disappointment with God

The Reality We Relax Into

From the day we brought Mandy, a six-week-old golden retriever puppy, into our home, she has been enthralled with our seven-year-old lab/retriever mix named Zoey. First, Mandy overwhelmed Zoey, trying to relate to her as she had with her mom and the litter of puppies in her previous home. She had no idea how to relate to Zoey, and to be honest, Zoey wasn’t very enthusiastic about this new intruder in our home.

But in four weeks, all that has changed. They are becoming best friends, learning to play, and giving each other the space that will allow this relationship to work. It has been so much fun to watch it happen and so fulfilling to watch them engage each other now and for Zoey to let her sleep in her paws.

I know they are just two dogs, but there is a process for us as well, as we learn to live inside God’s love, especially if your previous home was based on religious performance.

I say it often: learning to live loved is not a matter of human achievement; it is the reality we relax into. That’s what Mandy is learning with Zoey. 

And, yes, I understand this is far easier said than done. This is the great transition—from religious performance that seeks God’s blessing to a relational connection where we experience his love and guidance through all life throws at us. 

The transition can be brutal. The arc of Scripture contains that exact transition from obeying the law to resting in the Father’s love. It took thousands of years for God to put that into words we’d understand and put in place the mechanism that would allow it to happen. Even then, the early Christians struggled to stay in God’s love as they kept sliding back into the old ways by observing laws and rituals that were never meant to lead them to life. 

So, when your performance-based Scripture reading leaves you empty, when your prayers seem futile, when you can’t seem to sense his love, no matter how hard you try, don’t redouble your efforts. This process will take you to the end of yourself, which is what it intends to do. At times, you’ll feel alone, as if you’re missing something everyone else gets. But it isn’t so. Don’t give into the despair that will try to tell you God is not really there, or if he is, you’re not good enough to merit his attention. 

He has always had his eye on you. The hunger you feel to know him is the hunger he has inspired in you. Don’t give up; just keep marinating in your heart’s hunger, losing the expectations of what you think God’s work will look like and wait until his nudges and fingerprints begin to come into focus.

I wish I could save you from this process, but I can’t. If your faith and prayer life have been built on doctrines and ideas, switching to a more relational engagement is never easy. To find a new way into his love, the old ways have to die. This is the hard part, watching them die and resisting the urge to save yourself by rushing back into those comforting, though lifeless forms. They will disappoint you yet again and you’ll find yourself still at this point where your religious ambitions and expectations need to surrender to the God who is so much bigger than any of us can conceive. 

As those things die, Jesus will show you a different way he is relating to you. This is the most frustrating time in that process, seeing through the old, but not quite grasping the new. It’s like a computer program you’ve always used, and suddenly rebuilt it and changed everything. None of the old ways work; you must learn what will work now. Learning to live a life of love is entirely different than the games of religious performance.

What I hope you don’t do is give up the hunger to know him. Give up the past process—yes! Give up the expectations you have of how God might make himself known—yes again! But don’t give up on him. He has this for you. It’s why it hurts so badly—because he has created in you a heart that will be satisfied with nothing less than him. You’ve asked for that. He’s all on the way to fulfilling that desire.

In reading Romans recently, I took note of these two passages. One about why Israel missed the revelation of God, and one that lets us know why a small minority find it:  

And Israel, who seemed so interested in reading and talking about what God was doing, missed it. How could they miss it? Because instead of trusting God, they took over. They were absorbed in what they themselves were doing. They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them.  —Romans 8:31-32 (MSG)

I have been there. So enmeshed in my “God projects” that I walked right by his nudges and invitations. Yes, it was at the end of myself, frustrated by the fact that my religious journey to that point had only allowed me glimpses of goodness but not the relationship my heart desired. How do we find that. Here’s what Paul goes on to say about those who find their way into his goodness: 

They’re holding on, not because of what they think they’re going to get out of it, but because they’re convinced of God’s grace and purpose in choosing them.  —Romans 11:6 (MSG)

Even our relationship with him cannot be found seeing our own fulfillment, though it will fulfill us in ways we never dreamed. This journey is about finding your way into the reality of who God is and how he wants to make himself known to you. Remember, God’s love is a reality we relax into. Expectations, frustrations, and demands will only make it more difficult for us. God loves you, knows where you are, and is building that connection with you, especially in those frustrating moments when you feel abandoned and alone.

