It Doesn't Matter How Things Seem

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A few days ago, Jason and I were tracking a storm via two different weather apps on our phones.  Our goal was to find a window of opportunity to take Barnabas out for a short hike without getting caught in a storm.  Both apps were giving us the same information:  a storm was brewing and would be passing through within a half hour or so.  A single glance out the window caused me to believe the reports.  It was dark and ominous looking.  Yup, I had no trouble accepting a storm was on its way, and from the looks of things, the downpour would hit soon.

Then, the strangest thing happened.  Within five minutes or so, the clouds dispersed, and the sun shone brightly in the sky.  Well, so much for that.  We rechecked the weather apps, but their forecast remained the same.  I looked out the window again at the clearing sky and squinted against the bright sunlight, convinced the weather forecast was—once again—way off base.

Suddenly, I heard a noise and glanced out the window again.  It was pouring.  The sun was still shining, but rain fell in buckets.  I stood with mouth agape wondering if I was imagining the kooky weather, but I wasn’t.  First, it looked like it was going to rain but didn’t.  Then, it looked like it wasn’t going to rain, and it did.  Sounds a bit like life, doesn’t it?

Often, the things that look good aren’t, and vice versa.  The job that seemed like a dream turned out to be a nightmare.  That perfect someone wasn’t so perfect after all.  The vacation we looked forward to for months came and went, and we feel less relaxed than we did before we left.  The diet that promised amazing results made you crazy for weeks, and in the end, you felt worse and had gained weight.  What’s up with that?

The psalmist David could relate.  In Psalm 40, he pours his heart out to God about the troubles he’s facing.  He begins the psalm in enthusiastic praise to God, but as disappointment surges forth, his prayer takes a different turn, and we see how David thought things would be different for him.

I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart. I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained my lips, O Lord, thou knowest. I have not hid thy righteousness within my heart; I have declared thy faithfulness and thy salvation: I have not concealed thy lovingkindness and thy truth from the great congregation. Withhold not thou thy tender mercies from me, O Lord: let thy lovingkindness and thy truth continually preserve me.
— Psalm 40:8-11

David gives an account of all the things he’s done right.  “I’ve done your will.  Your law is in my heart.  I’ve preached to others about you.  I’ve not kept your works to myself, but I’ve declared your love and goodness to others.  I’ve done all these things for you, Lord, so why are you punishing me?  Why are you withholding your mercy from me?  Don’t I deserve better?  I don’t get it.”

Preach it, brother David!  I feel your pain.  When we’ve done the right things and expect the “right” results, and things fall through, it’s easy to get discouraged and confused.  Things seem like they should go a certain way, but seldom do they ever go the way we think they should.  And that gets frustrating!  To us, dark clouds mean rain and the presence of the sun signifies the absence of rain, but God sees things differently.  After all, He created the sun, the rain, and all of creation, so He controls them.  He can do whatever He wants, just as He can in our lives.

I’ll admit, sometimes it seems wrong—cruel even, but that’s when we have to remember that it doesn’t matter how things look or seem.  It’s the truth that matters, and unless we learn to cling to that truth in life, we’ll forever be disappointed.  This is a lesson I’m learning firsthand, and let me tell you, it isn’t easy.  But through it all, I believe God is increasing my faith and teaching me to believe beyond what these eyes can see and this mind can comprehend.  And that means I’m becoming more like Him.  For that, I’m incredibly grateful God doesn’t work things out the way that makes sense to me.

A Penny for Your Thoughts

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I glean devotion ideas from many different places.  Some days, God impresses a topic on me from my quiet time with Him or some everyday event I witness.  Other times, the thoughts seem to come to me out of nowhere.  And, I must confess, I sometimes "borrow" ideas from preachers, speakers, fellow authors, etc.  Today's devotion is one of the borrowed kind.

Our story begins with a man named Naaman.  His entire life and character can be summed up in the first verse of II Kings 5.

Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper.
— II Kings 5:1

Captain of the host.  Great man.  Honorable.  A deliverer.  A mighty man of valor.  A leper.  He sounded pretty good until that last label, huh?  But the fact is, though Naaman was a great and mighty man, he had an even greater problem.  His body was wracked with leprosy, and there wasn't a thing he could do about it.  Leprosy had no cure.

To save time, I'll walk you through the next little bit of his story.  An Israelite maid in Naaman's household spoke up and said she knew of a prophet in Israel who could undoubtedly heal her master.  When Naaman heard the news, he contacted the king of Syria, who wrote a letter to the king of Israel and asked that he heal Naaman.

The king of Israel was confused and a bit irate about this letter.  He had no power to heal someone, but if he refused, would it be considered an act of war?  Distraught, he rent his clothes and threw a tantrum.  Somehow, the prophet Elisha (the one of whom the little maid spoke) heard what was going on and sent a message to the king of Israel saying, "Don't be upset.  Just send the fellow this way, and then all will know that there is a God in Israel."  So, the king sent Naaman to visit Elijah.

When he arrived at the prophet's door, he knocked and was greeted by Elisha's servant who said, "My master told me to tell you that if you go dip yourself in the Jordan River seven times, you'll be healed of your leprosy."  Naaman's response?

But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage.
— II Kings 5:11-12

Naaman was a mighty and honorable man.  The problem was, he knew it.  He thought much of himself, and we can see that by his response.  As important as he was, Elisha had the nerve to send a mere servant out to him?  Seriously?  This was not the treatment Naaman was expecting.  Notice his first words, "Behold, I thought. . ."  Yep, he thought he deserved better.  He thought he would at least get to speak to the prophet.  He thought Elisha would have some ceremony or pomp and circumstance to heal the leprosy.  He thought things would go differently.  And when things didn't go the way he thought, he flew into a rage.

Does anyone else have sore toes right about now?  I hate to tell you, but Naaman's reaction sounds all too familiar to me.  How many times have I thought I knew the best way?  How many times have I thought my plans would work out the way I wanted?  And how many times did I pitch a fit when things didn't turn out the way I thought they would?

Why do we do that?  I think it's the same reason Naaman did:  pride.  We have this warped notion that we know best and deserve better.  Sure, we could wait on God's timing and let Him have His way, but what if He takes too long or doesn't work things out the way we want or asks us to do something we don't want to do?  In our doubt and confusion, like Naaman, we figure it would be better to take matters into our own hands.

But here's the thing.  Naaman didn't have a clue what to do.  The situation was out of his hands and out of his control.  His best chance of survival was to listen to the one who could do something about the problem.  But instead, he bawled up his fists and cried, "But that's not the way I want it to happen."

When I read of Naaman's harsh reaction, I can't help but think, Dude, what have you got to lose?  If he did what Elisha said and it didn't work, would he have been any worse off?  I doubt his leprosy would have worsened.  He had nothing to lose, but his pride.

I have to ask myself the same thing.  What do I have to lose?  If I trust the One who has all the answers and follow His instructions, what do I have to lose?  It's not like things are going to get worse.  But my pride gets in the way and says, "But this way would be better or quicker or easier."  It's time I told my pride, "Just sit down and shut up.  God's way is always best.  He's proven that time and time again."

I titled this devotion, "A Penny for Your Thoughts," but the truth is, sometimes our thoughts aren't even worth a penny.  We need to be very careful with our thoughts and expectations about how life should be and how God should work.  We don't know all the facts.  We don't see the entire picture.  Wouldn't we be better off trusting in the One who does?  It doesn't matter what we think.  It only matters what God knows.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
— Isaiah 55:8