothing else.


Photo by Ibrahim Mushan on Unsplash

A Prayer for Faithfulness

Make me the man that you want me to be
E’en if I do not want to be that man.
Teach me to trust you when I cannot see
The purpose in the details of your plan.
Help me to hope when tempted to despair
At circumstances greater than my strength,
To trust that, in the darkness, you are there
With love beyond all height, depth, width, and length.
Show me myself, and make me truly know
The greatness of my need and of your grace.
Remind me you are with me as I go,
And lead according to your path and pace.
Lord, search me, try me, know me, make me new.
Let all my life be lived in love of you.


Photo by Robin Spielmann on Unsplash

Still True

Fear sometimes settles on you like a fog. You feel it all around you, it’s presence chilling and uncomfortable. It obscures your sight, preventing you from seeing the way forward. You know the world around you still exists, that reality is bigger than what you can presently perceive. You know that the fog will eventually lift.

But sometimes it doesn’t.

Or, at least, it doesn’t lift as soon as you’d like. That’s when you start to panic and despair.

It sounds silly, but fear can make you suddenly less certain of what you know to be true. God’s love and his faithfulness, his mercy and his grace, his purposes in discipline and the profit in the testing of our faith—suddenly, these subjects seem strangely foreign. You know the Scriptures. You’ve sung the songs, heard the sermons, read the books. But in the middle of the fog, as fear clouds your ability to think clearly, truth doesn’t appear to come to your mind or heart as quickly or as easily as it once did.

And yet, even when fear feels pervasive and overwhelming, what is true is still true. Though our perceptions may make recognition of truth more difficult, reality has not fundamentally changed. God is still on his throne. The light still shines in the darkness and the darkness still has not overcome it. The Lord’s love remains undiminished, his purposes unhindered. If God really causes all things to work together for good, then he’s still working, even in the fiercest seasons of fear. In spite of how we may feel, he has neither forgotten nor forsaken his children.

It isn’t easy to hold on to truth in the midst of fear. Thankfully, the Lord remains a firm foundation for feeble souls. Fear can reveal our weakness; his power is still made perfect in weakness. So we trust in him though we don’t feel okay, hope in him though things seem hopeless, and keep following him though we don’t know the way. And as we do these things, we will find him faithful, as he has always been and always will be.


Photo by Jakub Kriz on Unsplash

I hide behind snooze buttons and busyness

I hide behind snooze buttons and busyness,
excuses to avoid you,
for fear of what you require of me:
everything.
Heart, soul, mind, strength,
passion, purpose, understanding, ability—
all of me,
myself in sum,
denied.
I know my life depends upon surrender,
so help my unbelief
until I sit
and listen
and obey.


Photo by jules a. on Unsplash

This poem was inspired, at least in part, by C. S. Lewis’s sermon “A Slip of the Tongue,” wherein he considers our hesitancy to draw too near to God for fear of what he may require of us, for we know that he requires complete surrender.

We Cannot Go Back

I’ve caught myself wishing that a season of testing would end so I could go back to normal.

Normal. What exactly is normal?

In this case, it’s a time before I felt pushed, before I encountered the current set of trials, before my faith was put to the test. Normal feels safe and comfortable, or at least it does relative to now.

But I can’t go back there. None of us can. Once we encounter a test of faith, we don’t remain the same. Trials change us. Discipline grows us. And we don’t endure just to go back to how we were; God means us to keep going forward into further maturity (James 1:2-4). The Lord uses tests of faith to form our hearts and minds, sanctifying us that we might know him and love him and trust him more than we now do. And yes, the testing is difficult; that’s to be expected. In times of testing, the Lord often reveals what in us is not of him and removes it, and the removal is often painful. But the removal is necessary if we would follow him.

True, we may fight back against the refinement. We can try to prolong our time in immaturity or obey only halfheartedly. Such hesitancy may make us feel like we’re staying safe, like we’re avoiding the fearful and costly change. But doesn’t such a response change us too? The more I run, the more restless I feel. Once the Lord reveals his direction for me and calls me to move, my refusal doesn’t keep me safe, it simply makes me disobedient. And as he presses upon me to obey, I come to see that whatever I’m holding onto doesn’t ultimately satisfy me, that satisfaction is truly only found in him. His call may terrify me, but his ways are life and peace and truth. All else fades.

So maybe the goal shouldn’t be to go back to normal. Rather, maybe the goal should be to simply be faithful, no matter what comes. This seemed to be the approach of Job, who’s commended by God. Paul also seems to approach life with such a view, choosing faith and contentment in spite of difficulties. Both men found the Lord to be faithful and good, full of love and compassion. If the Lord keeps us put in one place, let us be faithful in the staying. If he calls us to move, let us be faithful in the going. In seasons of peace and seasons of pain, in times of tranquility and times of testing, let faithfulness be our constant response. And may the Lord use whatever we face to grow us in maturity, that he may be honored and that others may be better served.


Photo by John Salzarulo on Unsplash

I’m not certain, but I think the title and some of the ideas I explore in this post may stem from something C. S. Lewis wrote. I don’t mean to steal anything from him, so I want to state clearly that, while I can’t trace the thoughts directly right now, I seem to recall him dealing with this topic or with something similar to it.