Week of November 2
"Why am I this way? Why can't I change?"
Most of us have heard that cry from troubled individuals. The first time I heard it, it came from a man who had been an alcoholic for almost a decade. He kept trying to quit; once he stayed sober for eight months, and another time for nearly a year. He always went back to the bottle.
I didn't have an answer for him. I don't think he actually asked for an answer Even if he had received one, it wouldn't have solved his problem.
All of us are less than perfect, and we know it. Probably most of us have things in our personality we've tried to change but have been unsuccessful. We may have mellowed slightly or made some adjustment, but in other areas we just don't seem to win.
Our tendency is to blame God or some other outside force that we're the way we are. Perhaps we were born that way, or our early environment made us that way. How can we change?
When we cry out to God, "Why am I this way?" I wonder if we're asking for information or subtly blaming God for making us the way we are.
We're not the first to question God. Jeremiah, an Old Testament prophet, struggled with this issue when he wrote about watching a potter at work. "I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the LORD came to me: 'O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?' declares the LORD. 'Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel'" (Jer 18:3b-6, NIV).
God's sovereignty over us is difficult for us to accept. We want free will, power of choice, and the ability to make decisions in our lives.
I don't know where the line falls between God's sovereignty and our ability to change. But we need to remember that we belong to God and are divine possessions; God created us to be who we are.
What would it be like, I asked God, if I accepted myself as I am, without reservation? What would it be like if I took the very position Jeremiah stresses? If God is the potter, and I am clay in the divine hands, whom am I to complain, or debate about it? But to acknowledge the full sovereignty of God gives us problems. We just can't quite accept that we have no rights.
I thought of what it would feel like to be a young child, feeling hungry, and waiting for food. Would I sit complacently and say, "Oh, I'll get fed," or would I surge forward, push myself to the table, and scream, "Me, me, me"? Probably the latter.
Part of it, I suppose, has to do with trust or maybe with how many times we have gone hungry. We're simply afraid to turn everything over to God. If we fully surrender, what will God do with us? Where will God take us?
I think of the old hymn sung in countless churches even today: "Thou are the potter, I am the clay. Make me and mold me after thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still" ("Have Thine Own Way, Lord," 1902).
I've sung those words, and I've meant them. They're a vow-a promise to God and to myself of total commitment.
I'm quick to make that vow until something happens in my life that I don't like. When I'm treated unfairly or unkindly, I'm a first-class complainer.
If we submit to the total sovereignty of God, we're saying, "It doesn't matter what happens in my life, it's okay. You have the right to do anything you want with me." That's not easy for most of us.
For instance, when I receive business opportunities, I ask God to make each of them happen "if it's your will." How should I react when the answer comes? Typically, if I get a yes I'm joyful and if it's a no, I feel dejected. But I'm not satisfied with that response.
I think of Job who suffered far more trauma than I could imagine happening to me. His wife urged him, "Curse God and die."
Here's his response: "You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (2:10, NIV).
That's the attitude I want to have. It's actually a freeing attitude. It's leaving the results in God's hands. They're there anyway, but being a pride-filled human being, that's not easy for me to live with.
When bad things happen to good people-and I'm good people-I don't handle it very well. I don't turn my back on God or deny the faith. No, I pout and moan and tell God, "That's not fair." Then after I've groaned and moaned awhile, I finally hear myself say, "Okay, I'm yours. Whatever you want." It's an eventual surrender.
I want that "eventual surrender" to be an immediate, spontaneous reaction: "I accept your will." As difficult as that is for me, that's how I'm praying.
It's the way Jesus prayed in the garden. "Not my will, but thine be done." I don't think we pray those words unless they're preceded by a deep yearning for something that we think God isn't going to let us have. It may be a marriage partner, a special job, or a sale that will net us a fortune. We pray such a prayer after we tell God what we want, mean it with intensity, and then have it fall apart in front of us.
At such moments, we realize we are clay. The Master Potter shapes and forms us, keeps us on the wheel, trims away the excess, forms us into the vessel that pleases the Potter's experienced eye.
In the midst of that comes the pain and the natural tendency to say, "I'm only human, and I don't like this."
The Master Potter ignores our dissatisfaction and just keeps on working, shaping and reforming, doing what only the Potter does well.
You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, "He did not make me?" Can the pot say of the potter, "He knows nothing?" --ISAIAH 29:16, NIV
forgive me for complaining,
and help me submit to whatever you need to do
to make me into a vessel
that meets your approval. Amen.
For more from Cec, please visit www.cecilmurphey.com.
Cecil Murphey has written more than one hundred books on a variety of topics with an emphasis on Spiritual Growth, Christian Living, Caregiving, and Heaven. He enjoys preaching in churches and speaking and teaching at conferences around the world. To book Cec for your next event, please contact Twila Belk at 563-332-1622.