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[im]perfect Timing

[Yesterday at Cross Point, Justin Davis delivered a very moving and powerful message about the parable of the mustard seed, the yeast and God's timing that strongly echoed the theme of a piece I wrote over 5 years ago, which I want to share with you here today. I don't know exactly what God is saying right now, but it sounds something like, "I know what it looks like, but I'm not finished."  Be encouraged.]

I watched the sun come up this past Saturday morning. Somewhere around 3:30 or 4 a.m., I picked up the book I had been reading, Fresh Faith by Jim Cymbala, and began reading at the top of chapter 7, “Faith Runs on a Different Clock.” I got four pages into this chapter and was really struck by the way that Pastor Cymbala told the story of the birth of John, as told in Luke 1. Basically, he was bringing the reader to focus on the truth that many times God works on a much different time table than we do and that our challenge as people of faith is to not throw away our confidence in the meantime, bearing in mind that it will be richly rewarded (Hebrews 10:35).

One particular line that stuck with me was:

“Many of our struggles about faith have to do with timing. We believe, at least in theory, that God will keep His promises—but when?”

He approached the foretelling of the birth of John the Baptist in such a unique way that I soon found myself reaching for my Bible to read this account more indepth for myself. After reading the account detailed in Luke 1:1-23, I was immediately struck by several things.

First, in verse 6 we are told, “Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations.” So, we would assume that surely God honored their faithfulness by blessing them with a full and fruitful life. However, verse 7 says,

“They had no children because Elizabeth was barren, and now they were both very old.”

For many generations, it had been prophesied that the messiah would be born of a woman, so every woman in the lineage of David had a hope and an expectation that her baby just might be “the one.” Being barren in those days meant that you were disqualified from even being a candidate. Barrenness carried with it disgrace, reproach and a deep sense of rejection and exclusion. So, before we go any further, when you put verses 6 and 7 side by side, you can’t help but see that in spite of the disappointment and disgrace that this couple experienced (Luke 1:25), they were still faithful, obedient and righteous in the eyes of the Lord. That’s saying a lot right there.

It’s not just that they were disappointed in general, but verse 7 tells us that “now they were both very old,” so they had been disappointed for a long time. We aren’t told exactly how old they were, but I believe the fact that the Bible makes it a point to say that they were “very old” is significant.  In fact, it is likely that they had grown so accustomed to their situation that they figured that it wasn’t going to change. But verse 8 says,

“One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple …”

Isn’t that something?

Disgraced but faithful
Disappointed but not distracted
Unfulfilled but undaunted

While Zechariah was serving on this day, “an angel of the Lord appeared, standing to the right of the incense altar” (v. 11). “The angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! For God has heard your prayer, and your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son! You are to name him John’” (v. 13). This is incredible to me, especially in the context of what we read in verses 6-8, seeing that Zechariah was faithful to serve, with an unrealized hope and unfulfilled dream tucked away in his heart. He may have even forgotten about his prayer, but God didn’t.

When you look at the scope of the series of events that preceded and eventually led to the birth of Jesus Himself, we see that the delay in the answer to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s prayer was not really even about them at all. It was all about God’s timing. It couldn’t have happened any earlier. It had to happen how it did and when it did, in order for the prophecy to be fulfilled and John to be the forerunner to Christ Himself (v. 17). The story is encouraging and redemptive on its own, but still pales in comparison to the small part it played in the larger story of the birth of Jesus and how the world would never be the same as a result.

Reading this story, I was forced to ask myself the hard question: “Can I still serve, be faithful and trust God even when I don’t get what I think I should have when I think I should have it?” Even harder, “Am I willing to accept the possibility that the time I am spending in wait might not even be about me?”

We are so spoiled today. When we don’t get the job, the car, the promotion, the house, the spouse or even the pair of shoes that we want, we have the audacity to lose hope and let our confidence that God is working on our behalf. This selfishness is magnified even more when we look at the time lines, unrealistic expectations and demands we put on our faith. When thinking of the things that we give value to and the relatively short time restraints we put on God “coming through” for us, we can quickly see how our attitude and impatience paint a vivid picture of a shallow faith that is often built around our entitlement and on having what we want when we want it.

