Deciphering God’s Will (+ a Book Giveaway)

The Grand Paradox

In my former life as a book publicist, I got to know a man named Ken Wytsma. Ken is an author, a pastor, a husband, a father or four girls and he founded a rather large annual gathering called The Justice Conference.

One week in the cold of February, Ken and I traveled to Pittsburg, where he had some media lined up for his first book Pursuing Justice. My job was to drive us around and make sure we were on time and Ken was prepared. This is always the job of a book publicist when traveling with an author.

I am not so great at directions and was nervous to be driving around Ken Wytsma because he is kind of a big deal. Because of this, I got lost going to almost every destination we needed to get to over the course of two days. We spent more time in that rented SUV driving through mysterious roads in the snow than we did doing interviews or being indoors.

At some point Ken took over the GPS, which really hurt my publicist pride, and we started arriving at our destinations much more quickly.

Even though Pittsburg was kind of a fail logistically, it did give me an opportunity to get to know this author/pastor/conference leader man, and I’m so glad it did.

Ken truly lives out his life message: that justice is central to the gospel, and in order for us to know God’s heart, we must seek justice for all of His people.

Right before I left my publishing job last fall, I got a sneak peek at the manuscript for Ken’s new book The Grand Paradox. I read 20 pages and wanted more. The book finally released a few weeks ago, and I was not disappointed by the other 180 or so pages.

If I had to pick a favorite part about The Grand Paradox, it would be the way Ken talks about the will of God for our lives.

As a millennial, I am obsessed with God’s will for my life. As Ken points out, this type of fixation popular in current Christian culture is not helpful. Not to us as individuals and not to God’s big, overarching will for humanity.

“We all like to think God’s will for our individual lives is to write us into the story as the central character,” writes Ken (p. 82). Yep, I like to think that most days. That God is going to do HUGE things through ME.

Ken goes on: “Instead of asking what God’s will is for my life, I should be asking how I can serve God’s will with my life….God doesn’t promise that all will play the central character. What God does promise, however, is that He will love all, lead all, meet us all, and provide guidance and wisdom needed through the Holy Spirit to find, rest in, and follow His leading in our lives” (p.85).

I am incredibly guilty of trying to decipher God’s perfect will for me, my exact next steps to take. This has paralyzed me in decisions and caused great guilt and fear that I made, or will make, a wrong move. God has been gently freeing me of this mindset lately and reading Ken’s book came at the perfect time to affirm the truth that discerning God’s will does not have to be a hard and scary thing. In fact, if it feels that way, I’m probably trying to make myself the central character. I’m probably thinking that I’m a way bigger deal than I actually am.

Ken ends this chapter with a beautiful and simple thought: “What is God’s will for your life? Simple. It is that you live out His will for the world. That you bring goodness, truth, and beauty to the world. Christianity doesn’t serve me; I serve the cause of Christ.”

I’m doing something today that I’ve never done before, a giveaway! I have four copies of The Grand Paradox to give away to four lucky recipients. Leave a comment below and consider yourself entered into the drawing. On Thursday, March 12, exactly one week from today, I will collect all commenters’ names and select the four winners. I’ll then announce the winners via my Twitter and Instagram accounts. So follow @AndreaLucado and/or @AndreaLucado to find out if you won!

May the odds be ever in your favor.

When You Realize You’re the Pharisee

When You Realize You're the Pharisee

Often when I read stories in the Bible about Jesus, I consider myself one of his disciples in the story, and I consider the Pharisees my enemies. But in reading a story in Matthew recently, I realized the reverse was true.

Matthew 12 begins with Jesus and the disciples walking through some cornfields on the Sabbath. While they were walking, they picked some corn to eat because they were hungry. Some Pharisees saw this and accused them of breaking the Sabbath. Jesus stepped in and reminded them that even King David broke into the priests’ pantry and ate “sacred” bread because his soldiers were hungry.

Point being, the Sabbath allows for acts of necessity and acts of mercy, so if you’re hungry and find yourself in a cornfield, just eat the corn.

When Jesus came to earth, he revealed the flaws in the way his people were practicing the law. They would get so bogged down in the details, they were unable to extend mercy or fill a basic need, like hunger. They would miss the overall purpose of the law—to love and worship God— and obsess over how to follow it correctly.

I love rules. If I had lived during Jesus’ time, I probably would’ve studied the law like it was my job. I would have been a Pharisee for sure because rules are comforting for me. If this is always right, and this is always wrong, my world is nice and neat and black and white. I have made up a certain list of rules for my life and for others’ lives and when someone breaks one, I judge them, and when I break one, I beat myself up about it.

