I Don’t Know (Gray Faith Study Ch 8: Gray Answers)

“I don’t know” has become one of the most refreshing phrases to hear others say, and yet it doesn’t roll off my own tongue easily.  In fact, sometimes I have to chase it down and drag it out of my mouth kicking and screaming.

I know I don’t have all the answers but I so desperately want to fix everything- to make it better.  I NEED for there to be an answer…or I think that’s what I need.  What they need.  What you need.

At core admitting that “I don’t know” is a massive letting go of control.   Letting go of my perceived control over making someone happy, my perceived ability to make someone better, our perceived control over situations that are broken.

But trusting in God takes the “I don’t know” to another level of humility because I have to concede that He DOES KNOW.  It’s this letting go of my belief that I’m capable of even beginning to fathom the vast knowledge that spans souls and soil, breath and bread, Spirit and truth. And that’s scary.

But what’s perhaps even scarier is that God knows the answers and yet problems still exist.  The suffering still continues.  My friends’ pain isn’t getting wrapped up neatly.  My own struggles aren’t dissolving.  If God knows the answer and the problem persists then maybe we’re tempted to throw God out entirely and say we can’t believe in a God who knows and hasn’t fixed.

Or.  OR.  We chase the why.  We become absolutely convinced that even if we don’t know how to SOLVE a problem we can make it better with a “why” bandaid.  Why does someone’s pain exist? Is God teaching them something?  Did we make a mistake?  Is something amazing going to happen through the suffering?  Why?

“I don’t know” is a giant inky pool that no one wants to swim in.  We think answers are the life-raft to save us- but they’re not.  They might actually be trapping us, handicapping us, holding us hostage.

But…God is there in the inky pool holding us somehow in the not knowing.  He is a Life-raft that somehow envelops us more securely than the styrofoam answers we’re clinging to.

Photo Credit: Joy Martin

And He, Holder of the answers, Creator of the world, Sustainer of our cells and souls, perhaps wants us to trust in Him even more than in answers.

And just as He sits with us in our unanswered mess, walks with us and speaks identity over us, we can sit with others and extend to them the grace of not knowing.  We can point them to the Answer that doesn’t always resolve our problems here-and-now, neat and clean- that Spirit that surpasses all the other answers that we think we need.

Maybe that sounds like another easy answer.  But I’ve had to fight and flounder to believe it, and even now it isn’t easy.  I can honestly say now that finding God’s presence in my life has been the single thing that keeps me afloat because I’ve felt Him when nothing else made sense.

But that’s where my story is.

I know for some just getting to that place of believing in God feels like too big a step, too much faith in what you can’t see.   I don’t want to diminish that struggle or try to fix you with some platitude.

So I’ll leave you to ponder, to wonder, to seek.  But I hope that when the search for answers wearies you and you can’t even find the whys, that you might venture trusting in surprisingly steady arms in that dark sea you find yourself in.

And for those who feel like they have to have all the answers, or that God isn’t pleased if they can’t find a verse to combat any problem…may you somehow find peace and rest in the not knowing.

Here’s the FINAL Gray Faith video/Study Guide!!  (Chapter 8)


Experiment #8-
Whatever you believe has been shaped by many things. I challenge you to take away the books, the friend’s opinions that fill your head, even the things you were taught to believe as a child. When you strip away all these things, what is the bottom line of your belief- the fundamental reason you believe as you do. Sometimes this means mentally suspending what you believe momentarily to ask yourself if another way makes sense. For example, can you imagine that God doesn’t exist? Would your life be substantially changed if He didn’t? What, if any, personal experiences have you had with God that shape your belief? Even if you don’t feel like you have all the answers, imagine what living out your deepest beliefs may look like in your practical life.

Chapter 8 Study Questions:

1.What does it mean to be “comfortable being uncomfortable” when we don’t have the answers? Why is this necessary?

2. Formulas can be tools to help us grow, but how can they become negative?

3. Imagine/discuss what you believe Eden was like: a perfect relationship with God, a world before the curse. How do you see brokenness of the fall in everything humans have touched?

4. Respond to this statement: “The beauty of the world and the suffering alike tell me that we were meant for more.”

5. Have you experienced Jesus to be bigger than your circumstances? Explain.

6. Be honest with yourself/ your group, and God- what are some the “unanswered” questions in your life?

7. How can you live with questions and still actively believe in God?

Bible passages for further reading:
Romans 1:18-20 (God reveals Himself through creation); Mark 9:14-29 (Jesus heals a boy/father asks for help with unbelief); Matthew 11:1-6 (John the Baptist questions Jesus’ identity);

 

 

I’d Rather Run (Gray Faith Study Ch. 7: Gray Walk)

Ever tell your kid or your friend something really incredibly wise…and later realize you’re not applying that wisdom for yourself?