How long have you been waiting?

Zechariah and Elizabeth waited a really long time, but they were still faithful and trusted in the Lord. I pray that I can develop that same kind of focus and tenacity to remain faithful, hopeful and trusting even in the face of an unrealized hope or desire.

God has not forgotten you, but faith runs on a different clock. Don’t lose heart, but in between the asking and the fulfillment, keep serving. Stay faithful. Be obedient. Unplug your clock and trust in the perfect timing of the Lord. Back up from your situation and begin to ask God for a view of the bigger picture and how the hope in your heart today fits into the greater story that will play out tomorrow.

 

Moving Forward

Over the past few months since I started blogging again, I think I’ve been pretty open and transparent about my story and this season in particular.  From sharing my story publicly for the for the first time, talking very frankly about coming face to face with my pride and entitlement while embracing this next chapter of life, to discussing the condition of my heart that led me to this point… I’ve pretty much put it out there. Each post has been increasingly difficult to write, largely because I’m still walking it out.  My story has not yet resolved and I still grapple with what that looks like every single day.

I’ll be writing more about this concept very soon, but it all comes down to this… my heart needed a detox.  I had become intoxicated with career, high on image, and sick with success.  As I’ve shared before, once I became aware of the condition of my heart, I very quickly wanted absolutely nothing to do with my career in the music industry.  I wanted out as quick as possible, and out I got.

I do want to be clear about one thing: while every industry struggles with its own varying degrees of dysfunction, the place I ended up had very little to do with the industry I worked in and everything to do with what I looked to it for.  The industry didn’t wear my heart out.  I wore my own heart out by leaning into my career and work in the industry, looking for it to define and give me worth and identity… something it is ultimately ill-equipped to do.

For most of the past 6 months, the very thought of going back into the music business has almost given me anxiety. I was afraid of it. I wasn’t afraid of the “big, bad industry”, but rather of the “big, bad me” who I became in trying to find who I was in the context of the industry. I was afraid of becoming “that guy” again.

After recently sharing this with some close friends, I was challenged to understand that my reluctance to even consider reentering the industry was entirely a fear-based decision.  I realized that if I choose to live out of a fear-based approach to life, that is actually unbelief in the work God is doing in my heart. My fear to move forward in my career was based on leaning on my own ability to not become “that guy” again, rather than leaning on God’s strength and power to mold and shape my heart daily.  My decision and reluctance may appear noble, but it is nothing but reliance on self instead of the work of the cross in my life. That was a pretty sobering realization.

In his book, Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller uses the context of human love to paint a striking picture of the way idolatry deceives our hearts:

If you are so afraid of love that you cannot have it, you are just as enslaved as those who must have it. If you are too afraid of love or too enamored with it, it has assumed God-like power, distorting your perceptions in your life.

Dang.

That’s real talk. While Keller may have been talking about human love, the same principle was certainly at work in my life as I went from being too enamored to being afraid in a matter of days.  Thinking that walking away was enough, I failed to see that living in fear of something is just as controlling and idolatrous as living in adulation of it.

I suppose the best way to sum up where I am right now is to say that after months of wondering what was next for me, running from the “monster”, trying to get jobs in anything BUT the music world, my heart has finally turned a pretty significant page.

I’m not afraid anymore.

So now you may be asking, what does that mean, exactly?

It means I have finally found a place of peace with regard to what my heart thought it had to have and what it then was terrified to have.
It means whether I ever have it again or not, I’m not afraid of having it.
It means I know what defines me and what doesn’t.
It means if I do ever have it again, I’m not afraid of IT having ME.
It means I am moving forward.

Does that mean I’m taking a job back in the music world?  I don’t know.  At this moment there aren’t any jobs on the table to talk about.  However, what it does mean is that whether I ever take another music job or not, I’m no longer afraid of what that might mean if it did happen.

If I believe 1 John 4:8

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

… and if I believe Hebrews 12:6

“The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”

… then I have to believe that God allowed the bottom to fall out of my world because He loves me and wants to realign and awaken my heart to who He is.

