September is my favorite month in many ways. The air is crisp. My college schedule is starting to settle into a comfortable routine. The trees gradually transition from lively greens to rich, warm hues. It’s brisk in the mornings and bright and lovely in the afternoons. It seems friendships are vibrant in this month too, lots of time spent laughing in the living room.
But to me, there’s always a bit of fear in the fragileness of the amber leaves dancing in the breeze. I know they’ll eventually detach and go floating through the air, down to the ground. I can’t stand the thought of all of them gone, the trees bare, and the air turning gusty and sharp with cold. I love autumn so dearly, but I dread what’s to come in winter. Just admiring the vibrant autumn shades for seconds can pull me quickly into this apprehension.
I’ve noticed a similar pattern in my thinking about seasons of life. Forgive me for the Christian-ese use of the word ‘seasons:’ but it does fit quite well. Our lives do not stay steadily the same. Rather, everything changes throughout time: the people we know, what we spend our time doing, our goals, routines, and places we frequent. . . For a young person like me it’s easy to see seasons; they change so quickly. From high school to college to engagement and marriage, then onward to a career and kids. Life is always changing. Even if you’ve already reached the ‘kids’ or ‘grandkids’ life markers, there is always much ahead: more changes, more life, more lessons, more people, more places.
The attitude that we have about the future is crucial to our sanity and happiness. Often I think of my life like I do the autumn leaves: changing far too quickly, slipping through my fingers. I see the joyful things in the present but bemoan the fact that they are passing. I look ahead with fear to unknowns, to stresses I haven’t yet considered, to the unavoidable yet unpredictable pains I so wish I could bypass.
Other times, though, the allure of the future pulls me away from the beauty of the present: to the effect that I drift through my days while dreaming of the idealized years ahead. This compromises all that’s around me! I miss so much when I live like this.
The solution to these problems isn’t exactly easy, but it is quite simple. We need to realize the brevity of life and acknowledge the goodness of the present day. Here’s a great starting point: make a list of the things you’re grateful for in your present season of life. Include the smallest and most profound things alike: anything you’ll miss when you realize you’ve moved on. It’s a great practice in gratitude as well. Here are a few things on my list currently:
*Learning things in class I’m excited about and amazed at
*Acting absolutely insane and immature with my roommates
*Being simply a plant mom
*The excitement of Skyping my boyfriend, and on normal days, calling him
*My little twin bed at the end of a long day
*Choosing one meal for the week from Pinterest, then shopping for it and making it
*And, of course, the swaying branches full of bright leaves outside my window
We all could get better at enjoying the present season instead of expectantly or sadly looking to the next. Just like seasons, life moves on unavoidably. Let’s soak up the joys of each day with a grateful, calm heart.
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15
Lord, what are human beings that you care for them,
mere mortals that you think of them?
They are like a breath;
their days are like a fleeting shadow.
My mom has had a life-altering disease for 8 years. For 8 years she has endured intense pain, three surgeries, vicious medications, and a completely changed diet. And for 8 years, countless people have prayed for her. While we have seen God’s faithfulness in so many details and days of good health, she hasn’t experienced complete healing as we’d hoped. It's incredibly hard. Exhausting. I’ve felt kicked in the heart countless times by seeing her in pain and not being able to to fix it.
So, I’ll be the first to say that praying for God's will to be done is hard. While I fully believe in his authority and ability to heal, I do not know if and when it is in his plan. That’s complicated, for obvious reasons.
Asking for God’s will is even hard in the small stuff, because it requires a lot more trust and humility than just asking for what I want. It forces me to admit I may have to do or experience something uncomfortable, painful, or even just plain annoying. It also forces me outside of myself: outside of my own mind.
There’s a Greek word I want to share with you. It’s a verb that’s used almost 200 times in the Bible: thelo.
Thelo: to will, have in mind, purpose, intend, desire, wish, take delight or pleasure in
In many instances, this word describes the desires and will of our Holy God and his Son. A few examples: God wills that people know the truth and become saved. And when Jesus was on the earth, his will brought about many physical healings.
The word also refers to humans desiring and wishing for things. We also ‘thelo.’ But ever since sin broke our relationship with the Lord, our desires haven’t always been congruent with his. We want things that might not be the best for us, make requests at the wrong times, tend to focus on comfort instead of heart change, and struggle to see beyond our earthly limitations.
And of course, it makes sense. We can't see the whole picture: we can only see the past and the present. So then, it is truly in our best interest to line up our desires with God’s. He is the eternal King without flaw. He holds purpose in each plan. And his vision envelops all time and space.
Even Jesus had to verbally submit to God’s will before he was crucified: “Not my will but yours be done.” And oh, how thankful I am that he did!
How can we know?
The struggle is, how do we know what God’s will is? Through my life, that question has brought me much confusion, hard thinking, and a tough conclusion: we cannot always know. To seek it in certain situations we can look at who we know God to be, what he values, and how he’s worked in the past. But ultimately, we get to pray about it. We get to lay down all our calculations, anxious desires, and stubbornness, and ask for God’s will to be done.
