On the Edge of Your Seat–For Better or Worse

Last Tuesday evening, I saw a Bible-study speaker stand up and say, “I’m praying that all of you will be on the edge of your seats waiting to see what the Holy Spirit will do next.”

Somehow, I reacted less than joyfully to the prospect. I live most of my days “on the edge of my seat” all right–but the driving motivator is usually fear of not finishing, fear of being interrupted, fear of disappointment or spoiled plans or failure or all of the above. I’ve had far more than my share of rained-out events and last-minute requests over the past several months, and the last thing I feel like doing is making myself not only open to but eager for more of the same.

So here I sit, fuming because the Creator and Master of the Universe won’t let me instruct Him on how to orchestrate things. I don’t care about becoming a spiritual giant, a prayer warrior, or a joyful-in-all-circumstances person. I don’t care about loving my neighbor who may be flooded out of house and home, terminally ill, or surviving by street prostitution. I care about being spared the frustration of unexpected technical glitches and traffic delays.

And I feel that if I take the trouble to make a comprehensive to-do list and say a quick prayer every morning, having everything go according to plan is no more than my due.

At least the Holy Spirit has gotten through to me far enough that I no longer can maintain that attitude without feeling guilty. Stepping onward to the “James 1:2” attitude (“When troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy”) is something else again. Fear grips me at the thought–the fear that “joyful” means “I’m okay with this, and I accept that You probably don’t intend to ever change it for the better.” The fear that joy really means resignation and that God considers anything good enough for the likes of me.

On the edge of my seat? More like slumped in the chair with major depression imminent.

When it comes down to it, guilt is a lousy motivator, rooted in fear and knowing little of gratitude. How often do I bother to look on from James 1:2 to the promise in verses 3 and 4? “For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

Does that sound like I can’t trust God to change the important things for the better?

Letting go of the desire to control is more than a hard thing to do. It’s one of those things I can’t possibly do without accepting God’s help. My “I know best” pride is really fear of the unknown. There are times I can almost taste the joyful life of standing strong and complete, unfazed by anything and brimming with gratitude over all God has done for me. Still, the path between here and there is a wide bayou where I can see only the fast-flowing surface, every step forward whispering the terror of being swept off my feet or plunging into bottomless depths.

With the help of the Spirit, can I trust the One on the other side to show me where the firm footings are?

And the only answer is: I must. For a life lived in caution and anger and obsessive planning is a living death, the epitome of what Jesus warned of in Matthew 16:25: “If you try to hang onto your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it”–not just “life” as measured from time of conception to time of last breath on earth, but life in the sense of functioning to the maximum, of getting and giving everything I can during my years here.

A couple of millennia ago, a very busy apostle planned a visit to Jerusalem thinking he knew how long he would be there and where he would travel afterward. Instead, he wound up spending several years in jail, first in Palestine and then in Rome–and even his trip from the former to the latter was interrupted by a shipwreck and the need to winter in Malta. All that time, Paul lived with little idea of what would happen next or when it would happen, with no word on whether he would ever be able to pick up his original plans where they left off. He could easily have justified himself in fuming, “God, after all I’ve done for You, this is the thanks I get!” Instead, he wrote to his friends in Philippi:

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. … Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:6-8).

Nothing fits that description better than God. Why not lean forward in your seat, eager to see what He’ll do next?

Battling the Demons of Uncertainty

I despise disappointment. Disappointment hurts! It’s a terrible thing to fill yourself with joyful anticipation and see it dashed to the ground. It can be the minor bruise of a rained-out picnic or the shattering blow of losing a loved one in his prime; either way, you feel life has kicked you in the gut and is laughing at your pain.

The archenemy of disappointment, and a favorite idol for us pain-phobics, is certainty. For me, certainty is like a high-school crush object who alternately flirts and snubs–something fickle that refuses to truly be mine, yet for which I can’t stop hoping. Not content simply to pray for sunshine on picnic days, I’m the one who reads the last page of a novel first for assurance of a happy ending, who returns to the car twice to check that I locked the doors, and who asks “Are you sure?” until everyone else is tearing their hair.

I get tempted to hair-tearing myself when I remember that no human being ever has absolute, unadulterated, 100% certainty that “everything will turn out all right.” The best-laid plans do fail. Healthy eaters get cancer. The security-obsessed fall victim to crime. Storms overflow sea walls. And many who do escape disaster nonetheless suffer considerable damage from a constant assault of “what ifs?” It’s not solely our own imaginations, either, that concoct horrible scenarios and tell us we have to avoid them because getting through them would be impossible. As Joyce Meyer put it, “Fear … is a manifestation of the kingdom of darkness. I often say … that fear is the ‘master spirit’ … the spirit Satan uses to try to rule God’s people and keep them from coming under the leadership of the true Master. … Multitudes of people never fulfill the call of God on their lives simply because every time they try to go forward, the devil uses fear to stop them” (“Facing Fear and Finding Freedom“). “What if” is one of Satan’s favorite phrases; he wins a major battle if he can convince us that since absolute certainty is impossible, our best protection is to avoid all the risks we can.

Our actual best defense, of course, is to refuse to retreat from his scare tactics and to take up the famous “armor of God” from Ephesians 6: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and prayer. Notice that, however much we may wish it, “assurance of freedom from all earthly suffering” is not on that list! No war, not even one of six-day duration, has ever been won without Winston Churchill’s “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” It’s worth noting, too, that those who most expect as much–the soldiers on the front lines–are often not the ones who become obsessed with worry to the point of panic. Rather, it’s the people back home who are constantly wringing their hands; still surrounded by relative ease and comfort, they have plenty of room for the fear that things will only get worse and they’re helpless to do anything about it.

Even on the home front, though, it’s possible to exercise full commitment to the cause and confidence of eventual victory–both of which can make a lot of suffering bearable. So can confidence that our leaders know what they’re doing. As Christian soldiers, we should display all three attributes, and we can add one that goes beyond those possible in any earthly war: the assurance that our Commander in Chief never recognizes a setback nor is taken by surprise. I could hardly say it better than does Karen Ehman at Proverbs 31 Ministries in “God Is Not Worried”: God is “not in heaven wringing His hands, wondering just how everything will eventually turn out. He is in control. … [He] doesn’t promise that we won’t ever encounter sudden disasters in life. But … with God as our security, we can face the future without fear.”

Uncertainty of the next battle is an unavoidable reality. But it needn’t paralyze us when we have certainty of the ultimate conclusion.

  • A blog for naturally melancholy Christians tired of being told to "snap out of it"; for Christians who struggle with mental-health issues and long for assurance God delights in them nonetheless; and for naturally optimistic Christians who want to understand their "gloomy" loved ones.

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    I am the go-to writer for people with tough stress issues and special emotional needs—and for those who love them, organizations that serve them, and anyone who just wants to better understand the world of mental/emotional struggles. Or who just wants to pick up some good stress-management tips! Visit my main website at www.PositiveContentFactory.com.

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    Bible quotes used in this blog are from the New Living Translation or the New International Version (1984). See http://www.biblegateway.com/ for copyright details.
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