The Odyssey (Part 14)

THE PERPLEXITY OF IT ALL by Rayola Kelley

     Remembering the spiritual adventures of my past through these articles has allowed me to once again see glimpses into the abiding faithfulness of God. I am where I am, not because of my best attempts, religious efforts, or so-called “cleverness,” but because of the faithful, intervention of the Lord in my life.

      Many times I have had to be reminded that the spiritual journey is not about making great advancements for God; rather, it is about God being able to have His way in my life in what I have often considered were the small, unassuming ways of insignificance. Let’s face it, as Christians we want to be able to jump the Grand Canyon to victory, and avoid taking the many small steps of obedience that will actually prepare us to confront any deep, wide canyons along the way. Yet, it is because of God’s faithfulness that He will not give us the means to jump over high buildings in a single bound until we have been properly prepared and the timing is right.

      I have often seen myself at the starting gate, ready to fly out of it like a great race horse. I cannot tell you how many times I have hit my head against the gate and kicked my feet up in the air out of frustration because the gate remained closed to me. I would snort at my circumstances, turn my lips up towards heaven in utter disgust, and wonder where God was in all of it.

      When the gate was opened, instead of running forth in great strength, I found that I had actually spent my initial strength on beating my head against the gate and kicking up a bunch of dirt to show my disagreement towards my circumstances. As the gate was opened before me, and I considered the course I had to run, I realized that unless God showed me mercy and grace, I would never have the means or strength to finish the long challenging path set before me. At such times I always came face to face with my immaturity and inexperience in understanding what it really means to follow Jesus.

      As I look back on my spiritual journey, much of it proved to be perplexing. My perplexed attitude did not come because life was bad or things were overwhelming, but because I did not understand what God was doing with me. To me, what looked like the logical way of doing something ultimately proved that I was running in my own steam, trying to fit circumstances into my own ideas, and trying to force God’s kingdom to function according to my understanding of a matter. I cannot begin to count the times that I ended up getting ahead of the Lord, and utterly collapsing on the course.

      Admittedly, my greatest growth came out of my greatest failures. The Lord would always bring me to a crossroads, where I was forced to choose how I would view and handle a matter. After experiencing what I considered deep chasms of failure, I realized that spiritual success will only come out of learning the lessons of life and applying the Scriptural principles to situations. However, in order to learn such lessons, I had to accept that the major canyon I would initially encounter would be the one caused by being utterly perplexed by the challenges before me.

      I don’t know about you, but the challenges of my life have always caused me to be a bit perplexed. Matters never turned out the way I thought they should. I noticed, depending on how I handled such times that it would determine if regrets dug deeper canyons of despair or whether a bridge of resolution would be built over the present canyon that loomed before me by the intervention of God. I realize that my perplexed attitude was caused because I could not change the events that had happened, or were happening, but I could determine the type of terrain that would be either prepared by consequences or by the hand of God.

      In this article, I would like to share a few of the lessons I have learned through the years about how to positively affect the terrain of our spiritual lives.

    Faithfulness: The Bible is clear that if God cannot trust you with small matters, how can He trust you with great responsibilities (Luke 16:11-13)? How we handle ourselves in the gate is just as important as how we handle ourselves on the course. However, due to our high opinion of ourselves we often want to start from the top, but the only way is down from such a position. The problem with starting from an elevated premise of personal greatness is that one fails to see the necessity of being faithful with what would naturally be considered insignificant. However, learning to recognize the importance of small matters, gives one freedom to appreciate the preparation that comes with being faithful in more challenging matters. I realize every small responsibility prepared me to recognize what was important to God. I learned great service to Him came by way of serving others in what seemed like small, insignificant ways.

      Restoration: The problem with running our own race in our own strength is we often burn bridges behind us. In our strength we run over people, in our conceit we critically judge and condemn them, and in our inexperienced zeal we can, and will, leave God behind. And sadly, in the wake of the fallout, we will cause other people’s hearts to become perplexed towards us.

      Through the years, personal relationships have been ripped and torn by my immature handling of matters. I realized that God would never open the gate until the offenses I caused in others were addressed. In fact, the Scripture that the Lord gave me to bring this point home was Matthew 5:23-24, “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother, hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to the brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” This lesson was greatly reinforced in my life during a vulnerable event.