That’s how I felt this week as I finished up my “Gray Walk” video.  I recently bought a new 18 month planner and frankly I’m obsessed with it.  I love the inspirational cover.

I love the peppy quotes on the cover tab of each new month. 

I adore the little stickers it came with.But I’m also alarmingly addicted to the rapidly growing to-do items I’m filling that planner with.  Whether I’m taking the kids to the dentist or sending out important emails, I’m finding a bit too much satisfaction in checking off my boxes and making things happen.

I went on vacation last week and actually struggled with my unplanned self in a major way.  Not a pretty fight.  I’d rather run than walk, (in a purely metaphorical way, thank you very much), because running gets you there faster.

The point is I’m not terribly good at resting, especially with God.  I so want to live a meaningful life, driven by Him and His kingdom, that I often forget the greatest things I do in life aren’t measured by numbers, checks or tasks.

My most glorious moments are when God is producing something in me, in His presence, in His time.  And that requires a lot less of me and a great deal more of Him.  It’s what He’s doing in me as I wait, as He walks with me, as He weaves a story through His presence in my life.  He’s interested in shaping my heart before my planner- which might require me to lay that planner aside every now and then and just be.  Just find out who He is.  Just let Him speak His beautiful words and be silent for a minute in awe before Him.

So when you watch this video of me going on and on about walking with God…know that He is currently throwing me a life-raft out in the deep end of my own business and fruitless productivity.  (There’s one to mull over.)  So I hope it inspires, but if you’re feeling like you’re having a hard time slowing down with God to rest…you can come over and we’ll practice together.

Experiment #7:

Perhaps you’ve never talked to God and expected Him to interact with you. No matter where you are in your walk, I challenge you to try spending time with God in a new way this week. We will all experience God in different ways and atmospheres based on our personality, so begin to notice the things and places that you love, because those are the areas where you may be most likely to connect with God. Even if this feels strange, try at least one of the following this week:

Try to be more interactive with God during your Bible reading. Before you begin reading, take some time to pray that God will show you a passage or verse. You might want to keep a phone or computer near so you can look up verses if a word or phrase pops into your mind: biblegateway.com is a fantastic online resource that lets you search for key words/topics in whatever Bible version you prefer to use. Even if you don’t feel that God is impressing you with anything specific (which is OK!), ask Him to speak to you personally as you read any passage in the Bible. If you need a place to start, you might try one of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John) which tell about the life of Jesus. If anything sticks out to you, write it down or pray about it.

Sometimes being aware that God is interacting with us personally simply begins with expecting Him to. Act on a nudge to give to someone, call someone, go somewhere, or do something God might be directing you to do, even if it feels silly. Don’t overthink. You may even find that God works through something that felt like a “coincidence” because God is always at work behind the scenes. Write about what happened when you took your baby step of faith this week.
Spend several minutes listening to worship music or sitting outside alone, etc. (You can use online worship from Pandora or make a playlist on Spotify if you don’t own worship music.) Focus more on listening to God and being with Him and His presence than in talking to Him. Maybe try kneeling, lifting your hands, or even dancing if you feel like it. Experimenting with our posture and the different ways we can worship helps us to step outside of a plastic relationship and routine. It might feel strange and that’s OK. Reflect on how God may meet you, speak to you, or lead you to worship.
Do something that you love- playing music, going for a walk, working out at the gym, painting or creating through art, writing, dancing, hiking, ________ (insert your own). As you do, consider that God is with you in this activity, and that He enjoys this about you because He made you to enjoy it. Reflect on how it feels to know that you can meet God anywhere- even in things that don’t feel “spiritual”.

Chapter 7 Study Questions:

1. How has “should” controlled your life or kept you from enjoying your journey? What would you let go of or do differently today if you weren’t so concerned about what you “should” do?

2. A friend once told me that God is like a good parent. As parents we don’t expect our kids to ask us about every little decision they make; we enjoy watching them create and make decisions on their own and be themselves. Does this change the way you view your relationship with God?

3. Share a time when God met you in the details of your life.

4. “I don’t know why I fight for control so much, when the end of my control is so often where I encounter the living God.” Can you relate to this statement? Explain.

5. How do we trust in God “in the middle”: after the promise but before the miracle; after the prayer but before the answer?

6. Read Psalm 139. How does this passage give you understanding of God’s view of you and the details of your life?

7. Does following God feel routine to you or has it felt like a bit of an experiment? When do you feel most alive in your interactions with God?

