Sunday, August 17, 2008

to please or to trust

All of us face significant choices nearly every day. We may not always realize we are making them or the enormity of the effect the choice will have on the balance of our life but we make them nonetheless. One such choice that is made on-going is choosing between the motives of pleasing God or to trusting God. Choosing our motives wisely is like a watershed point, a seemingly small difference at the point of the choice but one that places the end results greatly apart. Motives are important because they drive values which in turn drive action.

Motive => Values => Actions

Motives result in motion.

The following is from TrueFaced. Please buy a copy for yourself and for a friend.

As we are walking down life's road, we arrive at a tall pole with signs pointing in two different directions. The marker leading to the left simply says Pleasing God. The one leading to the right reads Trusting God. It's hard to choose one over the other, because both roads have a good feel to them. We discover there is no third road and it becomes obvious that we will not be able to jump back and forth between the paths. We must choose one. Only one. It will now indelibly mark the way we live.

Pleasing God and Trusting God represent the primary and ultimate motives of our hearts, the inner drives or desires that cause us to act in a certain way. These motives, in turn, produce multiple actions ... both [are] admirable, but since I can have only one primary motive, I ask myself, "Which of these motives best reflects the relationship I want to have with God?"

... I choose the path marked Pleasing God. The Trusting God path just seems too ... passive. I want a fully alive experience with God. The Pleasing God path seems like the best way there. I think, All right then, my mind's made up. I am determined to please God. I so long for him to be happy with me. I'll discipline myself to achieve this life goal. I know I can do it. Yes, I will do it this time. I will please him and he will be pleased with me. So we set off with confidence. We are immediately comforted to see that this path is well travelled.

In time I come to a door with a sign that reads Striving to Be all God Wants Me to Be. These words reflect the values that flow out of the motive of Pleasing God, and they describe how we believe we should act. Since my motive is a determination to please God, I will value being all God wants me to be. So, I open the door by turning the knob of Effort. The motive of Pleasing God has now produced the value of Striving to Be All God Wants Me to Be. As I enter this enormous room, a hostess with a beautiful smile greets me and says in an almost too polite tone, "Welcome to The Room of Good Intentions."

... "Well, thanks," I answer. "I think I've found my home. How are you?"

The hostess pauses for a moment and then reaches into her purse to pull out a mask bearing a guarded expression and a thin smile. She puts it on and answers, "Fine. Just fine. And you?"

The entire room gets suddenly quiet, awaiting my answer. "Well, umm, thanks for asking. I'm kind of struggling with some things right now, some areas that don't seem to be in keeping with who I know I'm supposed to be. I'm not really sure I'm doing well on a lot of --" The hostess cuts me off, putting her finger to her lips and handing me a similar mask. I'm not quite sure what to do. I don't really want to put it on, but others in the room are smiling and motioning for me to do so, I want so much to be accepted here that I slowly put it on.

And now everything feels different. I am quickly overcome with the realization that less self-revelation would be a smart game plan here. I realize that no one in this room wants to hear about my struggles, pain, or doubt. If I want to be welcome here, I'd better keep my cards closer to my vest and give the appearance of sufficiency. So I slowly and carefully say the words, "Actually, I'm fine. I'm doing just fine. Thanks." Satisfied, everyone in the room turns back to their conversations.

... everyone in The Room of Good Intentions has the value of Striving to Be All God Wants Them to Be. They are sincerely determined to be godly. Their value produces actions that are best summarized by an enormous banner on the back wall that reads, Working on My Sin to Achieve an Intimate Relationship with God. They have made their goal to be godly, and they fully expect the same of everyone else in the room.

... I think, Sounds a lot like, "Be holy as your heavenly Father is holy." Yep. I'm in the right place. The people here have sincerity, perseverance, courage, diligence, full-hearted fervency, a desire to please God, and a sold-out determination to pursue excellence. Yes, this is the place I've been looking for. Oh, I'm going to make him so happy. One day soon, we will be close. I just know it!

yet, as weeks turn into months, I can't help noticing that many people in this room sound a bit cynical and look pretty tired. Many of them seem alone. And if I catch them when they think no one is looking, I see incredible pain on their faces. Quite a few seem superficial -- guarded. After a while I realize that my thinking has begun shifting too. I no longer feel as comfortable or relaxed here. I have this nagging anxiety that if I don't keep behaving well -- if I don't control my sin enough --- I'll be on the outs with everyone in the room. And with God!

