Malachi 3:6 “For I am the Lord, I do not change….”
My grandson and I built a sand castle the other day. We placed a dragon on the rim of the sandbox, a solid piece of plastic. The dragon stayed put until one of us moved it. But as we placed the princess and knight on top of the sand castle, it collapsed, sending our figures tumbling to the bottom. We re-built the castle, trying to make it more solid, but watched as it collapsed several more times. My life before I committed it to God was like our sandbox play. I based it on ideas, values and beliefs that shifted regularly and was always on the brink of collapse, much like the sand castle. I was often rebuilding areas of my life, always hoping to be stronger the next time around. Looking back, my life could also be symbolized by a boat on the water in the middle of a storm, tossing me to and fro. Unlike the verse below, I had nothing solid to grasp hold of and I fell.
Matt 7:25 – “ The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”
At one point, I decided the chaos in my life was a result of my inability to find work that was fulfilling. I concluded that everything in my life would fall neatly into place and the sadness would go away if I had a job that I enjoyed. With great anticipation, I returned to college to finish my bachelor’s degree. I began studying business and marketing because I was working at a bank. The summer before my senior year I became disillusioned with the business world so I switched majors and studied Social Work, thinking I would enjoy working more if I could help others while earning a living. I worked in that field for a few years but struggled to navigate my way around a system that seemed to cause more problems than it solved for those it was set up to help. In response to that frustration, I went back to school for a Master’s degree. Based on the advice of a career counselor, I studied Business Administration and Human Resources. I was about half-way through my courses when I read with dismay that companies were cutting their Human Resources department to save money. I managed to find jobs and worked in the field about 9 years, learning some very hard lessons about the business world, most importantly that I don’t have what it takes to function successfully in that world. I spent those 9 years constantly looking for the next job for a variety of reasons: I wanted one that would pay more, I wanted to work closer to home, I wanted a job that had better hours, I wanted to work with people who shared my values. How I made decisions about my career was constantly shifting as I tried to fill a void or meet ever-changing cultural demands.
I managed to get a job making almost six figures. I was confident in my work, knew what needed to be done to insure my organization was in compliance with employment laws. I worked at making processes more efficient, despite great resistance from those more comfortable with the antiquated methods they had been using for more than 30 years. Despite a lack of support and direction from my boss I managed to implement a number of programs that would benefit our employees. It appeared I had achieved everything I set out to do, but there was still a lingering sadness, the void would not be filled. Every morning I had to encourage myself to somehow get through the day. I didn’t see any way out. I knew there would be no other jobs that would pay what this one paid. The economy was getting worse and jobs were disappearing. I stayed and focused on doing my job. Then one day my boss walked in and told me the decision had been made to let me go. No warning, no indication that there were any problems – the announcement was totally unexpected. But there it was – the sand castle had collapsed.
I went through a period of grieving. I had built my life around having a successful career and now it was gone. Losing that job was one of the events in my life that God used to begin drawing me to Him. My work life was one of the first areas I let go of, determined to follow God’s direction this time instead of my plans. He opened the door to a job that I would have never considered. If His prompting had not been so clear, I might have passed it up because it was a job much like those I had before I went back to college and it required knowledge in an area I had no confidence in. But I no longer trusted the worldly things I had been using to make decisions. I had begun to read my Bible each day and told God I would try it His way. I was learning the immensity of God’s love for me and that He knows me better than I know myself. I had given up the “Santa Claus God” I grew up believing in and learned that God’s plans don’t always include a lot of money or success as the world defines it. I was very excited to see how He was going to use me when I lived His way and I stopped fearing what would happen if I didn’t follow the world’s rules. I no longer had to worry about all of the things that could change and affect my decisions. The things God used to develop His plan for my life don’t shift and change; they’re not based on things like the economy, what others think, or my feelings. His direction is rock solid. I am more content in my work than I ever imagined I could be. The amazing thing is He led me right back where I was before I took off in my own direction!
