Chasing God - An Enthusiastic Book Suggestion

I'm not even finished with this book, yet I feel an overwhelming need to recommend it to anyone and everyone I know. I just finished chapter six, which is concerning the Lord's Prayer. 

Angie (we're on a first name basis now...j/k...I wish) had me from the beginning of the book. In the introduction she says,

It’s beautiful in concept: we seek after that which eludes us, longing for something just out of reach. Anticipation builds as our hearts beat faster, wondering if we are about to turn the final corner and catch the object of our affection. Our minds are wild with possibility and we’re intoxicated by the sense of adventure. Before we know it, we’ve forgotten the objective because we’re caught up in the thrill of wondering. Either that, or we simply give up and forego the chase altogether because we’re exhausted and discouraged. It can only end in one of two ways: either we catch up or we give up.
— Chasing God, pg. 2

I was hooked. I felt like she was reading my journal.

It's taken me a bit to read it...with starting a new job and everything...but I also just don't want it to end. I'll read a few pages at a time, and then go back and read the chapter in its entirety. I honestly feel like with each turn of the page, this woman is putting into words all of the random thoughts that I fail to organize in my head.

That feeling has led me to believe that the things that I internalize and struggle with secretly are actually things that women (and men) struggle with consistently. 

What I wanted to share with you today is what Angie says about a saying that I have despised for many many years. Even before I really became a believer, I couldn't stand it. I guess God gave me grace to discern fiction, even before I surrendered my heart to Him. 

I've never written about this time in my life on the blog before...and I may never do so. But today, I'll very vaguely allude to it. When I was in college, my family went through an insanely difficult time. The Lord carried us through, and ultimately, that is what led me to Him, so I'm thankful for it. But, the occurrences of those few years were very public, and there were many dark days when we, as a family, longed to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I remember hearing the words, "God will never give you more than you can handle," so many times over those few years. It made me want to scream. I know deep down that the folks that offered those words were trying to be encouraging, but even as a nonbeliever, I know that it wasn't truth. This WAS more than I could handle. I couldn't handle it. I was spent. So was my family. It was more than humanly possible to handle. But held fast to the truth that God is sovereign over all things. He is/was/always will be in control of all circumstances...even when we feel like we're crumbling.

I've never been able to put my finger exactly one why that saying upset me so much. I remember snapping at friends sometimes when they would say that. Through my gritted teeth, I was able to conjure up a somewhat chipper, "Yes, He does give us more than we can handle. It's so we learn how to rely on Him," but even that explanation never seemed to do my distaste for that saying any justice.

Then, I read chapter six.

I apologize for how long this is. I'm basically giving you an excerpt of the book.

