Deciphering God’s Will (+ a Book Giveaway)

The Grand Paradox

THE WINNERS ARE:

Mikki Jacobs

Pedre Decupe

Alayne

Kim k

Congratulations! You will each receive one copy of The Grand Paradox. Please send me your mailing address using the contact page. 

In my former life as a book publicist, I got to know a man named Ken Wytsma. Ken is an author, a pastor, a husband, a father or four girls and he founded a rather large annual gathering called The Justice Conference.

One week in the cold of February, Ken and I traveled to Pittsburg, where he had some media lined up for his first book Pursuing Justice. My job was to drive us around and make sure we were on time and Ken was prepared. This is always the job of a book publicist when traveling with an author.

I am not so great at directions and was nervous to be driving around Ken Wytsma because he is kind of a big deal. Because of this, I got lost going to almost every destination we needed to get to over the course of two days. We spent more time in that rented SUV driving through mysterious roads in the snow than we did doing interviews or being indoors.

At some point Ken took over the GPS, which really hurt my publicist pride, and we started arriving at our destinations much more quickly.

Even though Pittsburg was kind of a fail logistically, it did give me an opportunity to get to know this author/pastor/conference leader man, and I’m so glad it did.

Ken truly lives out his life message: that justice is central to the gospel, and in order for us to know God’s heart, we must seek justice for all of His people.

Right before I left my publishing job last fall, I got a sneak peek at the manuscript for Ken’s new book The Grand Paradox. I read 20 pages and wanted more. The book finally released a few weeks ago, and I was not disappointed by the other 180 or so pages.

If I had to pick a favorite part about The Grand Paradox, it would be the way Ken talks about the will of God for our lives.

As a millennial, I am obsessed with God’s will for my life. As Ken points out, this type of fixation popular in current Christian culture is not helpful. Not to us as individuals and not to God’s big, overarching will for humanity.

“We all like to think God’s will for our individual lives is to write us into the story as the central character,” writes Ken (p. 82). Yep, I like to think that most days. That God is going to do HUGE things through ME.

Ken goes on: “Instead of asking what God’s will is for my life, I should be asking how I can serve God’s will with my life….God doesn’t promise that all will play the central character. What God does promise, however, is that He will love all, lead all, meet us all, and provide guidance and wisdom needed through the Holy Spirit to find, rest in, and follow His leading in our lives” (p.85).

I am incredibly guilty of trying to decipher God’s perfect will for me, my exact next steps to take. This has paralyzed me in decisions and caused great guilt and fear that I made, or will make, a wrong move. God has been gently freeing me of this mindset lately and reading Ken’s book came at the perfect time to affirm the truth that discerning God’s will does not have to be a hard and scary thing. In fact, if it feels that way, I’m probably trying to make myself the central character. I’m probably thinking that I’m a way bigger deal than I actually am.

Ken ends this chapter with a beautiful and simple thought: “What is God’s will for your life? Simple. It is that you live out His will for the world. That you bring goodness, truth, and beauty to the world. Christianity doesn’t serve me; I serve the cause of Christ.”

I’m doing something today that I’ve never done before, a giveaway! I have four copies of The Grand Paradox to give away to four lucky recipients. Leave a comment below and consider yourself entered into the drawing. On Thursday, March 12, exactly one week from today, I will collect all commenters’ names and select the four winners. I’ll then announce the winners via my Twitter and Instagram accounts. So follow @AndreaLucado and/or @AndreaLucado to find out if you won!

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Do You Want to Know God, Or His Game?

Are You Getting to Know God, Or His Game?

{This is a big question that requires much more than a blog post. Here today, I will simply examine one molecule on one piece of ice that sits at the tip top of the iceberg. A question like this deserves a book, of which I’m sure there are many.}

I’ve caught myself asking “Why?” a lot lately. After a decision here, a decision there, an event here and a disappointment there, my knee-jerk reaction has been to look toward the sky and ask God, “Why?” Why did this happen? Why do I feel this way? Why couldn’t this have worked out? Or, why did this person do this or that? It’s endless and relentless and I’m surprised God hasn’t put some sort of divine muzzle on me already. But I guess that’s not really how God works.

