I believe God has made big promises for my life, and for those in my circles of influence. And I’ve had crazy experiences to back them up. For instance, a year after moving to California, I woke up in the middle of the night hearing a voice calling my name. It was no dream and therefore was a frightening experience, at least that night. As you might imagine, I prayed a lot over the next few days.
I asked God to clarify whether what I heard was Him, or something else entirely. The answer I received on the third day was something I did not expect. God called me to forge a personal covenant with Him. “If you will live here for the rest of your life, I will do what’s in your heart to do.” Up to that point, I’d been asking God to use me to make a multiplying movement of prayer warrior disciple makers who make the same in every city, state and country in the world.
Years have come and gone since that week, and I’ve not seen many indications that God is working on the covenant He made. Instead, I’ve gone through what seems like failure after failure, including health issues like cancer and an incurable neurological disease. Even worse, my family has suffered intensely because of the dreams I have. More than ever, I feel like a burden to them. I often wonder if I’m creating unnecessary hardships for every person who knows me. I wonder how many people have walked away wounded because of me.
In the midst of my issues and failures, the only tangible aspect of the covenant so far is that I’m still where God planted me five years ago. It’s very expensive to live in my town. God continues to sustain me in the midst of the mystery. Yet in comparison to the ocean of failures and struggles I face, along with those closest to me, at times it’s hard to hang on to the covenant. That’s why these words from the third chapter of Paul’s letter to an ancient small church community grabbed my attention this morning.
“So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.” Ephesians 3:13
Paul’s request prompts several questions in me.
Am I trying to carry burdens God has not asked me to shoulder?
Am I worrying about how other people are perceiving and responding to my struggles?
Am I making myself responsible for their choices?
I think the answer is “yes” far too often. Truth be told, even once is too often. When I’m focusing on the wrong things, I’m weakening my trust in God as my promise maker and promise keeper. Paul’s next words are both an encouragement and directive to me.
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14:19
The real enemy of every human wants us to focus on the wrong things so he can weaken us, rendering us ineffective to stop him in his malicious intent. He is hell bent on distracting us from our true identity as God’s beloved children so can divide and destroy us. Worrying about how God will accomplish what He’s promised me is the kind of distraction which accomplishes his goals. So is my worry about how others are going to respond to my trials.
Thankfully God is reminding me that, even though I have a responsibility to sacrifice for those around me (after all, that’s the real definition of love), I’m not responsible for what they do with my sacrifices. I’m not responsible for what they choose to believe or do in the midst of my struggles. I’m also not responsible to figure out how God is working out HIS covenant to me.
My primary responsibility is to keep my focus on Him and His love for us all, so I may both receive it and let it overflow out of me. When I do that, I’m strengthened in the way Paul describes. I’m able to live in the impossibility of God’s promises, right here in the midst of my current troubles. I find the power to face difficult challenges, especially the fallout from my own failures and issues. A focus on God’s love strengthens me and everything else weakens me. It’s that simple. I’m the one who overcomplicates things. Therefore, I’m encouraged to keep asking for what seems is impossible, at least today.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21