In his book, Plan B, Pete Wilson says:

God will allow suffering, pain and crisis in order to detach hope from other things and attach it to himself.

That is 100% what has been happening in my life. Does that mean the struggle is over? Absolutely not. But it does mean I am more equipped to navigate the murky waters of my heart every single day that I wake up.

I’ve loved this song for a long time, but it has recently taken on even greater meaning in my life…

Israel Houghton - Moving Forward
You make all things new, and I will follow You forward…

Is there something in your life you need to move forward past?


 

He Is Jealous For Me – Guest Post At LindseyNobles.com

My friend Lindsey Nobles is in the middle of a series on her blog called “How He Loves”, inspired by John Mark McMillan‘s epic worship song of the same name.  She asked several folks to write around the central topic of how we are each beautifully, uniquely and often messily (if that’s even a word) loved and pursued by God.

Lindsey invited me to contribute and I’m honored to have the opportunity to add my voice to those of Tam Hodge, Sarah Markley, Justin Davis, Bianca Juarez, Trisha Davis and Alece Ronzino in discussing our various takes on the passionate, incomprehensible and irrepressible love God has for us.

For my guest post on Lindsey’s blog, titled “He Is Jealous For Me”, I decided to drill down a little deeper into my personal story than I have before publicly.  I first had the opportunity to really share my story on Justin & Tricia’s blog a few months ago, and have since taken it a few steps further like here, here and here.

It is my belief that our stories are not just for ourselves, but also for those whose lives crash and bleed into ours in beautifully unexpected ways.  I hope that something I share from my own story will encourage, challenge and remind you of the God who relentlessly pursues your heart.

Thank you, Lindsey, for inviting me to be part of the great thing God is doing with your blog through this series.

“He sees the way your heart flutters when it catches the gaze of the latest would-be suitor who speaks eloquently of security and promises hope; and He sees you lying broken on the floor in a pool of disillusionment, as once again, disappointed, dejected and detached, you struggle to pry your heart away from another broken promise and unfulfilled dream that you foolishly tried to replace Him with.  He sees it all… and yet He waits… and loves in spite of your whorish heart’s attempts to attach hope to something it can see.” (excerpt from He Is Jealous For Me)

READ MY GUEST POST: He Is Jealous For Me


 

The Strength Of My Heart

**At Cross Point, we just started a new series called “Be Rich” and Pete Wilson’s message yesterday, “Who’s Rich”, really struck a chord with me, convicted me on several levels and brought to mind this blog I wrote over 3 months ago when I first started blogging again.  So, for all you Cross Pointer’s, this may be especially timely. For everyone else, I’m sure there’s something here for you too.
“I’ve got faith in the bank and money in my heart” (Derek Webb, lyrics from “I Want A Broken Heart”)

This particular season of my life I’m walking through has been full of all kinds of challenges and opportunities to choose to walk by faith, not by what I see.  One such opportunity is in the area of finances.

The details aren’t important, but suffice it to say that this has been a real stretching period for me.  Recently, I received a couple checks that I was not expecting at that time.  It was a huge blessing, to say the least.  The money came just in time and I was able to take care of some things that I needed to.  I was able to briefly exhale a little bit, and it felt good.

Later that same day, it dawned on me that not only was I feeling pretty good about receiving this money, but I was actually feeling a bit too good about it.  In fact, it occurred to me that getting this money had actually affected my heart response to this season I’m walking through. Yes, I was thankful to God for providing what I needed, but I quickly realized that the response in my emotions was not because I knew Christ was the unequivocal anchoring hope for my heart, but it was because of this little bit of money.

In a flash, I had allowed my heart to find strength in a few dollars. I felt so convicted. This ‘idol heart’ thing is no joke.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire beside you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  Psalm 73:25-26

I have been working on being very intentional about focusing on Psalm 73:25-26 and reminding myself that God is the strength of my heart, not any amount of money.  It is dangerous to lean into anything other than Christ for any degree of hope, security or identity.