Instead, He is gentle with us. He sees us (as a friend’s blog reminded me recently). He loves us. He cares for us. At least, these are the things I tell other people. These are things I write on my blog and make readers think I understand and know with everything in me. But the truth is, I think I often doubt God’s love and His ways more than I care to admit, even to myself. You see, in all of this recent asking of “Why?”, I’ve realized that my chief goal has not been to understand God; it has been to understand what God is up to, to understand His game, as if He has a game, and He is playing it.

Deep down I think weird and dark things like this: If I can know why something happened, then I can know what God is up to. And if I know what God is up to, then I can know what’s coming next. And that means, I can predict what leads God to do or allow certain things in my life. And then, jackpot! I can decipher what I need to do in order to get what I want from God.

If you are so pure-of-heart, and this isn’t resonating with you yet, then think of it this way. When you are in a relationship with someone, in order to feel close to them and to grow to love them, you must get to know them. In order to get to know them, you spend time with them. You ask them questions. You allow them to get to know you, too. What you do not do is camp out behind a tree and watch them from a distance through a set of binoculars calculating their every move.

-Susan buys coke from soda machine

-Susan opens can of coke

-Susan takes two sips of coke

-Susan says “hello” to coworker who passes by

What have you learned about Susan from your little detective work? Susan was thirsty or tired or bored and so she drank a coke. What have you learned about her character? Do you feel closer to her now that you learned that she drank a coke this afternoon? Are you now on a path to a loving relationship? NO. Why? Because you were simply interested in her behavior, rather than who she was. In order to love someone, you must want to know who that someone is, aside from his or her behavior.

Sometimes when I’m being a whiny, why-asker, what I’m actually doing is watching God  from behind a tree with my binoculars. I’m not actually interested in getting to know who He is; I’m more interested in knowing what He’s going to do next, and what that means for me and my life and the things I want.

I think I would stomp my foot and demand “Why?!” less often if I trusted who God was. I’m never going to fully know why anyways (Isaiah 55:8-9). Not until I am an immortal being who lives above and outside of time and can see from beginning to end. Not until then, which will be never. So while I’m here, maybe it’s more worth my time to get to know the immortal being who lives above and outside of time. To get to know and trust Him and to just finally put the binoculars down. He may already be much closer than I think.

The Risk of Getting to Know People

The Risk of Getting to Know People

I think I’m getting worse at knowing people. What I mean is, I used to be able to ask new acquaintances endless questions about themselves. This is because I have good parents who are good at asking people questions, so I learned this from them. I’m still more of an asker and listener than a talker, but I remember after my first year out of college realizing this had gotten more difficult for me; it took more energy to keep asking questions. I blamed this on the fact I was living in England and people are less nosy about other people there in general. But I notice it still. It is much easier to not ask someone about her story, to just let it be and keep talking about the weather.

I wonder if we get weary of this because we’ve heard all of the sad answers by now. When you enter into the great big world, you ask a stranger a question and you hear about his heartache and abuse and sadness and failures and, well, it would just be easier to not hear those things. I wonder also if we get more consumed by our own heartaches, failures and sadnesses and feel we don’t have room to know anyone else’s.

I actually have to muster up physical energy at times now when I dig into someone’s story, whereas when I was younger, it felt effortless.

And I’ve felt ashamed of this. Do I not care about people anymore? What is this wall that has so suddenly grown up between me and humanity? Where did it come from and how do I knock it down?

I’m not sure how, but I am sure how to keep the wall there, strong and steady. Stop getting to know people. Just stop. We could all agree to coexist and walk side by side without facing each other, looking each other in the eye and asking, “how are you?” Because we’ve heard the answer too many times.

If this sounds remotely appealing to you, you’re not alone. I’ve thought this before. Like when I was hiking with a friend this weekend. She’s been divorced for  a few years but I had never asked her much about the details of the divorce. How it felt, how it hurt, how it even happened, logistics wise. I thought about not asking her these things and staying away from the details and safe on the surface, but I mustered the energy somehow and as we walked through tress and crunched branches with our feet, I dug into her story. And the walk felt surprisingly refreshing and the questions came easier as I allowed myself to ask them. And we know each other better now.