The only way you can miss it is to give up or try to force your way in. Hang in there. As the old dies, you’ll find that path that will lead you into the relationship you desire. And you will find yourself at rest in the Father’s arms, just like Mandy is in Zoey’s.

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Where Trust Grows

Sara and I have left Little Rock and headed into South Texas, with stops in Waco, Austin, Wimberley, and Bulvedere (San Antonio) over the next 12 days. Details are on the travel page. We are having a wonderful time seeing what adventures and conversations God has for us each day. We’ve been talking a lot about the growth curve to trust. It is definitely easier to recognize God’s hand and trust his provision when you are at rest inside than when you are tossed about by anxiety.

But far from a choice we make, our trust is the growing response to the love Jesus reveals to us. You can’t try to trust more; you can only learn how he wants you to relax into his love. Then, you’ll be free to trust when you realize you were never in control of your life or the circumstances coming at you.

Trust. It is so easy to talk about, but so hard to put into practice. Nothing is more theologically certain than that God is faithful and trustworthy. But learning how to live in that trust through the twists and turns of our lives is the most difficult challenge we face.

It took God almost Abraham’s entire life to teach Abraham the joy of trusting him. But he did it. Even when he was asked to give up his only son and heir, he trusted God’s plan and God’s nature enough to set about the task. This, from the one who had risked his wife’s virtue by lying to Pharaoh that she was not his wife. This, from the one who had impregnated his wife’s maidservant when it didn’t appear God would give Sarah the child he promised.

To accomplish that, God did some extraordinary things for Abraham. Rest assured, God knows how difficult it is for you to trust him. He is not threatened by that nor angry with you.

He simply wants you to keep your eye on him and learn.

He knows that only by trusting him can you participate in a relationship with him and enjoy the fullness of life in his household. He also knows that you’ll trust him only to the degree that you are certain of his love for you.

I used to believe that trust was a choice, but it isn’t. We can only pretend to trust. God wants to win us into trust by winning us into his love. When you know he is all-powerful and wise beyond anything you can imagine on your best day and that he sees you, knows you, and loves you more than anyone on this planet ever has, you will grow to trust him as you watch how he cares for you. No, it won’t be by meeting your perceived needs but by leading you into his truth and light that will set to right what life in a broken world has done.
The excerpt above is from Chapter Four of He Loves Me, which will be the focus of our next gathering of the He Loves Me Book Discussion, which will be held this Sunday, October 8, at 11:00 a.m. PDT. We’ll be finishing up Chapter 3 and moving on through Chapter 4. We are discovering together how to live loved by the Father and to allow that love to increase our trust in his reality and desires for us.
You can find the link for this conversation on the Group Page on Facebook, or if you are not a member of Facebook, you can write me for a link. These discussions are held live, recorded, and posted on Zoom. If you can’t join us, catch the conversation on the Wayne Jacobsen Author Page on Facebook.
You can see replays of our previous gatherings here:  

 

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Waves of Joy

It has been a while since I have had the chance to post some of my thoughts. The last month of settling into our new home has brought a host of challenges, decisions, and work. I’ve managed to keep up with The God Journey podcasts because I greatly enjoy those conversations. We just posted Episode 900 today about Vengeance, Mercy, and Justice. I never tire of what we learn as we explore the journey of Living Loved. The rest of the time, I’ve been handling a bit of correspondence and conversations as well as unpacking, discarding, and preparing a place for Sara and me in this next season of our lives. It is all going so incredibly well, though taking up far more time than I would have hoped. More on that next week, if time allows.