These aren’t even all moral rules I’m talking about. They have to do with a general idea of how life should be done, how success should be accomplished—an expectation of the way a Christian life should go. I could write a book of rules that would stress out Emily Post.

But I wonder, if while flipping through my rules book, I miss opportunities to look up and extend mercy, to look up and see a basic need that needs to be met, to see a chance to give grace rather than a subtle look of disapproval.

The freedom Jesus offered the Pharisees in the cornfield is convicting and scary. It tells us that our rules and regulations glorify ourselves rather than God. It tells us that our rules don’t save us, and only he can. It tells us life is much less about us and our behavior, and much more about him, about his forgiveness, and about his grace.

The Journey Was His Idea

The Journey Was His Idea

We all know the story about Jesus calming the wind and the waves, right? (Mark 4:35-41) Jesus was on a boat with his disciples and then a storm came. The disciples freaked out because they were afraid the boat would capsize, and they would drown. They woke up Jesus because, yes, he had been sleeping, and Jesus told the wind and the waves to stop. “And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.”

Seriously, that story never gets old for me. But the other day, I was reading it and noticed the beginning for the first time. I should know better. The beginnings of stories are so important! But, I had never noticed the first verse of this one. Mark 4:35 says that after preaching by the sea of Tiberius, Jesus told his followers, “Let us cross over to the other side.” Of the sea, that is. And by boat, of course.

So, let’s get this straight. Whose idea was it to cross the sea? The sea that would, in a few hours, be hit by a storm that made the disciples fear for their lives? It was Jesus’. The journey was his idea.

I think we all know what a “storm” feels like to us. Maybe you’re in one right now. Life feels out of control as usual, but in the storm, you are more acutely aware of your inability to control it. That’s what storms are for me–challenging times when none of my efforts to fix, work, perfect, smile, try harder, master, get over it or get through it are working. I’m just here, in a boat, shaking Jesus to wake up and help me.

But if it was Jesus’ idea to cross the lake, he made the decision knowing there would be a storm. It’s not like Jesus said, “Ok, guys, let’s go!” and then a few hours later he was like, “Oh, whoa, sorry guys. I’m God in flesh, but I had no idea this storm was coming.” No. Just like he knew it was time for us to cross the sea; he knew a storm would meet us somewhere in the middle, and he planned on being there in it. Not disappearing for a moment and then coming back when things calmed down, but sticking around during the most scary part and eventually (it doesn’t always happen right away) calming everyone and every wave down.

He is in it. With you. The journey was his idea, so we can be confident that we didn’t do something wrong to deserve the storm, and we can be confident that this storm will not be the one that finally, officially does us in for good. If God said go, and we went, He is with us. The storm will subside, and his presence will sustain us.

What Creatives Can Learn from Harper Lee

to kill a mockingbird

You’ve probably seen the news about the upcoming release of the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Lee’s much anticipated follow-up, Go Set a Watchman, will come out this July, 55 years after the release of To Kill a Mockingbird.

I’ve read a lot about the excitement over the discovery of the manuscript, and a lot about the skepticism over it. Could the reclusive author who claimed again and again to not want to release another book really be deciding now, in her weak state of mind and body at the age of 88, to release a sequel that was “recently discovered”? It is certainly suspicious, but regardless of Lee’s involvement and willingness, this news can serve as a lesson, and maybe a warning, to those who create art, in whatever form.

A little over a year ago, I attended Donald Miller’s Storyline conference, a conference where attendees are encouraged to determine their dreams and passions and then create a plan to begin achieving those dreams. At one point in the conference we broke up into small groups and were asked to go around the circle answering this question: What will the world miss out on if you don’t tell your story?

The way this question was formed has been helpful to me in my creative pursuits because it takes the focus off of the creator and puts the focus on the potential recipients of the creator’s work. The pressure’s off. Now, you can view yourself as a servant of art, rather than an artist of art. Your job is to help people with what you do, and if you don’t do it, people will miss out.

It’s easy, and natural, for creative people to get bogged down in the perfection of their craft. I think—and she has been known to say this in not so many words—Harper Lee was afraid of failure, and this prevented her from releasing a second novel. It also prevented criticism from coming her way. It prevented comparison to her first work that has been hailed a masterpiece, and truly is. It kept her safe from these things, but look at her readers. It’s been 55 years, and the announcement of a follow-up novel has us cheering and clapping and standing in our seats. And we would have done this 50 years ago, had Lee decided to release another novel at that time.