8. How can we learn to embrace our possible “mistakes” in our attempts to seek God? Discuss the importance of having godly friends (who don’t all think just like we do!) to challenge us along the way and keep us balanced.


If you’re enjoying the online Gray Faith study, feel free to comment or pass this along to anyone who might enjoy it.  Thanks so much for being part of the gray discussion.  🙂

 

Gray Expectations (Gray Faith Study Chapter 6)

One day I plan to write a whole book about how encountering God requires a constant surrender and reshaping of our expectations of Him.  But until then, I’ll keep it brief.  Whenever our expectations of God don’t align with the reality of who He is, we will be missing something.  We will be frustrated.  We will be running and grasping and wondering why our life isn’t going according to plan.  Our pain and suffering and unfulfilled prayers will try to tell us that our God isn’t good, didn’t show up, or doesn’t really love us.  But excruciating though it can be, surrendering even our most painful unmet expectations to God is like giving over control of the sculpting knife to the Master Artist and letting Him shape something beautiful.

I share in my book a little bit about my own type-1 diabetes and the ways God has used that to shape and alter my faith in surprisingly purposeful and pleasant ways.  (Though I wouldn’t choose it for myself!)  Even when it comes at great cost, I’m stubborn but slowly realizing I’d rather be stripped of my idols and comforts and see Him for the only thing I really need.  If He is my deepest expectation…my vision…my Hope…then I believe ultimately I have all that I need.

Check out this video to be encouraged and challenged, and then dig into the free Gray Faith study guide for chapter 6 below!

Puzzles and Expectations: Gray Faith Ch 6- “Gray Expectations”

Experiment #6- Part of experiencing the full life God wants means honestly giving Him our greatest disappointments, hurts, and fears. We have to get to a place where WHO God is outweighs the WHATS of our lives. I won’t pretend this is easy, and there isn’t a formula for getting there. But if we want to get to know someone better, sometimes asking a question is the best place to start. This week, tell God that you want to know Him better. Ask Him to show you through His Word something about Himself- part of who He is- that will meet you wherever you are at. Read the following verses and pray them for yourself this week:

Ephesians 1:17-19 “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

Chapter 6 Study Questions:

1. What does it look like to give God “an honest acknowledgement of struggle” instead of a “pretense of praise”?

2. What have been the “hard places” in your life? Have those places grown your faith or turned you away from God? Why?

3. Discuss your experience with God through prayer. Talk about your expectations, disappointments, and your level of honesty with God.

4. What does it look like to give up control and let God author your story? Is this idea scary or liberating for you?

5. Do you believe that God’s promises will keep you safe, thriving, and blessed? Use Scripture to explain why or why not.

6. How can we hold fast to God’s ultimate “good” promises when life doesn’t go as we want or expect? Can you believe in a good God when your circumstances are disappointing?

Bible passages for further reading:
Psalm 13 (David honest before God); Matthew 16:24-25 (Giving up to follow Christ); Romans 8:28 (He’s working for our good); John 16:33 (Jesus promises trouble/He overcomes);

The Christian Phrase I Hate (Gray Faith Study Ch 4: Gray Sin)

Does the very phrase “gray sin” make you uncomfortable?  Each generation seems to be getting more and more fuzzy about what sin means and how we handle it.  But if we’re going to live and love in God’s kingdom, we need a give-and-take discussion about sin.  And frankly, people, we all have room to grow in how we respond.

Check out my video to find out one Christian phrase I’ve come to hate- then stick around to check out this week’s on-your-own experiment and study questions.  (To follow along with the book, download or purchase here: Gray Faith on Amazon. )

Experiment #4:  

(PART 1) Find a comfortable place to kneel down.  Read through Bible passages that declare God’s holiness and power (Revelation 4:8-11, Job 38, 1Timothy 6:15-16)  Or listen to songs like “Revelation Song” by Kari Jobe, or “The Stand” by Hillsong, “Your Great Name” by Natalie Grant.  (These are suggestions- feel free to play songs you most resonate with.)  The posture of kneeling or bowing sometimes helps us to physically acknowledge who God is. Verbally acknowledge His holiness and that you accept His Lordship in your life.  Consider your smallness and brokenness in relation to who He is.

 

(Part 2) Instead of dwelling on your smallness and brokenness to the point of guilt and despair, now consider the amazing love of the Father who made a way for you to approach His throne with confidence (Hebrews 4:16).  Relish the fact that you’re covered by Jesus’ holiness, that God has removed your sins “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).  Take a moment to just dwell on how great His love for us is, that covers over our worst sins.  Write any thoughts that come to you during this time.