      There was a time when I was utterly broken by the strong conviction of sin upon my life by the Holy Spirit. As God began to bring healing and restoration to my life, He showed me that to bring a completion to such healing, I would have to address those I had offended. In fact, I could not go on spiritually, and I could not offer anything to Him in the way of ministry until past offenses were scripturally dealt with. It was obvious that if a tearing occurred in the past, unless it was properly dealt with in the present, it would continue to tear and cause offense to grow like a cancer. Wherever offense is present due to the failure of properly facing and addressing it, there will be no opportunity for restoration. Without restoration, there is no means to minister to a person. Until the offender does everything in his or her power to bring resolution, he or she will walk under the cloud of suspicion, thereby lacking credibility or authority to speak into people’s lives and lead them any further in their Christian walk.

      God’s heart is always reconciliation, and the essence of any ministry is not preaching, teaching, singing, and serving, but one of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19-20). It is all about relationships. It became obvious that I could not lead others to healing and restoration, if I failed to travel that way in my own personal life. To be honest with you, I did not know where to start. I had been involved in a religious cause that had nothing to do with salvation, and realized I probably had offended many along the way over something that had truth, but lacked eternal substance.

      At this time, I must address the idea of who was right and who was wrong when it comes to offense. Most offenses are caused because a person’s pride has been hurt. Therefore, a person can be right about what they are proclaiming and wrong in attitude and conduct because of pride. To have right standing with God means that our heart attitude is right before God and ultimately we do right by those involved. As Christians, we have a tendency to justify our personal wrong attitudes and conduct at the expense of someone else being wrong in his or her thinking and conduct. However, the Bible does not give us any right to act unbecoming of our high calling as a Christian towards others, regardless of what they are doing (Romans 12:13-21). The Lord had clearly showed me that I will always have the Christian responsibility to do what is Scripturally right towards someone else, regardless of the offense he or she may have caused in my life. As Christians, we must keep in mind that those who offend us, or who we may blame for bringing out the worst in us, will not be standing beside us when we stand before the Lord to answer for our lack thereof to do what was righteous in regard to them. However, the unresolved offenses we have caused others because we failed to do what was scripturally right will be present, and not only will we have to personally own them, but we will feel the sharp sting of their accusations, and experience the deep shame of regret in light of the truth.

      It was at this time that I asked God who I needed to go to and ask for forgiveness in order to bring about healing of past hurts, and resolution to past regrets for my obnoxious ways. True to His faithfulness, He showed me each person I had to humble myself before, and ask their forgiveness. I began to see how, when I did seek reconciliation, it brought not only healing to myself, but the stigma that was attached to it fell to the wayside, allowing the cloud that hung over me to lift, giving my spirit the liberty to once again soar in His glorious currents.

      I have to admit, I was a bit surprised when He showed me those that I had to seek forgiveness from. Even though those I had to humbly submit to were not Christians, they showed tremendous grace and desire to forgive and restore me to a viable relationship with them. The beauty about a couple of these people is that one became my boss, and the other one defended me in another incident that occurred years later. As I look back at that incident, I can see how God’s principles governing restoration produced incredible results in my life.

      Ordained: The next lesson I learned is that a matter must be ordained by God for Him to bless it and be glorified in it. God cannot honor what He has not ordained. Many times we get caught up in the idea of something working without first checking in with the Lord and Shepherd of the sheep. In our minds we cannot be wrong about a matter because we have intellectually figured it out and cannot see any flaws in it. Since it feels right, we assume that it must be right. But, the truth of the matter is if God is not behind it, He will not ordain it. Without the ordination of God on something, it does not matter how great something is or how wonderful it looks, it will not fly with God or His sheep.

      The problem with what much of the Church does for God is based on worldly standards and ideas. We must keep in mind that God’s ways are contrary to the world and man’s best. He does not care about how good someone does something, because such emphasis rarely has anything to do with Him being exalted; instead, it has to do with people, programs, or activities being preferred, carried out, enjoyed, exalted, and even worshipped. For example, we think God is impressed with professionals, whether it be in the arenas of teaching, music, or preaching. However, God looks at the hearts of people, and true to His character, He will only anoint what He has ordained, exalt what is pure, and will honor what truly honors Him. God seeks true worshippers and searches to and fro for those in whom He can show Himself mighty to, and through (2 Chronicles 16:9; John 4:23-24).