Being known is a desire at the core of us all and though only God knows us fully, I believe he gave us the gift of conversation and each other so we could subsist on a taste of being slightly known while here on this earth. To get a glimpse of what being wholly known could be like. And when I think of it this way, the dangers of asking a friend about herself and getting to know her better is still scary, vulnerable and hard work but it becomes worthwhile work. Because I know I’m chipping away at the wall to reveal a path between us, and the path looks a little like eternity.

Beauty: The Race We’re All Losing

andrealucado.wordpress.com woman-looking-in-mirrorIf beauty is fleeting, why do we chase it?

I was fortunate to be told by loving parents again and again that I was beautiful. Their compliments came naturally, but I took them for granted. Sometimes, I didn’t believe them and many times they even got on my nerves. Great, my dad thinks I’m beautiful, but no one at school does. And the guy in my algebra class was the real opinion that mattered. I wish I could say not believing in my own beauty ended in high school, but scrolling through old Facebook pictures recently made me realize it hasn’t.

Have you ever done that? Accidentally clicked the arrow the wrong way and suddenly you’re staring at a photo of yourself from eight years ago? I continued to click through the pictures of my years in college. All the way through. There were so many. I had done so many things I had forgotten about. Activities, entire sports teams I have vague memories of being a part of. I hope I’m not the only one whose eyes go directly to herself when looking at a group shot. I did this each time and even though these pictures were so old, I had myself under a magnifying glass thinking thoughts like, “I must have been a size 12 in that picture…size six in that one…why did I wear that same t-shirt so much…what’s happening to my hair….seriously, how did I have friends?… I realize why boyfriends have been few and far between.”

I was 27 getting angry at my 20-year-old self for not being more beautiful, for not measuring up to the compliments from my parents and others over the years.

I hate to admit that as a Christian, independent-type woman, I have allowed external beauty to rule, but I have. If I feel ok about the way I look, I feel ok about me. If I’m receiving less compliments or not getting asked out, I assume it is because I don’t look attractive, and I begin to wonder what I need to do to gain back my attractiveness. I don’t know who I am without beauty, or at least the chase of it.

What would we do without this comparison game that consumes our thoughts? It’s my favorite game. I compare my arms to hers, and my ratty hair to her perfect bun, and I think about all of the things I need to do and be doing now and do later that would allow me to achieve all of the things others have that I want.

Of course it’s crazy when I really think about it. If I achieved this, I would have four different types of hair on my head, one long and skinny arm and one muscular one. A big butt cheek and a small one. Short legs and a long torso and different colored and shaped eyes. To look the we “want,” would be to look like an ugly Picasso painting.

And after years of this tiring and endless game, I think I’m starting, starting, to see my mind shift a bit. Like the other day when I was running on the treadmill at the gym and staring at every woman who came into view. I’m sure I looked creepy, but I didn’t care; I was having a minor breakthrough. I studied so many different bodies during my time on the machine. I could tell some of the women were healthy and allowing their body’s shape to be what it was. And some I could tell had worked hard to form a different shape. It’s like we are potters trying to turn clay into a glass table. We have been given certain materials, but we want to create them into things they can never be. No wonder we are exhausted. No wonder we don’t feel beautiful. We have the wrong goal. Our clay will never turn into the beautiful clear glass we are wanting because it is meant to be clay.

Can we change this? I hope we can. I think we can. But first we have to stop the chase altogether. If beauty is fleeting, it will be gone the moment we attain it, so let’s stop trying. Give up the chase altogether. That’s when we will begin to desire the clay, to work with the clay, and eventually one day, we will love the clay.

Lessons for a 13-Year-Old

We are taught a lot of things at age 13 in churches and at our youth groups. I remember nights around the campfire at church camp that were profound and talked about Jesus in a way I hadn’t thought about him before. I remember hearing that who I was was in Christ and not in whether or not boys liked me or what I looked like. Those were the lessons I remember being driven home the most. Because, as I know now, a girl’s worth is one of the hardest fought battles in her lifetime. Our youth leaders knew this, so we talked about it lots.

This weekend I traveled to Seattle to watch my big sister speak at a conference called Revolve. It’s a speaking and concert tour for girls ages 13-18, 6th to 12th grade. I’ve gone to Revolve to see Jenna four of the five years she’s spoken on the tour. Each year, about ten minutes into her talk I always feel this strange mix of fandom-“wow, that girl is cool and knows what she’s talking about”-and proud sister-“wow, that’s my blood up there, speaking truth.” And each year I learn as much from her talk, and others’, as the teen girls who bought tickets to the event.