I wonder if the encouragement would have encouraged her to keep going. I wonder if she would have kept writing, expanding into other genres, written children’s books, or lectured in universities. I wonder what the world has missed out on from this great novelist because, in her words, “When you’re at the top, there’s only one way to go.”

Lee has said the story in To Kill a Mockingbird was the only story she had to share. Something in me says that is not true. Something in me says that a person who can write a novel like that has much, much more to say about society, family, race, and culture. So while I’m thrilled about Go Set a Watchman and will be pre-ordering a copy soon, I’m sad that we, the world, have had to miss out on so much Harper Lee could have said to us and taught us over the last 55 years.

May we vow to be giving of our art; it’s a gift we’ve been given to share.

Do You Want to Know God, Or His Game?

Are You Getting to Know God, Or His Game?

{This is a big question that requires much more than a blog post. Here today, I will simply examine one molecule on one piece of ice that sits at the tip top of the iceberg. A question like this deserves a book, of which I’m sure there are many.}

I’ve caught myself asking “Why?” a lot lately. After a decision here, a decision there, an event here and a disappointment there, my knee-jerk reaction has been to look toward the sky and ask God, “Why?” Why did this happen? Why do I feel this way? Why couldn’t this have worked out? Or, why did this person do this or that? It’s endless and relentless and I’m surprised God hasn’t put some sort of divine muzzle on me already. But I guess that’s not really how God works.

Instead, He is gentle with us. He sees us (as a friend’s blog reminded me recently). He loves us. He cares for us. At least, these are the things I tell other people. These are things I write on my blog and make readers think I understand and know with everything in me. But the truth is, I think I often doubt God’s love and His ways more than I care to admit, even to myself. You see, in all of this recent asking of “Why?”, I’ve realized that my chief goal has not been to understand God; it has been to understand what God is up to, to understand His game, as if He has a game, and He is playing it.

Deep down I think weird and dark things like this: If I can know why something happened, then I can know what God is up to. And if I know what God is up to, then I can know what’s coming next. And that means, I can predict what leads God to do or allow certain things in my life. And then, jackpot! I can decipher what I need to do in order to get what I want from God.

If you are so pure-of-heart, and this isn’t resonating with you yet, then think of it this way. When you are in a relationship with someone, in order to feel close to them and to grow to love them, you must get to know them. In order to get to know them, you spend time with them. You ask them questions. You allow them to get to know you, too. What you do not do is camp out behind a tree and watch them from a distance through a set of binoculars calculating their every move.

-Susan buys coke from soda machine

-Susan opens can of coke

-Susan takes two sips of coke

-Susan says “hello” to coworker who passes by

What have you learned about Susan from your little detective work? Susan was thirsty or tired or bored and so she drank a coke. What have you learned about her character? Do you feel closer to her now that you learned that she drank a coke this afternoon? Are you now on a path to a loving relationship? NO. Why? Because you were simply interested in her behavior, rather than who she was. In order to love someone, you must want to know who that someone is, aside from his or her behavior.

Sometimes when I’m being a whiny, why-asker, what I’m actually doing is watching God  from behind a tree with my binoculars. I’m not actually interested in getting to know who He is; I’m more interested in knowing what He’s going to do next, and what that means for me and my life and the things I want.

I think I would stomp my foot and demand “Why?!” less often if I trusted who God was. I’m never going to fully know why anyways (Isaiah 55:8-9). Not until I am an immortal being who lives above and outside of time and can see from beginning to end. Not until then, which will be never. So while I’m here, maybe it’s more worth my time to get to know the immortal being who lives above and outside of time. To get to know and trust Him and to just finally put the binoculars down. He may already be much closer than I think.

My Big Plan To Reduce Stress in 2015

My Big Plan to Reduce Stress in 2015

I’ve been a little stressed lately. I know because my body tells me:

-I have a consistent and annoying pulse in my right eye.

-According to my dentist, I tense my jaw at night and need to purchase a mouth guard asap (sexy).

– During a massage–the second massage I’ve ever had in my life—the masseuse told me I have some of the most tense muscles she has ever felt. I told her about my mouth guard, and she told me, “That’s great, but you should really just fix your problems.”