Catching up on some emails today, I ran into this one, which asks some questions that might interest others. This is from a friend in Hawaii:

I do have a few questions about your book, He Loves Me. In chapter 22, you write: “If you’ve ever known that glory, either just sitting in his presence communing with him or having just seen him use you to reveal himself to someone else, you know what I’m talking about. At such moments it seems time itself stands still. Waves of joy sweep across us, and it is so incredible that you feel if you were made just for that one moment, your life would have had a wealth of meaning. ‘I was made for this.’ And you were.”

How important is it for the daughter or son of Abba to experience what you call “waves of joy”…given that is a huge part of our design in Him? 

I never try to focus on a single “experience” as something essential or even something to seek. Walking with him manifests his glory in our lives in various ways, and how we sense them depends a lot on our personality. I don’t even know how each interprets “waves of joy,” and it may be very different from what those words mean to me. “Waves of joy” is the feeling I get when I’m at rest and enjoying his work in me, and it comes without me trying to manufacture it.

It is distracting for any of us to try to pursue an experience. Even the focus on doing so can quickly become a distraction. That sentence was for those who have experienced it, not to discourage people who haven’t. Instead of getting people focused on any specific manifestation, I try to help them recognize Father’s presence in the experiences they are already having. Surely he is making himself known to all of us in whatever way suits us best, though much of his work goes unrecognized by those distracted by the shiny things in the world or the darker corners of their hearts. I want to help people recognize him, however he is making himself known, not getting them focused on hoping he works in a specific way.

How is it that we settle for not living with as much joy as Papa, Jesus, and the Spirit are longing for in our lives? Your last chapter, “Living Loved,” is great and speaks to this, but I was wondering if you have any other insights.

There are lots of reasons for this. Lots of worldly distractions. Lots of unresolved pain that makes us try to self-medicate. Lots of disappointed expectations that God didn’t meet, even like the “experiences” above. However, I think it is also because we haven’t learned how to engage Father, Son, and Spirit as they make themselves known. It’s been easier to force people into religious performance, but those who have tried it grow discouraged because it doesn’t work.

Learning to live inside Father’s joy is to give up control of life as we want it to be and find God in the chaos of real life and how he is making himself known. Following him is the ultimate loss of control, and religious performance is the ultimate attempt to control God. A lot of people get discouraged and sadly give up.

Giving up the notion that we can control the relationship we have with God is a critical step in all of our journeys. He is the initiator; we are the responders. That’s because he knows best about everything, especially how to engage each of us and invite us to be at home with him.

 

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Powerful Word in Times of Trouble

“There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)

Dave Coleman was one of those friends for me. He was a man of immense wisdom, rock-solid integrity, and deep love. I don’t know why he took a liking to me, but he’s one of those friends where the conversations always go deep, and the affection builds over a lifetime. He helped me discover how to live the life behind He Loves Me and was my co-author for So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore.

More importantly, he was there when I was betrayed by my co-pastor, giving me comfort and counsel that steered my heart into a better reality than I might have seen otherwise. He was there through the lawsuit over The Shack and encouraged me to find my home in the truth and not worry about the lies being told of me. And two summers ago, he held my heart through the rejection of a lifelong companion that came out of nowhere.

A few weeks after we talked, he sent me this prayer and admonishment. This was August 2021, still eight months before Sara’s trauma exploded. I wish he’d been there for that, too, but he passed away in November of that year.

May the Father, who is rich in mercy, speak kindly to your heart and comfort you with the thought that the only way out of this is to lay it at the foot of the cross…. with the prayer, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Do not allow your accusers to stifle in any way your message of God’s love. Just allow this experience to increase your urgency and your compassion and, above all, to deepen your dependency on His grace.

Those words have been taped to my computer since receiving them. There is so much in those words that have held my heart, even through the painful days of last spring, as if Dave were comforting me from the grave. Why am I sharing them today? Over the last few days, I’ve found myself sending them to almost a dozen people who needed to hear those exact words in their context. I figured others might need to hear a similar word for their heart. It is as true for you as it continues to be for me.