Psalm 146:3 – “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no help.”
As I think about building my life on God’s firm foundation, I sometimes question why some days are so hard. I’ve come to the conclusion that relying on God’s solid foundation is a lifestyle that’s built on day-to-day choices. Too often, I find myself back on sand in order to get through a tough day or a small crisis. I tend to seek immediate relief instead of focusing on what God would have me do. In my panic I don’t trust God, looking instead to advice from friends or family without checking it against God’s direction. I wait for my feelings to change or I seek approval or comfort from the world. It’s nice to have someone validate my feelings, especially when I’ve been wronged in some way, so it’s often hard to admit my role in a struggle; easier to accept the misplaced encouragement I receive when I reach out to others, painting a picture that may or may not resemble the actual situation. Getting support from others is good and I know God wants me to build relationships with other Christians. The problem comes when I don’t check their advice or their encouragements against God’s direction.
These small “sand castles” can easily become so gratifying that we don’t realize we’re becoming dependent on them instead of taking things to God. When we don’t seek to do His will in every situation, when we allow worldly choices to override the Spirit’s direction, we run the risk of building our lives on sand, one situation at a time. Who or what do we turn to in those moments when our day becomes complicated or difficult? What are we depending on to rescue us from an immediate fear or sorrow? Where do we look to feel valued? In the long-term I believe I have given all this over to God, but as I consider how I handle these things in the short-term, I often find myself on shaky ground.
I love beautiful, sunny Saturday mornings – no obligations; I can choose to do whatever I want to do after working all week. I’m always tempted to get in my car and go to my favorite store and buy stuff. Any stuff will do: clothes, food, things for my grandchildren. In deciding what to buy or whether to buy anything at all, I used to waver back and forth, debating on whether to spend the last of the money in my checking account or, if there wasn’t much, asking my husband for some money or using my credit card. I could void the check to the church that I hadn’t put in the offering plate yet. Human nature allows us to justify and rationalize and that’s what I did as I drove to the stores. I had committed to managing my money the way God directs us but after ignoring what I knew His will was in regards to my “Saturday morning temptation” a few too many times, I found myself justifying my actions and doing the questionable checkbook math I used to do to alleviate the guilt of spending more than I should. I soon stopped giving to my church and used my credit card again, a habit I had managed to break. I was beginning to experience the hopelessness I felt at being a slave to this habit and prayed for God to help me see the way out I knew He would provide and was soon back on track. When Saturday morning rolls around, I remind myself of God’s direction about money and material things. God doesn’t want me to be indebted to others; He wants me to be responsible with all that He has blessed me with and He doesn’t want me to find happiness in material things or to be covetous. Based on His direction, only when I’ve been responsible with my money and prioritized my spending according to His will, can I buy something with whatever CASH I have left. If I haven’t handled my money as responsibly as I feel God is leading me, buying something is off the table. Decisions based on God’s direction are rock solid, clear and concise, and so freeing!
It’s easy to allow the world to gain authority over our day-to-day decisions as we seek to satisfy our desires or alleviate pain as quickly as possible. People who seem to care one day may not be there for us when they feel we’re too much of a burden. Ideas that the culture accepts last a few years then we’re off in a completely different direction. What’s considered to be right or wrong changes as often as the direction of the wind changes. In contrast, God’s commandments tell us clearly what not to do or what to do and they haven’t changed since God handed the basic Ten to Moses thousands of years ago!
Stay connected to God by reading His Word every day, talking to Him regularly throughout the day, listening to good praise music whenever possible, and sitting in silence to “hear” Him. Before you act, react, or make a decision, consult Him – check it against His direction. Even the solid rock we’ve built our life on will shift if we get enough sand under it!
Psalm 111:7,8 – “…; All His precepts are sure. They stand fast forever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness.”
Psalm 119:4 “You have commanded us to keep Your precepts diligently.”
Psalm 119:165 “Great peace have those who love Your law….”