When you pray do you ever ask for things you really want but know you shouldn't have? I hope I'm not alone in this.
I have found in my heart a revolution. A revolution of rebellion. And in this revolution of rebellion, a paradox. There is an old proverb that says in our hearts there is a constant battle in our hearts between two wolves: good and evil. The wolf that wins is the wolf you feed. But what if you're feeding both? What happens then? Do they continue fighting on and on forever, neither winning, neither losing just fighting on and on and never stopping? This is how the Christian life seems to be sometimes (at least for me). In my heart I find a constant battle between my own will and God's will. Yes, as I grow in grace I find myself clinging more and more to God's will and abandoning my own. But then, just as I think I have a handle on things my own will catches my attention and waves something delightful in front of me as if I'm a dog and the delightful thing is a piece of meat.
Soon, I feel like a small child, clinging to my Father whom I know is safe and will take me where He knows is best but also gazing longingly at a friend or other person trying to pull me from my Father through means of fattening foods or harmful (but exciting) endeavors. And right there, my rebel heart rears its ugly head. Do you really want God's way? Your way looks so wonderfully delicious! Does God really have your best interest in mind? What He's asking you to do seems quite selfish of Him.
My inward dialogue can be a delight to have around.
While I mull over this newfound idea of a loophole to my own way, I discover a third wolf. This wolf is on God's side, but it starts talking me through this whole thing. So, yes it is actually God, but God the Holy Spirit instead of God the Father. Do you remember the last time you tried your own way? It wasn't very helpful, was it? Your Heavenly Father truly does want what's best for you. I know that morsel looks wonderful now and sticking with God's way exclusively looks painful. But what you have here is temporary. And you will never find true happiness away from God.
And then I bicker with the Holy Spirit, trying to negotiate like a child asking for a later bedtime. And usually in the midst of these negotiations I am reminded that sometimes God gives us things because we're begging and need a hands-on lesson about how His way is best. And then I retrace and put in the "if it be Your will" or "only if You want this in my life" clause thinking that somehow, some way this will magically make what I want part of God's plan. And then eventually, the thing is settled, I don't have what I want but my heart has a small moment of peace where it thinks of nothing but serving God completely no strings attached. And then my heart feels like rebelling again and it starts all over.
One of the hardest parts of devoting oneself fully to God is denying myself. Forgive me if I sound flippant or confuse anyone, but in some respects the unbelievers have it easy. No one to consult but themselves about major life decisions, they just "do what makes them happy." I know that is a very widespread generalization, but it is something I am seeing more and more as time goes on. No one in the unbelieving world has to deny themselves in the way that is asked of Christians daily.
If one is looking at the immediate, Christianity does not really have much going for it. We're told we can't simply do what we want, we follow this unseen God that we can't hear but are told speaks to us through a book and the Holy Spirit (whom we also can't see). All of this, so we can look forward to a reward after we die. Oh, and a good chunk of the world doubts the credibility of this whole thing.
Unbelievers? Sure they give up things for people from time to time, but in the grand scheme of things most people are going for what they want. Even in their self-denial, they do it because they want to. If one day, they decide they don't want to, they often don't. Life is very much about doing what you want. Please don't take me the wrong way - I have learned of and even studied unbelievers who do nothing but deny themselves. I am speaking in mere generalizations and do not expect every unbeliever to fit in this cookie cutter I am making.
Because of the Fall and the curse that came with it, all of us are born with rebel hearts. We are doomed from day one to spend each day fulfilling our own lusts and desires with no thought for authority or caring for others. Sin has planted rebellion in our hearts. We do not long for submission - we outrage against it! But it is in the life of the believer that we find the rebel's paradox. The heart of the believer has been imprinted with a love for an unseen, but very knowable God who sacrificed everything so we could know Him personally. And because of this love, the Christian's desire is to love, serve, and obey this amazing God who defeated sin, rebellion, and even death just for us.
And that is the paradox:
a heart born into rebellion
imprinted with love
who abhors rebellion.
Beautiful, isn't it?
Believing is what truly changes a person. Faith in God gives us the ability to come before His throne unhindered to ask for enabling grace, discerning wisdom, and endless mercy. And in this fellowship we learn to love God and hate our own rebellion. We grow in grace and knowledge of our Savior and turn to Him instead of ourselves.
But (here comes the paradox again) we were born rebellious. And when our hearts go under renovation, our hearts rebel. Like stubborn clay, we don't want to change even as we beg God to help us change. We both want and don't want to run to our Heavenly Father and do His will. Continually, our rebel heart and believing heart fight tooth and nail, begging for first place.
Spoiler alert, and hope for those of us who truly believe: the true believing heart wins.
But all too often, we like to read the beginning and skip to the end because both ends leave us with warm fuzzy feelings to forget the painful ones we're experiencing in the middle.
Real life is lived in the middle. In the valley of the shadow where evil lurks. In our hearts, where a battle is raging even now between our own rebellion and our own belief. Belief won't win unless we fight alongside it. And so often it is so hard to fight alongside belief. I want to so badly but rebellion so often looks so, so good. And that - the choosing of sides - is the real battle. Every day, I must choose a side. As I walk through the valley and live in the middle, crying out for mountaintops I must choose to believe in the God I can't see. Because those idols that find their form in people, places, and things will never, ever give me what I truly need. They will never fill me up - I will stay hungry and dry.
When my own will dangles what I want in front of me and tells me to "come and get it" I must choose my Father over myself. It is a denial that I wake up each day fighting and go to bed still fighting. Some days I win - I run to my Father and let His love fill my soul and I remember that He is there even in the valleys where I can't see past my fingertips. Other days I lose - I run to my own will and entertain thoughts of having what I want now and figuring out this life thing on my own. My will beckons and calls dangling people and paths in front of me, mocking me and challenging me to challenge God.
How silly I must look when I turn a defiant face my Father's way and demand to know why I can't have what I want. I certainly feel silly doing it. Because as much as I wish for something, I know that if I should not have it my Father is merciful enough that He will not give it to me. And my heart is humbled by that knowledge. Knowing that even when I pray specifically knowing that I may not get it in the way I want because God has something different (and better) and I am praying a paradox, God understands my breaking heart. He understands the rebel will in my heart is strong, and I cannot defeat it on my own. So when I beg for wisdom, He gives me wisdom. Over and over and over again He gives me wisdom. A discerning heart to know that He has it all figured out and I just need to trust Him. And even as my rebel heart once again protests, I can pat its proverbial head and whisper words of comfort, to bring it over to believing.
God has this one.
Just like He had the last one.
And all the others before it.
He is God, I am His child.
I know I will try to listen to you again.
I know, my rebel heart,
that this battle is not finished.
But you will never win.
When the end comes,
belief will win.
I know it hurts,
my rebel heart.
I know your own way is so appealing.
But don't you see?
You are so short-sighted.
Only looking to the immediate.
God is above all time,
He has seen it all.
Let Him take the reigns.
Let Him have this one.
And all the others.
He knows what He's doing.