November 2015 Final Issue
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Resenting God’s Generosity

I’ve come to better appreciate three realizations in the last few months.
  1. I really can’t achieve a “life to the full” (John 10:10) on my own. I need God.
  2. A life to the full really can’t be achieved through a formula with God…only through an intentional intimacy with the Father.
  3. I really love that this is truth and yet, at the same time, I’m struggling with this reality.
Let me present it another way. If Jesus gave you the option, which would you choose?
  1. To have each and every blessing given to you as an unwarranted, unmerited, unearned gift for no other reason than His immense love for you.
  2. To have each and every blessing given to you because of your effort, hard work, and goodness and to be given only after you have met His requirements for each one.
  3. A little bit of both.
If we’re being honest, we know that the first option is “right,” and the second option sounds both “wrong” and exhaustingly impossible. But I don’t think I’m the only one who feels a pull toward option C (and not just because C is usually the right answer to most questions in school). Why is that? My pastor recently gave a beautiful illustration of this dilemma. He took us to Galatians 5:25 where Paul says, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” Like many others, when I saw those words, I assumed that keeping in step with the Spirit meant trying to walk by His side, keeping pace with Him, speeding up and slowing down as needed so as not to be left behind. In short, I had a fair amount of work I needed to do…and that seemed appropriate. But then my pastor invited a small child up on stage and invited her to jump up on his back and be carried around the stage. She had hardly any work to do at all. No speeding up or slowing down. This, my pastor explained, is truly being in step with the Spirit. It’s allowing the Spirit to carry us, to support us as we encounter what He has prepared for us. It’s actually the position that allows us to receive the fruits of the Spirit mentioned previously in Galatians 5:22-23. So simple. So beautiful It convicted me…and I wasn’t the only one. After the service, I was talking with a couple of guys, and both were expressing how often they too had felt like there was “work” they were supposed to do. We all believed on some level that keeping in step with God would require a fair amount of exertion on our part. That receiving the fruits of the Spirit would require effort. Yes, there is an inherent irony in working to receive “peace” and “patience,” but God wired me as a man to work. I just don’t always work the way that He designed me to…or with the right understanding. Much like the older brother in the story of the loving father and the prodigal son: The younger brother arrived at home, forgiven, robed, ringed, and reestablished as a son, and a party began. But the older brother, in his righteous anger, refused to join in the festivities. Again, the loving father set aside decorum and begged his son to join in the celebration. But the older son replied, “All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!” “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours” (Luke 15:29-31, NLT). The older brother viewed his father the same way we often see our Father. We have to work for it. We have to earn it. We’re supposed to try to earn it. And then, and only then, we’re supposed to be rewarded. That’s how it works, right? No. “Dear son, everything I have is yours.” You can’t work for something that’s already been given to you. But oh how we try. We work to earn our homes, our cars, our clothes, our food…and we feel like God is supposed to honor our efforts in like manner. I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but I recently did this with, of all things, a cell phone. Our two-year contract was about to expire, and both my wife and I were pretty fed up with our phones. They were old and slow and froze up a lot, and we were eagerly looking forward to the day we could get our upgrade. Our finances were a little tight, though, so we figured we should pray and ask God if the right time to get these new phones was now. As we prayed, I realized I struggled with hearing His answer. As I dug into the silence, I discovered it was because I was angry. I was angry that He might say no, it’s not time for a new phone yet…and I was not okay with that answer because I worked to earn this. I waited my two years. I put in my time. I was obedient. I wanted my hard-earned reward. It’s funny now. It wasn’t so funny then. In the stillness following this sudden realization, Papa said, “You can’t earn it, Jon, because I give it. You can’t earn a gift that’s already been given. EVERYTHING you have is a gift. Every item, every dollar, every breath is a gift. You haven’t received them from work or ability...they are freely given because I want you to have them. Bask in My generosity...don’t resent it. You can have a new phone, Jon, but see the Giver behind the gift. I give out of love...from love." Wow. But I knew there was more, so I asked why I so badly wanted to feel like I had earned it. Why was I struggling so much to just receive? “You’re trying to supplant Me.” Uh oh. In a very loving way, He took me back to the Garden. To when we looked at the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and believed the lie that our Papa was holding out on us and that eating of