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5:14-15
But we don’t have to stop there: we can also pray to understand the purpose of God’s will, cope with things we’re not happy about, grow from situations, and trust our Lord more deeply because of it all! I believe these results are a large reason God allows pain into our lives. It does more than hurt us: it promotes growth.
A good balance
Here’s a scene from Matthew that I absolutely love:
And a leper came to Him [Jesus] and bowed down before Him, and said, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean." Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Matthew 8:2-3
I. Just. Love that. "If you are willing, you can make me clean." The leper said it more concisely than I can, but here’s my interpretation: it’s like saying “God, I believe you have power and authority to move mountains. But only fill this specific request of mine if it is in your will.” What a mature and humble statement! This is the passage that led me to the word thelo.
So, yeah. I don’t know what God’s will is for my mom’s health. My role will continue to be encouraging her and praying for her faithfully: but maybe with more of a motive to understand, submit to, and embrace God’s will than before.
I think we could all use some more of that in our lives.
Have you ever been pressured to feel a certain way? Maybe it was during worship at a church. The music was loud; people all around you had their hands high in the air. The worship leader seemed about to cry. But for some reason, you weren’t in the mood. Or maybe it was an emotionally-charged speaker. He based his entire stance on emotion, trying to make you feel like giving money to this or standing up for that. It left a bad taste in your mouth. Maybe it was while talking to a friend. She’s been having the most amazing times with the Lord, and you’re happy for her. . . but honestly, you’ve felt pretty ‘meh’ lately. Does that mean something bad about your spiritual ‘level’?
I’ve experienced all these things, to a T. Emotion is often misused or misinterpreted, especially in Christian life. It’s awkward and frustrating. So let’s talk about it.
God created emotion
First, emotion is a powerful element of life created by God. When God formed humanity, every element he included was purposeful: the design of our bodies, the way we laugh, the pathways of nerves and placement of muscles, how we relate to others, and yes, the ability to feel. Everything was intended to bring him glory. It's also amazing to me how the human face shows emotion so intricately. (Just look at the pictures I've included in this post!)
Further, God created us in his image. God himself shows a wide range of emotions in the Bible: from anger to rejoicing, from grieving to compassion, from hatred to love. When he sent Jesus to earth as a perfect embodiment of himself, he too showed intense emotion.
The problem is that we aren’t living in God’s original, sinless world. . . and we’ve proven ourselves skilled at taking a good thing like emotion and twisting it. Feelings can now be used to create confusion, shame, and impulse.
Distortions of emotion
Sadly, worship music can easily misuse emotion. Because the environment and mood of worship is so compelling, it can leave critical thinking in a vulnerable state. Next time you’re singing or listening to a worship song, ask yourself: are these words accurately portraying truth? Can the message of this song be backed up by specific Bible verses? Usually, the answer will be yes. But if there is unclear ground, we run the risk of viewing God as something he is not.
Another danger is depending on emotion as your faith’s foundation. Do you feel bad if you don’t shed a tear during worship? Do you feel ashamed if your devo time wasn’t the most exciting part of your day? You gotta remember that feelings change all the time. They will cause you to fall if you rely on them. We are saved by what Jesus has done for us. Period. That is the foundation that will not waver.
Our first allegiance: truth
Our first allegiance must be to Biblical truth. From there, emotion finds its rightful place: glorifying God and deepening our affections for him.
God tells us in Deuteronomy to “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” He doesn’t want robot followers. He wants fully engaged, heart-and-soul-and-strength worshippers. It is a good, good thing to reflect on what Jesus has done for us: to feel the reality of anguish we were in without him, and the incredible joy we have because of him.
Another verse that speaks to this is John 4:23: “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” This is a picture of head-plus-heart worship: of both focusing your mind on truth, and letting God’s Spirit move your spirit within you.
If you’re ever unsure of your focus, ask yourself this: “Is this emotion in reaction to truth, or am I producing it artificially without engaging my mind?”
Emotion as a gauge
Because of its impulsive nature, emotion can also be used as an honest gauge of what we value. As I mentioned earlier, Jesus felt things deeply. Every bit as real and varying as the emotions we experience, Jesus showcased it all without any sinful distortion. This is a great opportunity to compare ourselves with him. Do our emotions match up with Jesus’ in similar situations? When are we most joyful, most annoyed, most passionate? This can show a reflection of Christ, or reveal parts of our hearts that need to be changed. (Click HERE for a full post on the topic.)
Emotion is a powerful and God-ordained part of life. Though it can have devastating effects when misused or misinterpreted, it brings glory to God and beauty to life when kept consistent with truth.
Hello! I'm Anna, a college student living in the Midwest. I'm a strong believer in uncontrollable laughter, powerful words, and a morning cup of coffee. I pray these posts will encourage you to live a full life with and for God: unhindered. Follow me on social media for post updates!