Point is, I’m stressed, and you probably are too. Maybe more than I am, maybe less, but I’ve noticed a theme since entering adulthood about seven years ago: it’s stressful. As my dentist explained to me while examining my disintegrating jaw, our bodies cope with stress in different ways as we age. As children, we cry. As teens, we break out. As adults, we grind our teeth, tense our jaws or do one of the numerous things I’ve heard about and/or experienced first-hand: back pain, shoulder pain, insomnia, eye pulse. Oh, the eye pulse!

I would love to do what my masseuse so lovingly suggested and just “fix my problems,” but sometimes when you’re anxious, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact problem, or problems. And pinpointing the problem can cause even more stress when you’re not sure what it is. This got me thinking that maybe fixing my problems, even when I know what they are, may not be the long-term solution to stress.

What is stress at its core? Feeling worried about things that aren’t going your way, or didn’t go your way, or might not go your way. It’s discontentment. It’s distrust. It’s completely natural and human and ok and simply needs to be embraced at times, but I also believe those living the Christian life can fight stress, at least a little bit, and I think it’s worth a try.

Someone left this verse in the comments of my last post, and I think it’s a wonderful response to the definition of stress I made up: “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).

After reading this verse, I worried (of course). “I have a hard time trusting God,” I thought. “This is exactly why I’m stressed, so will I never be in ‘perfect peace’?!” Then I calmed down and realized the verse actually tells me how to trust God. If our minds are stayed on him because we trust him, then the reverse is true: We trust him because our minds are stayed on him.

Phew! So, maybe if I keep my mind “stayed” by reminding myself daily of who God is and what he has done for me, I will remember how to trust him, and as I remember to trust, the trust will deepen, and as the trust deepens, I will be brought closer to perfect peace and farther from stress and anxiety.

It’s a theory, but I’m going to put it into practice this year. How? Each day, I will try my hardest to start my morning by writing down five things I am thankful for and five things I know to be true about God’s character.

It’s simple. It’s small. It’s quick. But I think it could be huge. Because the power of gratitude and truth in the face of stress and anxiety cannot be underestimated.

The goal is not to be 100% stress-free. That’s lofty and doomed to make me feel like a failure. Instead, I will take baby steps and hope for a little less stress, a less anxiety, a little less fear. A little more trust, a little more surrender, a little more love. Baby-stepping toward God and away from anxiety, one piece of gratitude and one piece of truth at a time.

Are You Overthinking It? The Dangers of Introspection

no text bike image

I’ve written about this tendency of mine before—to daydream, to overthink, to create scenarios in my head and then have a difficult time returning to reality. I’m one of those people who’s been journaling since age eight and will disappear from time to time to sit on a beach, climb a tree or ride a bike simply to get away and think.

I am of the overanalyzing persuasion. It’s something I’ve grown to accept about myself, but it’s also something I’m learning to watch about myself. I think it’s important for we over-analyticals to be aware of when it’s time to JUST STOP THINKING ABOUT IT.

Now that I’m a writer by trade and work from home, my job is to think. This is great, and this is dangerous. Since I no longer work in the 8-to-5, fast-paced corporate environment, I have time and space to really flesh out my thoughts. Any problem, obstacle or doubt that’s arisen in the last few months has received extra attention. I’ve thought about it, run through various scenarios a million times. I’ve journaled and talked to myself about it. And now look, here I am analyzing my over-analyzing.

Through all of this, I’ve realized something. My tendency to overthink is really an attempt to control things in my life I can’t control. Think about it. How often to do you overthink circumstances that are beyond your control? For me, it’s the past and the future that I obsess over–as if thinking about them enough will change my past and make certain events occur in my future. It’s ridiculous. It’s a joke. But it’s what I do.

Being introspective is a good gift, but when your thoughts become a desire or attempt to control the person, place or thing you’re thinking about, it’s gone too far. That’s when we are not just thinking, but overthinking.

Something I know to be true but often disregard is that I rarely find peace in trying to control my life through my imagination. In fact, the opposite happens. When I get lost too deep in thought, I come out of it more anxious and confused than I was before I entered it. So nowadays, when my thinking becomes overthinking, I try to focus on what is true. Because that’s what the Bible says to do: “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble…whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely…meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8).

Whatever things are true.

The true things for me right now are simple and basic: God is good. God is faithful. God is sovereign.

Even though I wish I could, I’ve learned I cannot think my life into being better or different than it is, and I cannot think my problems into being fixed. I can, however, force (and it does take an act of force) myself to meditate on what is true. Eventually the truth that God is good overcomes whatever lie or uncertainty had been occupying my brain, and very slowly but very surely, I am more at peace. The fog caused by the anxiety clears, and a path toward hope becomes visible.