Anthem Lights at Revolve
Anthem Lights performing at Revolve

But this year I learned extra. It was like the words spilling over the edge of that stage in that auditorium were heavier and whacking me in this almost annoying way. Because I knew it wasn’t new. People had been reading those scriptures to me and over me for years but I was feeling them deeply again and for the first time.

It makes me wonder, what does it take? Seriously what? For these lessons to stick once and for all? And to be so sticky they can never be scraped off? How do I keep it on me? How do I make sure it stays on the girls in the youth group I volunteer with? I see it bouncing off of them all the time, as much I try to put it back on nice and neat.

For truth being what it is—singular, God-breathed and, well, true—it is incredible how resistant our spirits are towards it and how thirsty they are for it. I’m dying of thirst, but don’t give me water, but give me water, but don’t.

the girls backstage
Backstage with Jenna (middle back), my mom (arms around my waist) and little sister (front right) and some of the other speakers/friends on the tour–Christine Caine, Kari Jobe and Christa Black. OMG

I think confessing and recognizing our thirst is a continuous, conscious effort. I guess the 8th grader sitting behind me at Revolve is just as in need as I am. In fact, I feel needier now than I did at that age. Even though I feel like I should “get” it by now. But believing Christ and comprehending grace is not a one-time event on your knees; it’s a lifetime of “getting” it. If we got it all right now in one moment, we would probably swell up with too much knowledge of the beauty of truth—think blueberry girl from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, rolled away quickly to avoid explosion.

We just can’t handle it all at once. But we would die without it in small doses.

Why Do We Love Those Who Don’t Love Us Back? Part II

unrequited love

A little over two years ago I wrote a post entitled Why Do We Love Those Who Don’t Love Us Back? It is consistently my most-read post. When I visit my handy dandy WordPress dashboard, that tells me I haven’t written a blog post in months and 14 people viewed it last Tuesday, I see that one of the most common search terms bringing people to English Lessons is a variation of that question: Why do I love someone who doesn’t love me back?

This has fascinated me for these past two years. People Google that. A lot of people Google that. Unrequited love is a mystery we are asking a search engine to solve for us. I think I get why. Loving someone who doesn’t seem to return our feelings is painful, and when God doesn’t make the pain go away when we ask Him to, we ask Google. And then we land in places like my blog that do not wholly answer the question or heal your pain, but they do make us feel less alone. The power of this, this realizing your problem is shared by many others, can not be underestimated.

Two years ago my answer to the posed question was that this type of love mirrors the Gospel, and we can find solace in that and the fact that sometimes we just love people we shouldn’t and we can’t help it. I talked about my dad making me feel better by telling me, “You can’t help who you love.” Now that I’ve seen how many people responded to that post, needed to read that post, I realize that maybe my dad’s statement was so helpful because he was using the plural “you.” He wasn’t saying, “You, Andrea, are unique and can’t stop loving the person that broke your heart.” He was saying that none of us can stop loving the people we don’t have business loving. And that communal element helps heal us and give us what we need: the strength to move on or the strength to persistently love the unloveable.

I wish I had learned more about this subject over the past two years and had more to say right now. I wonder at how little clarity I’ve gained and how cloudy it remains. But here it is, what Google has to offer you as a result of your search. I hope you’re encouraged and I hope you come back in two years for Part III, where you’ll see that I’ve managed to learn even less about this stuff.

What Do I Know for Sure? (After One Year of Asking Difficult Questions)

I believe in questions. I say this a lot; I’ll say it again: a life unquestioned is not a life worth living for me. Even the hard the questions. The one your mind reactionally tried to discard so you can’t think about this. Those. Those are the questions I tried to ask myself this year in my Mondays of posing difficult questions series.

My final question of the year goes back to the one I began with: What do you know for sure? I’ve realized this is what I was getting at all along. I wanted to figure out if we, as Christians, could know certain things for sure and if so, what were those things?