 

Chapter 4 Study Questions:

 

  1. What did you grow up believing were the “big sins”?  Has your understanding of or reaction to these sins changed over time?

 

  1. Can you live in the tension that someone else who loves God may not follow God the same way you do?  Explain.

 

  1.  What is the difference between standing up for what we believe in and arguing with someone over belief?  

 

  1. What does it look like to confront sin in love?

 

  1.  We’re all broken- prone to fail and fall short of God’s glory.  How have honest relationships in your life have helped to break down your judgment towards others?  

 

  1.  The “discomfort of grace” means that God covers our sins, even those we aren’t aware we commit, and he covers others as well.  We’re partly right, partly wrong.  Discuss what implications this has for our moral disagreements and how we interact with others.

 

  1. How does the magnitude of God’s holiness affect the way you view sin?

 

Bible passages for further reading:

Romans 14 (Don’t judge, Disputable issues are between us and God); Matthew 18:15-17 (sin in the Church); 1 Corinthians 13:9-12 (we know in part); Philippian 1:4-11 (God continues a good work in us); Luke 7:36-47 (Those who are forgiven much, love much); Luke 17:1-4 (Causing to sin); John 8:1-11 (A Woman Caught in Adultery); Acts 2:38 (Repent from Sin and be forgiven);Luke 18:9-14 (Humility before God); Revelation 1:9-18 (A Vision of holy Jesus


Tough conversation, but if you care to join, please comment below with your thoughts on anything from your own experience with Christianity and sin, to answers to the study questions. Thanks for joining the online study!

Gray Church (Ch 3, Online Gray Faith Study)

The Church isn’t always perfect.  OK, sometimes we’re a long way from it.  Yet there’s a mystery to this group of believers that we’re called to live within.  God intends each of us to build up those around us with the gifts, love, and abilities He’s equipped us with…yet we often disagree and divide instead.  I don’t believe we’re meant to sit stagnant and ignore the areas where our church may be missing God’s heart.  But I believe we’re called to be humble catalysts of change, often right where we are.  Watch this video and check out the discussion questions below as we continue our online study together!


Gray Church Video: Three C’s for Investing in Healthy Church

Gray Faith Chapter 3 Experiment/Study Guide:

Experiment #3:
If you’re a regular church attender, and especially if you’re very active in your church, plan a time to take a week off. If you feel comfortable, try taking a week off from church altogether. Instead, carve out some time to meet with God on your own or with your family. Worship God in a stripped setting- perhaps out in nature, or a personal favorite place. Understand, this isn’t meant to drive you away from your church. Rather, stepping back gives you a chance to breathe in God without feeling the weight of a “role” to perform, and it allows you to step back from routine so you can gain fresh perspective. During this time, honestly give God your ministries, your experience and expectations within the church, your relationships with members and leaders. Ask God to show you where your heart is in line with His and where He wants to shift your heart, roles, or expectations. Write down your thoughts from this reflection.

Chapter 3 Study Questions:

1.What is the role or purpose of the church? (the local church and the global church)

2. We want our churches to be relevant and inviting to the outside world for good reason. But have you ever gotten more caught up in what church looked like than the God who is relevant regardless? What does it mean to be “seeker-friendly” in a way that doesn’t diminish God?

3. How have you experienced the brokenness of the church? How have you been a part of the brokenness of the church?

4. If you’ve never done this before, sit down and make a list of church “non-negotiables”: the doctrines and practices that you MUST agree with in order to be part of a church family. Then make a list of “secondary issues”, such as worship style, ministries or activities offered, etc.

How often do your church frustrations stem from the list of non-negotiables vs secondary issues?

5. All of us within a church family have weaknesses. What does it look like to stay together as a church and balance each other even through disagreements?

6. When you consider that some people will never enter a church building, how do you feel? What does it mean to be the church outside of the church building? Think of examples that are specific to you.

7. In what areas of ministry do you serve the church? Do you feel that you are serving in a healthy way? (Consider your time commitment, affect on family, energy spent, motivation for serving, people you may feel the need to please, etc.) Have you ever stepped back to reflect and pray about your role?

8. Discuss the cost of our lack of unity between churches, especially across cultural and denominational lines. How can we begin to bridge the gap?

Bible passages for further study:
The Book of Acts (beginning of the Church); Romans 12:3-13 (The Church as a Body); 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (The Church as a Body); Hebrews 10:23-25 (Encourage and Meet Together); 1 Corinthians 14 (Instructions for Worship/ Order)