So, I start investing more effort into sinning less, and I feel better ... for a while. But the more time I spend in the Room of Good Intentions, the more disappointment I feel. Despite all my striving, all my efforts, I keep sinning. In fact, some days I'm fixated simply on trying not to sin. I seem to never be able to get around to doing things to please God. It takes all my energy to avoid doing those things that displease him! Other days I can't seem to do enough. I never get through my list of things to work on. It feels like I am making every effort to please a God who never seems pleased enough! I carry an overwhelming sense of guilt because I have to hide my sin -- from everyone in the room and from God. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the road of Pleasing God has turned into What Must I Do to Keep God Pleased with Me?

After some time, the story teller decides to retrace his steps and go back to the fork in the road.

The road of Trusting God sure sounds a lot less heroic than the other. A bit ethereal and vague. And it appears to give me nothing to do other than, well ... trust. All I ever heard in the Room of Good Intentions was that I have to "sell out, care more, get on fire, buck up, shape up, and tighten up." This road doesn't seem to give me any of that. ...

So, I begin walking on life's path with the motive of Trusting God. This road is definitely less worn than the other one. ... I walk on looking for that second door. Eventually, I spot it, and as I approach it I read the words on the sign above it: Living Out of Who God Says I Am. I tilt my head to the side, thinking the phrase might make more sense if I do. Those are certainly some words, one right after another. What in the world do they mean? It can't mean what I think it means! When do I get to do something here? Where's the part where I get to prove my sincerity? Where are my guidelines? When do I get to give God my best? I shake my head and stoop down to read what it says on the doorknob ... Humility.

Suddenly everything snaps into focus. I've tried so hard, I've supplied all the self-effort the other room demanded, yet received nothing but insecurity and duplicity. I've run out of answers, run out of breath, run out of ability, and so I cry out, God, if anything good is to come out of this whole deal, you will have to do it. I've tried. I can't. I'm so tired. Please God, you will have to give me the life I am dreaming of. I can't keep doing this anymore. I'm losing confidence that this life in you is even possible. Help me. You must make it happen or I am doomed. With those words I turn the doorknob.

As I step aside, another hostess immediately approaches. She smile kindly and, with a voice that is at once knowing and reassuring, says softly, "Welcome to The Room of Grace." I answer tentatively, "Thank ... you."

She presses, "How are you?" The room grows quiet.

Well, I've been here before and so, not to be duped twice, I answer, "I'm fine. Pretty fine ... Who wants to know?" And the room stays quiet. Gun-shy from the first room, I interpret their silence as judgment, and so I yell out, "All right, listen! I'm not fine. I haven't been fine for a long time. I'm tired. I feel guilty, lonely, and depressed. I'm sad most of the time and I can't make my life work. And if any of you knew half my daily thoughts, you'd want me out of your little club. So there, I'm doing not fine! Thanks for asking!"

I reach for the doorknob to leave and hear a voice from far back in the crowd. "That's it? That's all you've got? I'll take your confusion, guilt, and bad thoughts, and I'll raise you compulsive sin and chronic lower back pain! Oh, and I'm in debt up to my ears, and I wouldn't know classical music from a show tune if it jumped up and bit me. You better have more than that puny list if you want to play in my league!"

The greeter smiles and nudges me to say, "I think he means you're welcome here." Emboldened, I smile, and call back, "Do you struggle with forgetting birthdays?" He walks right up to me all the way from the back, puts his hands on my shoulders and say, "Birthdays? I can't remember my own!" Everyone in the room laughs the warm laughter of understanding, and I am ushered into the fold of a sweet family of kind and painfully real people. There is not a mask to be seen anywhere.

As I walk further into the room, I notice a huge banner on the back wall. This one reads: Standing with God, with My Sin in Front of Me, Working on It Together. I think, Wait, this can't be right. How can this be? It sounds presumptuous, careless. Imagining God with his arm around me as we view my sin together? Come on! Surely they've written it down wrong. I've always been told that my sin is still a barrier between God and me. If It could be true that God actually stands with me, in front of my in, well, that would change everything. If it were true, God has never moved away from me no matter what I've done! Oh my gosh, I'd have to rethink everything.

Despite my doubts, I can't help but notice that in this room, The Room of Grace, everyone seems vitally alive. The people are obviously imperfect, full of compromise and struggle, but they're authentic enough to talk about it and ask for help. Many have a level of integrity, maturity, love, laughter, freedom, and vitality that I don't recall seeing in the people in the other room.

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