One thing I knew already but am now strangely more comfortable with: When it comes to faith, there are aspects I’ll never know for sure. All of this questioning, wondering, guessing, making up answers that ultimately aren’t satisfying and I have to delete and start over. All of that has made me more OK with not knowing everything. When I asked if we were humans or dancers, for example, that’s one I really want the answer to but I don’t have it yet. Also, the praying for your future spouse thing that many had an opinion on–still gets me.  But I’m not up in a wad about these questions like I was before this series. Why not? Because I finally asked them. The effect of simply taking a difficult question out of my head and finally placing it on the table has spurred conversations, some on this blog and a lot in my real life, that made me see others are asking the same thing. And, better yet, they have completely different perspectives than I that shed light on at least a corner of the answer to these questions. I’ve learned to relax and breathe easy about the hard questions that don’t have answers because I’m not the only one searching for them. The quest is not up to just me.

Quenching my need to succeed and make good grades, I am walking away from this series with a specific list of things I do know for sure. For example, as sobering as this is, I am certain most people settle in some way or another in their lives and I am certain this is OK and even a necessity. (As a commenter pointed out to me, settling is very much a first-world word and “problem” anyways.) The other stuff I became certain of this year falls under one sentence: God is sovereign. I am certain of his sovereignty in areas I can’t say I was certain before. He was sovereign in the garden. He is sovereign in poverty. He is sovereign in our weakness and inability to accurately portray who He is during our stints on earth. I don’t use His sovereignty as a blanket response to some of these difficult questions but as a genuine explanation I hadn’t understood before.

This year I have learned much and unlearned more. Unlearning is humbling. It’s forced me to see that my opinions are not steadfast and often not even true. If I stick to them, I’ll get in big trouble. This won’t stop me from creating them. I’m human and, therefore, need to know some things are for sure. That desire is in all of us and begging us to ask difficult, confusing and scary questions. It’s what we were made to do because somewhere, maybe not here, there are answers.

How Do You Grieve the Non-Believer?

I had this whole post ready about the role of women in the workplace. That’s what I’m supposed to be writing about right now: women’s roles and questions I have about it. But I can’t stop thinking about this: Peter Hitchens’ In Memoriam article for his brother, Christopher Hitchens, the renowned writer, thinker and atheist who died on Friday. And now the real question I’m asking is not so much about my role as a woman in the workplace and much more about how Peter is grieving his brother right now. Tonight, even as I write this, I wonder what he is thinking, what he is wondering, what type of sadness he is feeling or confusion or, even, anger.

Peter (left) and Christopher (right) as children photo taken from this article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2075133/Christopher-Hitchens-death-In-Memoriam-courageous-sibling-Peter-Hitchens.html

Peter is an evangelical Christian whose relationship with his brother has been, as he describes it, publicly complicated. He says in his In Memoriam that the correspondence between him and Christopher for the last several months was better than had been in the last 50 years. Amazing what one’s impending death can do to all parties involved: the big arguments and fights are not worth it until the end. We want to be remembered for good. We want to say goodbye on decent terms, loving terms, if possible. Once it is over, the real thoughts settle in. The real feelings you didn’t have to turn off so the one slipping away didn’t see them on your face.

I don’t want to have a discussion on the existence of hell right now. That’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking how to let go of someone you loved who did not love the Jesus you love. In the little experience I’ve had with the deaths of loved ones who were Christians and deaths of those I knew who were not, my grieving was very different. For one, I find solace in their life outside of earth. For the other, I find solace in restraining my thoughts to memories of them on earth. The types of sadness are different too, as well as the conversations you have about him/her afterwards.

I think, perhaps, we grieve them before they’re gone. I wonder if Peter did this with Christopher. Did he feel he lost his brother years ago? Though I have never used this word for it, I think I have grieved friends and family who have denied a faith they once had. And I think that grief was extremely similar to what I feel when someone physically dies.

I don’t know the right answer to this one or if there is one but I know I certainly agree with this statement of Peter Hitchens’: “Much of civilisation rests on the proper response to death, simple unalloyed kindness, the desire to show sympathy for irrecoverable loss, the understanding that a unique and irreplaceable something has been lost to us.”

What Is the Role of a Christian Woman: In Dating?