I’ve been meditating on God being more than just Jehovah-Jireh my provider, but Jesus the Christ, my provision.  He is more than my rent-payer, my grocery-buyer or the solution to any problem that can be solved with a Paypal transaction.  He is the ultimate, eternal provision for a debt that no American Express Black card could pay… a life separated from Him by sin.  More than I need my electric bill paid, I need a savior, a redeemer for my soul.  If He alone does not anchor my heart, I’m in trouble.

My soul finds rest in God alone: my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock…I will never be shaken. Psalm 62:1

Anything else that my heart finds hope or strength in is an impostor, a counterfeit god that needs to be evicted.  God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Truth is, I can get, earn, save, and invest all I want, but I’ll never squeeze an ounce of peace out of it. (totally swiped that from Pete’s blog)

In his message yesterday, Pete Wilson asked us to consider this question:

“Which of these statements creates the most anxiety for you: There is no God or there is no money in the bank?

Wow. Selah.

Have you caught yourself finding more hope and strength in what God gives rather than who God actually is?



 

What I Thought I Wanted, What I Got Instead

After walking away from my career and spending months trying to figure out what was happening in my life, I finally got hired and started a new job 7 weeks ago.  I’m thankful to have this job, but I applied and interviewed for jobs that made MUCH more sense to me, but I did not get them.  What I have now is NOT the job I hoped for, but it is the job that hired me.  It was NOT what I wanted, but it is what I got instead.

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. (Proverbs 19:21)

The past 7 weeks have been a bit of a blur and a series of one hard lesson after another.  On almost a daily basis I come face to face with the deep-seeded entitlement that has been wedged in my heart for years.

Entitlement… It’s “what I deserve”.

Lately I’ve been trying to dig deeper into why my heart has struggled so much through all this.  The truth is, I know exactly why: deep in my heart I think I’m better, think I deserve better and think I’ve earned the right to not have to work this kind of job at this point in my life. I’ve “been there” and “done that”.  How’s that for honesty?

The idolatry of what we think we deserve is a thief, robbing us of perspective and truth in the moments God uses to deepen our lives.

There have been moments over the past few weeks when I’ve had brief glimpses of revelation and lucidity (bonus points for use of “lucidity”), but for the most part I remain clueless about where my life is headed right now.  Some days I find myself being able to embrace the uncertainty of this season better than others, and some days my heart feels like it is in an absolute free fall. There are days when my heart is full of fear, simply because it is more prone to reach for ANYTHING other than God as an anchor and source of hope and security.

The other day I was hanging out with my friend Wes, who has quickly become a close friend of mine.  I was sharing (er, venting) with him about how I felt about what all is happening right now, and I said (in frustration), “THIS just isn’t where my life is right now!” As if to say, “at THIS point in my life I should have THIS job with THIS income, THIS life…”  Wes’ reply? “But Grant, this IS where your life is right now.”

……….

Reality check.

He was right. Regardless of how I feel about where I should or shouldn’t be at this point in my life, and regardless of the expectations I have formed in my own heart about where I feel I’m entitled to be at this point, you know what?  This is exactly where my life is right now, and being frustrated, stubborn and ungrateful isn’t going to change that.

I am learning that my entitlement makes me a slave to the expectations that exist only in my heart.

Sara Groves has a song called “What I Thought I Wanted” that beautifully underscores the heart of Proverbs 19:21.

Sara Groves - What I Thought I Wanted

I love the lyric where she says:

When I get to heaven I’m gonna go find Job
I want to ask a few hard questions, I want to know what he knows
About what it is he wanted and what he got instead
How to be broken and faithful

I am learning A LOT about my heart right now. I am learning things about myself that I don’t know if I would have ever learned had the bottom not fallen out.

I thought I wanted a job… but instead I am getting character
I thought I wanted a check… but instead I am getting change
I thought I wanted my story… but instead I am getting His

I often wonder if I would have had the opportunity to see this deeply into my heart had I gotten what I wanted.  But I didn’t, and here we are. It is painful, but it is purposeful. Though the bleeding persists, I am grateful for the wound.

So, what I thought I wanted, and what I got instead leaves me broken and grateful.

Are you grateful for what you got “instead”?


 
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