I am a visual person. What I see with my eyes often makes me think. Usually these thoughts translate into something I feel God is teaching me. This should be no surprise. After all, Jesus knows that many of us are visual learners. God designed us to learn this way, because images are powerful. Visual imagery makes a lesson come alive, making it easier to remember, and sink deeper inside us than words can on their own. So Jesus taught spiritual truths using imagery all the time.
For example, when teaching about God’s provision for His children, Jesus told the disciples to “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26). He also told the ‘Rich Young Man’ that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). This illustration upturned the prevalent cultural/religious belief that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing and approval. Instead (as He often taught), Jesus cautioned that the love of money can be evidence of a spiritual poverty so great that it leaves many outside of God’s kingdom completely. Jesus also told us that before we go pointing out a speck in someone else’s eye, we should take the log out of our own eye (Matthew 7:3-5)! How’s that for a mental picture? Jesus taught this way when He ministered here on earth, and He still teaches me this way today.
So, the other day when an exchange with my youngest child led to peanuts scattering all over the floor, it made me think of the spiritual ways I cause this kind of result in my own life.
Here’s what happened (spoiler: it’s not actually anything uncommon): I wanted to give my daughter a snack to hold her over while I was putting lunch together. I took a small handful of peanuts, and called her over. I told her to open her hand so I could safely tuck the contents into her grasp. Instead, her eyes widened, eager for her treat, and she tried to grab the peanuts from me.
“No sweetie, open your hand. Like this…” I urged, turning her palms upward.
Nope. She would have none of it. She grasped at my hand, prying at my fingers. She was intent on taking the peanuts herself.
Fine, I thought. She can do it her way if she really insists on it. I turned my palm upward and opened it. My daughter tried to grab all of the snack with her teeny tiny hands – and the result? Peanuts were everywhere. Well, almost everywhere. The only place they weren’t, was in her little hands. Frustrated, she dropped to the floor and began to collect the nuts. Of course, I got down and helped her to gather them up. We recovered most of her peanuts, albeit some were broken, and most had some dust or debris. A few were splashed with tears of frustration and disappointment at the whole experience.
Afterwards, as I watched her munching away, I kept thinking, I could have just tucked these safely into your hand. And then, as often happens when I reflect on my interactions with children, I felt God speaking to me. This time, He said: And sometimes, Shannon, this is what it’s like when you try to rush what I have planned for you.
This stopped me in my tracks – because it’s true.
I can easily think of many times, in hindsight of course, where I was insistent on trying to make my own way. If I’m honest, (and I am going to be) – I dated people I knew were not the very best choices for a lifetime partnership of passionately following Jesus. Why? Because I reaaally wanted to be married one day, and while I knew God wanted that for me too, the wait got the better of me. Did God still teach me things along the way? Yes. Did God ultimately connect me with the best husband I could ever ask for? Yes. (wait until I share that story!) But, along the way, my choices included pain and compromise that God never willed for me to experience.
I also remember taking one job that I really could have done without. I had been hoping to find a job in Christian service (in one way or another) when I had freshly returned to Canada after living abroad. In my time of waiting, an opportunity came up. I hadn’t been thrilled about it, but the pay was great (hmm…love of money, perhaps?) and I had a clear schedule, so I went ahead. It turned out to be a soul crushing job. It was a cut-throat business consulting firm and their approach was ethically murky – at best. After a few months running on empty and feeling conflicted each day, I quit. But not without spending my soul on something fairly fruitless. Instead of taking the job, could God have been calling me to a bit of time of rest? Would He have opened a different door, in different timing, if I had been more sensitive to His leading or more intent to hear His voice? Of course He would have.God’s plans should never feel like a consolation to prize.
There are many times when I’ve been hasty and impatient. In one way or another, big issues or small, this is something I struggle with daily. As I observed my daughter’s impatience, showing the nature that’s inside all of us to some degree, it was a personal and gentle reminder that I need to wait on God in all the details of my life. I need to turn my palms upwards, at His leading. He knows what my hands can hold. He knows the perfect timing to release His gifts.
I believe that sometimes when we are intent on making our own way, God gives us what we ask for, even if it’s not His very best plan – much like I did when I said ‘fine’ and let my daughter grab the peanuts herself, and make the mess she did. Of course, God can use any experience, even the poorer choices we make for good (Romans 8:28), and, just as I crouched alongside my daughter to help pick up the peanuts, God stoops alongside to help us through our every mess. Still, the very best outcome happens the first time around when we trust – not just in God’s direction, but also in His methods, and His timing. We can spare ourselves the frustration, tears and the dust on our snacks when we wait on Him.
Patience or ‘forebearance’ is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). As we grow in faith, and become more like Jesus, patience should grow in our lives. The Bible encourages us to be patient with this verse: “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:13-14). Perhaps, one of my favourite verses of encouragement is this one: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). God’s plans for us are always good.
What are you trusting God for at the moment? What are the prayers of your heart that you are counting on Him to answer? Could there be any way that you might be showing impatience? Could you use encouragement to wait on His timing?
Let me pray for you right now. Maybe you want to pray this too.
Lord God, I don’t know who is reading this message right now, but I know that you know who they are. You see every person right where they are at. You see into every heart, and you know every need. There is no concern of ours that is too small to matter to you. And, just as you provide for the birds of the air, you love so much more so to take care of your children. Let us bring our hopes, our dreams, our worries and needs and lay them honestly before you. Let us hear your gentle guidance. Make your ways known to us, O Lord, and teach us your paths (Psalm 25:4). May we not lean on our own understanding, but may we entrust ourselves to you, so we can follow your perfect paths and plans for us (Proverbs 3:5-6). Please guard us from the messy routes we may be inclined to take. But, knowing full well that in our weakness we are all bound to take wrong turns and methods from time to time, we thank you in advance for your constant and sufficient grace. And, may you help us to always show this grace to others too. In Jesus’ name – AMEN!