I started writing the answer to this post and before I could type a word, realized I had no idea what the answer was. So I polled women I knew and respected of various marital statuses. I asked them what they believed the role of a woman in dating is according to their experience and according to scripture. I love the richness and diversity of their responses:

Single/22 years old: The role of a Christian woman in dating is to be pursued. We are called as women to submit to the pursuit and leadership of men. Therefore, let’s let them do their job. We have a biblical call to wait, submit and be patient. Since this is a biblical instruction spoken by God, in that place we as women will have most peace. Straying away from that call (which could mean taking control, impatiently initiating yourself, etc.) can mislead, confuse or awaken love too soon.

Single, divorcee/34 years old (But that doesn’t define me! My blue eyes that have a slightly cynical outlook, my hips that are 2 sizes too big, sarcastic leanings and an extreme love for NCIS are what really defines me 😉 ): My role as a divorced single mom, I feel, is to seek healing, honest-to-goodness, soul-changing healing. This healing takes time, pain, time, trust in God, time, and patience…oh, and time. Then, I am to live my life…I mean live it. Do what I dreamed of, go on adventures, ask people all sorts of questions, reflect, seek and live! And then, always hope…hope in God and rest in His grace.

In a relationship/25 years old: I think I now have a much more refined and actually fairly simple view of the role of Christian women in dating, and it’s this: The role of a Christian woman in dating is, at it’s core, the same as that of a man: be prayerful, honest, open, and ultimately, be genuinely yourself. I think if we, as women, do those things, then the right men will join us in the right relationships by taking on that role as well. This is not to say that “being ourselves” means not being open to change and growth, but it just means that we don’t try to be someone we aren’t. It has been a struggle of mine before, which is perhaps why one of my favorites verses is Romans 12:9 – Love must be sincere.

Married/26 years old: To guard your heart, seek God’s will for the future of your relationship, be open to God’s leading (it doesn’t have to end in marriage), and build your significant other with love and respect. Keep in mind flashing red lights in dating can destroy a marriage. Marriage is the second most important decision in your life and you’ll want to listen closely and tread lightly before you head down the road. Marriage is the greatest blessing when you’re with the right person! Date with purpose and grow in the process.

Single/27 years old: The bible teaches that marriage is a picture of the gospel. It is to illustarte the pursuit of Christ to his church and in return her submission to his love and authority. While the bible doesn’t teach a lot about “dating” as we know (and love) it, I do believe that dating should be a preview of that picture of marriage. While we aren’t called to submit to the man we are dating as we are to our husbands, nor are we to engage in all the activites marriage allows, we still mimic those roles of Christ and the church to a certain degree. In dating the girl gets the chance to sit back and relax (if she can allow herself to see it that way). The man initiates and pursues her as God turns his heart to do so and the girl responds and affirms his pursuit. Plain and simple. One of my favorite things to see is a man of God who is pursuing a woman. That woman is freed and covered by his pursuit. She is freed to affirm his masculinity being manifested by his pursuit of her and in turn she is not put in a position to be solely vulnerable or manipulative to get his affections.

What Is the Role of a Christian Woman: In Church Leadership?

In the early church, women were allowed to attend. This was big news for women then. They were so excited to go to church where they could worship the recently risen Christ that they chatted a lot amongst themselves and were a bit of a disruption. Sounds familiar. Women were chatty then; we’re chatty now. The apostle Paul told them to be quiet once in a letter and now we get all offended. I was offended until my mom explained that context to me just a few weeks ago. Incredible what a bit of context can do. And what the lack of it can do.

But context isn’t really my point. This is my blog; not my biblical studies thesis. (I never wrote one those and I’m sure it’s obvious.) The point is I have a pattern of subconsciously choosing to ignore the parts of the Bible I felt told me I could’t lead or speak out because I am a woman. And then often I was, at some point by some wise teacher along the way, proven that my interpretation of that scripture was wrong, like that one in 1 Peter about wives and maybe some others I can’t remember right now.

So I don’t think the Bible tells us to be quiet, but growing up I went to a church led mostly by men and saw other churches led mostly by men so I superimposed my cultural experience into my scripture. I’m very good at this. Then I went to church in England and noticed that the quietest I was in church–my mind, my heart, everything was so quiet–was when our pastor’s wife spoke. And she spoke, it seemed, almost as often as he did. And when she prayed, the air was thick with anticipation and quiet as stone because her voice practically melted into us in a way that made us all certain everything she prayed was going to be, at that instant.