      Because of worldly criteria being instituted in Christian practices instead of God’s principles, much of what we do in the Christian realm is all about feeding the flesh. We want people to be entertained so they will be attracted in some way, and come back for more, and we want them to feel good about themselves regardless of what their spiritual status may be so they will fill the church pews. The problem with feeding the flesh is that such an environment will never produce spiritual people who have a healthy love and fear for God and His Word.

      Our criteria for those who serve in the church should be simple, is God calling them and is God ordaining them? Do they truly care about the sheep, and will they properly prefer the welfare of the sheep over their own agendas and ideas? Every minister must first prove their ministry to the sheep. A good test for a servant of God is if the congregation does not have the faith or confidence in them to serve its best interest in some position, is he or she willing to humble self by serving behind the scenes such as cleaning toilets, washing dishes, and serving tables?

      Clearly, it does not matter what a person’s abilities or talents are if God is not interested in using them in a certain capacity, no matter how good he or she might be. In such situations, His presence will be absent. He alone can show us what He will approve of and who He will use. If His approval is missing, then so will His Spirit be missing. And, if His Spirit is missing, His sheep will not have the necessary liberty to do business with their God.

      Just Do It! Another important lesson I had to learn was about obedience and righteousness. I remember when I was operating in my own strength, things never really went right. I would become so frustrated because I was trying so hard. I could not understand why my effort did not make a difference. I would wrestle before the Lord as to why things went amuck. It took me a long time to realize that I was not doing things in His strength.

      The hardest aspect of facing why I was taking matters into my own hands is because I wanted to control my reality. In other words, if things went wrong, I could consol myself that I tried, and it just did not work out. It allowed me to either become a victim or a suffering martyr. If things went right, then I could pat myself on the back. In summation, the sin of pride was once again behind the compelling notions about my strength and my take on how things should be done.

      As I came face to face with my personal treachery, I realized that doing it God’s way was so much easier. When I tried to do it my way, I had to go through a lot of mental gymnastics to figure out how I could work my personal angle to make something work. The mental gymnastics set up my emotions to fly high with expectation, but as soon as everything went haywire, my emotions took a nosedive, crashing into the landscape, leaving a big crater of despair behind. However, when I sought God’s way of handling a matter, the only decision I had to make was that I just needed to do what He revealed to me, whether it was through Scripture or inspirational wisdom that came from the throne of God through the leading of His Spirit.

       Doing it God’s way is a matter of having the assurance that His ways are perfect, and the expectation gives us confidence that the fruit of His ways will prove to be righteous. Admittedly, every time I have done it God’s way, the end results have far exceeded my expectation. Not only did God do things in a practical way, but it all came together nicely, creating smooth waters.

       I still have a tendency to want to pull my sleeves up and jump into situations to ensure the end results, but God has graciously put reins on me. Granted, there are times I have pushed past His restraints, and I always end up experiencing the anxiety of knowing, that at best the only thing that will come out of it are substandard fruits that have no eternal substance.

      Every time I come up to challenges, I try to remember what His Word instructs me as to the principles I need to apply. Once my responsibility is clearly established, the next thing I tell myself is, “Well Rayola, now you just need to do it.” It’s that simple. There is no real complication because if I am honest with myself, I usually know what is right up front. If I really believe the Word, I know what principle applies. If I want my faith to be validated, then I need to obey what the Word says. In the end, I simply need to do what is right before God, in light of His plan and purpose for His sheep, and in line with my testimony and high calling as a Christian. Once I do what is right, I have learned that perplexity usually dissipates because the perverted ways of the flesh have been put down and God’s ways properly exalted.

      It Belongs to God: The final lesson I had to learn is if God does not do it, it will have no lasting effects. I must constantly remind myself that if a matter is not the result of His work, it will have no eternal benefits. The sheep (believers) belong to Him and I must constantly seek His perspective to be faithful to my high calling in regard to them, an obedient servant in His kingdom, and trustworthy with His business. I must remember that all belongs to God and I am simply being called to be faithful with the small matters, a humble servant in my duties, and a willing follower of Christ in my walk.

      My final conclusion to this matter is quite simple. The more I keep my Christian walk practical, uncomplicated, faithful, and obedient, the more I will avoid becoming perplexed about the quality and happenings of my life.