And here is where we land on one of the most often misquoted verses in all of Scripture. You and I have both heard it dozens of times, and maybe you’ve believed it yourself, but let’s just set the record straight. Are you ready? See if this sounds familiar: God will never give you more than you can handle. It’s one of those phrases people pass around like an appetizer dish, nodding and inviting you to partake of the sentiment, and nobody dares to say it looks a little undercooked. Listen. It’s not only going to taste bad, it’s dangerous. Stay away from the raw dish!!! Here’s the deal, friends. That little phrase is not in the Bible. It’s not a promise to hold onto or a reminder from the Lord for when we’re up to our necks in difficulty. In fact, it’s preposterous at best. So despite the fact that we’ve heard it as many times as other actual Bible verses, it’s just simply not truth.So, I guess you could say I disagree. And you might also say I can be ever-so-opinionated. Which my parents and my husband would adamantly deny. And then they would hand the Halloween candy back to me and life would continue peacefully in the wake of their grave error. Anyway. Come along with me for a moment as we head over to the text on which this often repeated statement seems to be based and see what it really says. “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able , but with the temptation will provide a way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10: 13). It’s not talking about what you can “handle.” Because quite frankly , everything in life is more than you can handle. Which is why you need Him. Are you still there? Okay, listen. It looks like it’s bad news, but really it’s not. And I wouldn’t harp on a silly phrase unless I really felt like there was a good reason to have right-thinking, because your view of God is skewed in seeing the text any other way than what was actually intended. He never gives you more than you can handle . . . Which seems to say that if we have a lot going on, we must be pretty strong, right? No! NO! NO! NOOOOO!! RAW DISH ALERT!! You don’t endure pain or hardship because you’re stronger than the rest of the pack. You don’t assume that God has given you a better grip on life because everything seems to be falling apart. God never says He won’t give you more than you can handle. If you want to get technical about it, He actually says your life is going to have some rough patches. Like in John 16 when we are told that in this world we will have “tribulation.” Not “maybe,” but “surely.” And not just trouble, but tribulation. (Happy book, happy book, happy book . . .) He’s pretty up-front about telling us that things are not going to be easy and He should know. He walked all the same roads. I don’t mean to sound harsh here, because I don’t believe the phrase was ever uttered to me in anything but encouragement, but it’s just so inaccurate. I was carrying a baby that wouldn’t survive outside the womb and every day I had to face a new struggle as I dealt with the reality of loss. I chose a casket, a burial plot, a gown for her to wear when she was laid to rest. Every step was a heartbreaking battle, and when well-meaning people insisted I must be strong to have been chosen to carry such a burden, it made me sad that they felt this was true of the Lord. The idea that someone would be faced with trial after trial because God believed they could handle it is depressing. Friend, hear me. Please. The notion that our Abba Father would dispense injury based on our ability to “carry it” is injurious to our relationship with Him and casts light wrongly on our human capacity instead of His generous dispensation of grace. Go back. Read that last paragraph one more time like you have never considered it before. Because I believe that it is responsible for a good amount of our perception of God and it rests on boundary lines we have sketched in for ourselves. This isn’t biblical. Do not believe for one moment that the good and bad that happen to you is in equal proportion to how much you can handle without cracking. Because if we could do such a magnificent job of managing things, the sacrifice of Jesus would have been unnecessary. And I’m pretty sure that’s not the angle we want to go with here. Due to the fact that I actually feel the bottom of my feet sweating, I sense you may be able to pick up on my passion about this topic. We are weak. We are dependent. We can’t do anything on our own, and we aren’t rewarded for our human efforts by another heaping pile of pain. It’s not His economy, and I for one am (obviously) grateful. So, to summarize, yes. He actually gives us way more than we can handle in every moment of every day. But He also gives us Himself, which allows us to carry it at all. I think we’ve got that part covered, so what is the Scripture actually saying about how we handle what we face? And how does that translate into our prayer lives? What the Scripture does say is that He won’t put you in a situation where you have no choice but to sin. He will never back you into a corner where you can’t do the right thing. It isn’t a matter of not giving us more than we can handle, but rather a reminder that God cannot make us sin. For a long time I didn’t understand the difference between “testing” and “tempting.” I heard people say God didn’t tempt people but He did test them and I felt like the difference between the words was probably negligible. I can tell you some amazing theologians to read if you want to dig into the depths of this topic— I’m not the one to do that. So I will give you my personal and practical understanding of the difference and you can either nod your head or send me nasty e-mails about how I have misrepresented the God of the universe in my ignorant thinking. Totally your call. In order for me to reconcile the idea of a kind and gracious God putting His children in the face of potential sin, I needn’t look further than the question that spurred me to write this book. What is the motivation? Is He doing it because He wants to dangle a chocolate bar in front of a woman on a strict diet and then laugh as she caves in just like He knew she would? Shake your head. (The answer is no. I promise. I totally saw the answer key.) Or . . . is it that He knows she has the choice to be obedient even when it’s difficult and the glory of her obedience comes directly to Him? And we have a winner, folks. The former example presents an option that is sure to leave us weaker, while the latter reminds us that we can be strong in the face of difficult choices and become more Christlike in the process. If you live your life as someone who sees God more like the first example, I don’t blame you for being bitter. In fact, I would probably just grab the chocolate out of spite. Clearly I have a long history with sugar-related control issues. But that isn’t the case. He has given you the power to choose well, and He has given you the way out. Every time. He isn’t doing it to shame you, but rather because He wants you to be built up as you choose what is right and God-honoring. It is the heart of a Father who longs to see His children rise up and walk righteously. It’s the heart of a Father who believes they can. Here is a profound summary that I came across on the difference between tempting and testing (but written by someone smarter than me): The former word conveys the idea of appealing to the worse part of a man, with the wish that he may yield and do the wrong. The latter means an appeal to the better part of a man, with the desire that he should stand. Temptation says: “Do this pleasant thing; do not be hindered by the fact that it is wrong.” Trial, or proving, says: “Do this right and noble thing; do not be hindered by the fact that it is painful.” The one is “a sweet, beguiling melody,” breathing soft indulgence and relaxation over the soul; the other is a pealing trumpet-call to high achievements.” If you think God is a carrot-dangling, deep-cackling dictator waiting for you to slip through a trap door, you can’t possibly do anything but chase Him. It becomes a game of trying to outwit instead of resting in the love that says, “Pray for strength. I’ll provide it in enough measure to get you out of this. But you’re going to have to do your part, knowing that I’m doing Mine out of love and have given you everything you need.” The Lord’s Prayer gives us a model of repentance, praise, and petition, but more importantly it gives us a glimpse into a conversation between a Father and His Son, rooted in a love that transcends words. It’s the raising up of a voice, the lifting of a heart, and the settling of a peace that ultimately comes from recognizing He is ahead and behind and above and He knows what we need more than we ever could. Less than 70 words. I’m bordering on 6,000 just trying to explain it. Which, I suppose, is exactly the point. I’ve chased God for a long while, which means I complicate things more easily than I accept them. It was a good question, Mr. Disciple. And now Lord, please give me grace to follow Your example.
— Chasing God, pg. 128-133

She did it. She put it into words I've never been able to muster up.

I could probably go on and on, but I won't. I'll spare you. 

But let me just say one thing: I am thankful for the ministry of Angie Smith. This book has been so encouraging to me over the last few weeks. She just says things how they are, and it leaves me laughing, crying, and just in awe of our Maker.

So go buy her book. You won't regret it, I promise.

Chasing God


Also, make sure to enter my very first blog GIVEAWAY! You can either scroll down to yesterday's blog, or just click here to enter.

 

Posted on April 15, 2014 .