the fruit would make us like Him. We suddenly resented all the things He had given us and resented Him all the more for what we felt He had withheld. We believed the lie that we had to earn it…that we had to take care of ourselves because our Father would not give us the things we wanted or felt we deserved. Along those same lines, Frederick Buechner says, “To do for yourself the best that you have it in you to do -- to grit your teeth and clench your fists in order to survive the world at its harshest and worst -- is, by that very act, to be unable to let something be done for you and in you that is more wonderful still. The trouble with steeling yourself against the harshness of reality is that the same steel that secures your life against being destroyed secures your life also against being opened up and transformed (The Sacred Journey). We want to feel like we’ve done the work rather than receive the gift. Sadly, we can resent and mistrust God’s generosity even as we’re attempting to do the work He’s called us to do. Pastor Bill Johnson of Bethel Church preached a sermon on “Faith versus Entitlement” earlier this year and said something that really grabbed my attention. He pointed out that “if we’re not careful, we move from faith to entitlement because we believe we have a role in bringing about our own destiny instead of it being the working of God’s grace.” He went on to confess how often he’s guilty of turning God into a process. “Last time, I fasted for three days, prayed for two hours, shouted, confessed, and in three hours…presto. So naturally, the next time I’m looking for a breakthrough or a response to prayer, I go back to what worked the last time.” We want to work for it. We want to earn it, even though God has given us ample evidence proving He doesn’t work like that. Here are just a few examples from His Word to us: So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus. God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago (Ephesians 2:7-10, NLT). Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it? (Galatians 3:2-4, NLT). [In the parable of the landowner who continued to hire workers throughout the day yet paid them all the same wage at day’s end.] Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’ (Matthew 20:15, NLT). There are many more rich examples, but God shows us time and again that His generosity is not a puzzle to be figured out. He’s not a process. He wants our hearts. He wants our love. He wants us to get to know Him in all His richness and complexity. He wants us to hear from Him instead of assuming we already know the answer or the method. Earlier this week during my quiet time, I asked Papa what He wanted to talk with me about, and He said “receiving.” I asked what I needed to know about that, and here’s what He said: "I want you to live in My Kingdom. My kingdom does not work the way that the world does. My Kingdom is not based on works...but I do want you to work with Me. It is not based on performance...but I do want you to participate in My projects; in the task of running My Kingdom. I want you to rest. I want you to receive. I want you to feel so abundantly and thoroughly loved that the only thing you can do is pour out the excess onto others. I'm not giving you a few meager grains and asking you to split that up so that no one has anything worth having. Remember the fish and the loaves...seemingly small things quickly turn into abundance in My hands...and when they then pass from My hands to yours . Open your hands." As I sat in my chair, I opened my hands, and in my mind’s eye, I saw a flow of what appeared to be grain falling into them. As my hands filled, the excess ran over the edges and spilled into hands below my own. These slowly filled and then spilled into others still lower. After a few minutes of sheer bliss, I suddenly realized I still needed to go get ready for work. Now in a panic, I felt guilty about closing my hands and leaving my seat and ruining this posture of receiving. I’m apparently a slow learner. "I will continue to pour out on you even when you're not in a position of receiving." I can’t even begin to tell you how hard it was to receive that. I felt so unworthy. So wasteful. So lazy. “I give however I choose to give. It is Mine to give as I desire. If I give according to My desire, it is not wasteful, for no one else may judge the King. Remember that too - I am the King. I am the Father. I don't want you to have to bear those responsibilities. I don't want you to be burdened by those cares. You rest. Let Me work. Let Me judge. You receive. Let Me determine the portions; you just open your hands. Trust My judgment. All will be well. I'm not wasting. I'm investing." Questions to ask during your quiet time:
  • Father, where am I resenting Your generosity?
  • What are the lies I’ve believed about who You are and how You see me?
  • Father, where has my faith turned into entitlement?
  • What lies have I believed about Your generosity?
  • Father, how do You want me to receive from You?
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About Jon Ackerman

Jon Ackerman
Jon is a Midwestern transplant who now lives in Sterling, Virginia, with his amazing wife Brooke and their three dogs. He has taught world history to high schoolers for the last 10 years, and enjoys filling his spare hours with international travel, reading, hunting, and riding his motorcycle (when it’s working).

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