Saturday, March 26, 2011

Overnight Success

Have you ever wished to wake up in someone else's life?  Have you ever been so bogged down with trying to do the right thing over and over again only to wind up doing everything all wrong?  Have you purposed to live your life for God, but don't see Him moving or changing anything?  "Well, this God stuff just isn't for me," you quickly decide after a month of "trying it out."  You've seen turtles move faster.  Well, I'm inspired because someone I love and for whom I care very much has recently offered her life to God.  Beaten down by life and her own bad decisions, she was finally in a position of having nowhere else to turn. "God, I surrender to Your will," is what I imagine she said as tears streamed down her cheeks.  At last, the barriers came down and God started to move, but in our pain we want instant change and a speedy new life, gift-wrapped and all.  Basically, we want an overnight success that just doesn't come with our new, budding relationship with God.
Not too long ago I heard a pastor, whose name I don't now recall, describe our entrance into a relationship with God.  Here's what happens: we get God, the Almighty Creator of the universe and everything in it.  We get a personal and intimate relationship with the great "I Am," who lovingly and unconditionally takes us as we are even though we may have spent the better part of our life cursing His name, violating His commands, and doing everything that is utterly heartbreaking to His very nature.  He is perfect on a level we aren't even worthy of comprehending and yet He takes us in and immediately begins to heal us of whatever it is that finally brought us before Him.  Now, let's look at what He gets:  broken down, ragged and miserable beings who only asked Him for help as a last resort, not even really believing in Him until there was nothing left to believe in. God gets the strung out drug addict who calls out to Him in a desperate plea to have his life spared by the dealers hunting him down.  It's not even God he wants at the time; he just wants to find a way out of his self-created mess.  God gets the thief who begs an unfamiliar God above to deliver him out of the mess he's in as he's carried away in the police car.  God gets the man who beats his wife as he cries out to God to help him not hurt her anymore.  God gets the woman who cheats on her husband as she silently begs Him to give her the strength to not see him again.  God gets the girl who turns to a life of prostitution and drugs before she finally turns to Him.  God gets the soccer mom who projects perfection to family and friends but thinks about suicide every night before bed as she cries out one desperate time for His help if He's there. 

When you think about the exchange as we enter into a relationship with God, it's clear who is getting the better package.  We get saved by a perfect, holy, and loving God while He gets our broken messes and torn apart lives after we turn to Him out of desperation.  We don't even seek Him first; instead He's our absolute last choice after we've exhausted every other possibility for redemption and help.  "God, I give up.  I can't do this on my own anymore.  If you're there, can you please help me?" might be something we say.  Without a moment's hesitation, He's there and ready to wrap us in His loving arms.   The problem people have at the beginning of this relationship is completely related to a lack of understanding and knowledge, but also time.  Even though we didn't turn to Him until nothing and no one could offer anymore assistance, we still expect God, whom we only sought as a last resort,  to do an overnight transformation in our lives.  How arrogant we are!  People have a hard time grasping that entrance into a relationship with God is entrance into a lifelong journey and process.  "I just don't understand why nothing is happening," are the trembling words I heard recently from the person I mentioned earlier.  "Oh, but something is happening!" I told her in the most comforting voice I could find.  But I remember.....  I remember what it's like to be where she is --at the beginning, and there are times when no words, even the most comforting, can help. 

Some people walk with God from the time they're able to speak until the time they die.  Pastors (not all, but some) often know God has called them into service to Him at an early age.  No life shattering event had to take place for them to seek God; they just grew up knowing He was there and who He was.  Then there's the group of troubled men, women, teens, and children who seek God because of something traumatic that happened and they need Him to cope.  For those individuals, the walk with God is different.  Whatever behaviors put a person in a situation where they seek God are the very behaviors God has to then take out from the person's spirit as He replaces that broken spirit with His own.  I think most would agree that behaviors are often learned over time.  Well, just as we learn bad behaviors over time, we have to unlearn them over another period of time. 

I remember when I came into a relationship with God.  I drank all the time, smoked heavily, and suffered from severe anxiety attacks that became almost crippling.  Desperate for freedom from the anxiety, fear, and panic that kept me from living a normal life, I drank and smoked as a distraction and numbing agent to the pain I was in.  Sick of it all, I cried out to God for help.  God immediately started working, but it was over the course of three years before I actually saw change in my life.  At first it came in small spoonfuls and then it grew into cups from which I could actually drink.  Finally, I was eating off of a plate - and it was chocolate cake! Things were starting to look up, but not without serious and painful sacrifice on my own part.  God led me, but I had to choose to follow, and it often hurt.  The point is - when we enter into a relationship with God, it often hurts more before it doesn't, but at the same time I know this is something new believers have to learn on their own.  If someone had told me all of this in 2007, I don't know how I would have reacted.  Would I have been grateful?  Would it have irritated me?  I don't know.  I didn't really have anyone I knew personally to lead me through things, so I turned to televised pastors.  God equipped me with exactly what I needed for my own walk with Him, but it wasn't overnight success.  I had to painfully unlearn so many things and choose to do things in an almost foreign way - God's way.  I've never before walked such a difficult but rewarding path. 

Though my inspiration today comes from the pain I'm witnessing from someone else's newly begun journey, the sentiments apply to anyone else who has been where I describe.  It's discouraging at times when we don't see the change we so desperately want to see, but if the changes were that easy to implement, wouldn't we have done them on our own already?  God takes us at a deliberately slow pace through the changes we need to make-- not to punish us, but to teach us.  Overnight success wouldn't benefit anyone and although we desperately want it when we're hurting, God knows we would abandon Him if He gave it to us.  Though the journey to deliverance is often long and painful, I encourage all of you to take that journey with God. 

Forget overnight success!  Go with God through the journey and let yourself be changed by Him!

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