Friday, April 22, 2011

Lose Everything to Gain Everything

This morning I sat down to eat breakfast, and the TV was on. One of the first things I saw was a noisy advert for an Easter Sale. It interrupted my calm morning, and reminded me that even over Easter nothing shuts down.

We can't bear to go without anything for even a few days. It made me wonder, What would we do if the whole country shut down for the whole five days? (ANZAC day is the extra day for non-Australian readers.) It made think that we would probably rely a lot more on each other - run out of something, maybe we would have to go talk to a neighbour, or pool our resources with a group of friends. We would probably focus more on people, on our family and friends, rather than running off to a "Once In A Lifetime SALE" that happens every other month anyway.

If we stripped away everything we normally rely on to keep us safe, and fed and entertained, what would we turn to?

I know the answer is God.

In the Western world I think it is harder for us to really get the concept of fully relying on God. Because we don't need to. We are prosperous and secure and so take it for granted that is actually God that gives us all that. What will it take to remind us that God is everything - that at the end of the day he is all we have, and all we need?

I think we may have seen a bit of what it takes. Far from just a short shut down on a public holiday, all over the world people are experiencing events that strip them of their usual lives, their possessions, the things they normally rely on. In floods and earth quakes and tsunamis, all our control is taken away.

I don't think God is causing these things to happen, as some sort of punishment. But it's an idea that we struggle with - Why does God let bad things happen?

I don't have the answer to that, but I do know that God works all things together for good. If out of this even a few people rediscover the God that supplies all their needs, then there is good. What is it that really matters? Our earthly temporary lives and comfort, or our eternal lives with God?

We don't need to "mourn like those who have no hope". (1 Thessalonians 4:13) We have eternity - anything else means very little in comparison. And truthfully, a lot of us will find this Easter that our greatest hardship is worrying that we will run out of milk and the shops won't be open.

Don't wait for a natural disaster to strip you of everything, to realise the EVERYTHING that you really need.

"If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it." Matthew 16:25

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lessons Learned from Flat Pack Furniture

We've just got the keys to our newly built house, and so several weekends I can foresee are going to be dedicated to setting up the home and putting together furniture.

I'm not the handiest of women - when I was in school my Tech teacher ended up making most of my projects for me. So when faced with a floor full of pieces and bits and doodads from a box of flat pack furniture, my initial reaction is to feel a bit overwhelmed.

When it's all laid out like that, it seems like you can't possibly imagine ever being able to put it all together into something resembling furniture.

But the funny thing was, as I went through the instructions step by step, I realised it was all there for me. The bits were designed to go together. The instructions we ordered in a way that showed me when and where to put things.

And as I got near the end, and had an almost complete, and reasonably sturdy piece of furniture in front of me, I had a thought.

Maybe this is why God never seems to show us his whole plan. We always want him to. We always ask him "Just show me where this is all going, what is happening, what's coming up!" And we are often frustrated by what seems like a lack of answers. He might show us a glimpse of the goal we're aiming for, and he's given us the ultimate picture of heaven & eternity. But he doesn't always show us all the pieces and all the parts of that plan that have yet to be put into place before we get to that final picture. Most often we find he only shows us the next step when it's ready to be put in place.

It's frustrating to us, but we've got to assume God knows what he's doing. Maybe he's not just being mean and secretive - maybe he's giving us as much as we need, and what he knows we can handle and what he knows will be right for us at that time.

Perhaps he knows that if we saw the whole plan laid out on the floor, we would be frozen in the face of something so complex we wouldn't know what to do with it. God's plan for our lives, for the world, has so many pieces and parts that need to go together, to be put into place at exactly the right time. If he showed it all to us at once, we'd be overwhelmed. His plan is far more intricate and complex than any piece of flat pack furniture.

It's like making the furniture when you're in the middle of the steps. "I know this will eventually be a cabinet, and I think this part I'm working on now will be a drawer." If we focus on that, and just pick up the next piece that we need it seems achieveable. But if we look around at all the pieces still lying there, all the things that we still ahve no idea what they are or what they're for, or where they might go, it all seems like such a giant task again.

Imagine the distance between my (zero) understanding of carpentry compared to a carpenter who has been making furniture all his life. Then times that by about a million, and I still don't think we come close to comparing my understanding of life to God's understanding!

"My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,' says the Lord. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9
Fortunately for us though, even though there are so many pieces and the timing has to be just right - our part is actually simple. We take the parts God has put in our hands right now, and we put them where he shows us they need to go. We don't actually have to be in control of all the pieces, or the timing of things. All we actually need to be responsible for is keeping our focus on the Master Builder, who we can trust to show us the right steps at the right time.

Even when we mess up, he still provides. When I was making the chest of drawers I put the wrong pieces in at an early stage, then realised I was short two pieces later on when it was too late to get those pieces out again. But then I realised when I made an earlier piece of furniture, there had been a couple of bits too many, so I kept the spares. They were just the pieces I needed.

God does that for us in life. When we make mistakes because we looked away from his instructions or his plan, or tried to do it our own way - and then ultimately realise we've stuffed up - even though it may have been our own fault, he always provides. He always gives us a way back. Even our biggest mistakes are no match for an awesome God.

"I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please." Isaiah 46:9-10

If you are looking at your life now and it feels like the contents of flat pack furniture laid out on the floor, or if you are trying to see into the furture and wondering where everything is going -  rather than feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, take another look. Take a look at what it is God is placing in your hands right now, and ask him to show you where to place that piece.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11