It’s a beautiful thing for the Father, who is rich in mercy, to speak kindly to your heart and to comfort you at the foot of the cross where the only way to liberate yourself is the prayer of forgiveness in recognition that most people doing hurtful things have no idea what’s motivating their behaviors. And when the Accuser, even in the other voices he uses, tries to erode your confidence in Jesus’s work in you, it’s time to lean in more with more urgency and depend on his grace.

 

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Good news! The renovations on our home are nearing completion. This has taken a bit longer than we thought it would starting out, but this is Sara’s dream. To see it come together now as a place for us to live a life we love and to share our lives with others brings a profound sense of joy. Sorry, no pictures yet. We will in time, but much still needs to be cleaned up and completed.

So, we’ll be moving and settling in over the next couple of weeks. Don’t look for much new stuff here for a bit, though we hope to keep the podcast going on Friday, which is the best way to follow my life these days. All that God has been teaching us and doing in our hearts have found their way into my conversations with Kyle. I can’t begin to tell you how rich these last two years have been. They have had more trouble than we thought we could bear but also a profound grace and Presence that has held us safe and opened our hearts and minds to some unique insights that have touched us deeply.

Our journey over the past 16 months will come full circle next week. We’ve been through an exodus from trauma and a home we loved, took a sojourn through the wilderness of Sara’s trauma, and the healing that came out of it in our RV last fall and our apartment this winter and spring. We will soon move onto a new land of God’s promise—an oasis for our hearts and all who Jesus sends us in this season. We have no idea what any of that means, but we could not be more excited.

 

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The Trust He Wins in Us

I’ve watched too many Christians struggle to trust God more as if that is something they are supposed to do. If you’ve ever been down that road, you know that it leads to a vast wasteland. We can only pretend to trust him more, and that will fail us when we most need it.

Trust is not something you can demand from someone; it is the natural byproduct of knowing that someone loves you deeply and acts for your greatest good. We don’t give trust; Jesus wins us into it. So the question is never, “How do I trust him more?” The question is, “How is Jesus winning me into his trust today?”  That’s the road you want to venture down.

And you won’t see him winning your trust as long as you’re trying to get God to do what you think is best for you. That will only lead you to disappointment upon disappointment. Focusing our trust in him on a specific outcome is not trusting him at all. It’s only using him to get what we want.  

Jesus has something different in mind by teaching you to love what he loves and to follow him. There you will discover that he is constantly working around us in a way that wins us into his trust. We become increasingly confident that his way is best and that he is continually working to lead us into his freedom. That’s what chapter ten of So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore covers.

Here’s an excerpt as Jake is just beginning to recognize that process:

“That’s the trust he’s building in you right now, and those deals falling through are part of it. Through moments like this he wins our trust. And it’s obviously working.” John said.

“What? Why would you say that?” I asked, not at all feeling like it was.

“Because you’re not as angry as you were when we first met. You’re in a desperate situation now, you’re concerned, but you’re not angry: That shows some incredible growth.”

And for the first time I realized that God had changed something enduring inside of me. I wasn’t burying my anger. It just wasn’t there, even in my disappointment.

“That’s how God wins your trust. He’s not asking you to do something despite all evidence to the contrary. He’s asking you to follow him as you see him unfolding his will in you. As you do that, you’ll find that his words and his ways will hold more certainty for you than your best plans or wisdom.”

Today, Jesus is at work in you to grow your trust in him and his Father. He wants you to know that his power and wisdom are at your disposal for all he is doing in you and how he is working in the circumstances you’re caught up in. Learn to recognize how he is working, and you’ll find your trust growing gradually no matter what you encounter.

We’ll discuss this amazing process at the next gathering of the Jake Colsen Book Club, which will be held this Sunday, March 5, at 1:30 pm PST. This is a change from the previously announced date . Anyone can join us, though you’ll have to work that out in your own time zone. We will also stream it live on my Facebook Author Page, but if you want to be part of the conversation, you can get a link to the Zoom Room by emailing Wayne and asking for it.

You can view our last discussion on chapter 9 here.

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