Faith must be tested because it can only become your intimate possession through conflict.
“And then in five minutes we’ll trade, right?”
Sitting on a nearby bench, I smiled as the two little boys rode off, each on his respective “vehicle.” Their conversation reminded me of all the deals I’d made with my brother and sister as a young child. Sometimes we’d swap chores or bargain about who’d play the new computer game first. Bargains were a big part of life—and they still are. As adults we might not be making contracts about Legos, Barbies, or scooters, but we’re definitely still using our bargaining skills. Isn’t that true for us all?
Just the other day, my friend shared some details about her terms of employment at a new job. Another friend discussed his negotiations with a Navy recruiter. We all make deals in our lives. Many occupations revolve solely around negotiations—from sports agents to government officials. Bargaining is woven into the fabric of our society—it’s part of who we are. And, unknowingly, we apply it our relationship with God.
- “Okay, God,” we think, “I’m giving you this many hours this week, so you’ll help me do well on my project, right?”
- Or, “Okay, God, I’m serving the homeless this week even though I have a cold, so you’re going to heal me quicker, right?”
- Or even, “Okay, God, I’m being obedient to you, so you’re going to bless my life, right?”
I know those thoughts often go through my head. But they’re all wrong! God doesn’t make deals. He isn’t our boss or our friend. He’s GOD! Not only is He the creator of the universe, He sent his only begotten Son to die a gruesome death in our place so that, if we believe in Him, we could have eternal life (John 3:16).
God didn’t have to send His son, but He did. God owes us nothing. We owe Him everything.
So our obedience to God shouldn’t be based on what He’s going to do for us.
Of all the people in history, the apostle Paul would probably be considered worthy of making a deal with God. Paul performed signs and miracles, he took the gospel to the nations, and he obeyed God in every way. Not only that, he endured terrible things for Christ. Paul declares:
Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger form bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches… (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
Phew! Paul’s list is a bit overwhelming. Imagine if that happened to you? If I were in his shoes I’d be thinking: “What, God? I did all these wonderful things in Your name, and you still let me get stuck in jail! Come on now, why do I keep getting beat up and shipwrecked? Isn’t there someone else you could bestow these ‘privileges’ on and give me a break?”
But Paul didn’t base his obedience on the fact that God was going to do something great for him—or that God was going to make his life easy. He knew that living a righteous life didn’t guarantee that he would be healthy, wealthy, and wise.
He didn’t say, “God, if you do x, y, and z in my life, I’ll obey.”
Instead he said, “I will obey.” Period!
Wow. Isn’t that amazing? Paul’s obedience was his response to salvation. He had a right standing before God, and nothing else mattered. Whether good things or bad things happened to him, his faith was immovable. He believed God when He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
This is the attitude we need to have. After all, God rescued us and made us holy. He saved us from eternity in hell. We should follow Paul’s example and obey the Lord because we love Him, not because we expect worldly blessings in return.
Faith based on our actions, on what God “owes” us, is very shaky. So, while we can make deals with our co-workers and siblings, we’re better off to leave our bargaining skills out of our prayers. I constantly have to remind myself: Stop making silent deals with God. Obey the Lord because He is God.
I met Alphonsine last year at a writer’s conference in Chicago. She is a wonderful woman of God with a powerful testimony. I am honored to have her share her story here on my blog. I hope you are inspired!
My name is Alphonsine Imaniraguha. I was born and grew up in Rwanda, a country flowing with honey and milk in the heart of Africa. “Alphonsine” is a French name meaning “a noble warrior,” and “Imaniraguha” is a Kinyarwanda name meaning “God gives you.” I was the second-born of five siblings.
My family was very happy in the early years, and my parents were the best people I have ever known. I recall very well the parents I knew only a few years. My mother Colette was a brave woman with a big heart. It took me many years to understand how she could pray for and love people whom I knew didn’t, like our family. I clearly remember some of her in-laws who were jealous because she married a financially stable man. Perhaps they wanted to be the ones benefitting from my dad’s small business. You see, where I come from, when someone makes a good living, they are expected to be responsible for their immediate family and all other relatives as well. It’s no wonder they were jealous. I may have forgotten some things about my mother, but the way she loved and treated people equally gripped to my heart for good.
My mother was an amazing mom. She was everything to us, caring very deeply and being there to listen, advise, and console us. My father was my best friend. He was sweet and his smile and the beauty in his eyes revealed his kindness and humbleness to everyone who saw him. I still think that my dad was the most handsome man that ever lived. My parents taught us to pray, to love all people and treat our neighbors as family. They also did their best to keep my siblings and me from knowing all the details about the history of violence in Rwanda, their past and the ethnic tensions. Perhaps in hopes of helping us to grow up treating everyone like a family. Whenever we saw or heard anything bad on the news, their answer was the same: “Everything will be okay. Don’t listen to those people.” I could not dream anything bad would happen to them.
But on the night of April 6th, 1994, we were to witness a new page in the history of Rwanda.
My whole family was at home during the Easter school break, with the exception of my sister Claudine who was visiting her godmother nearby. Suddenly, we heard the unusual sound of big guns and explosions not too far away and saw flames in the sky. We rushed to our radio receiver only to learn that the plane carrying the then Rwandan president had been shot as it was landing right outside the capital city Kigali, in Kanombe.
Within seconds the horrifying genocide began.
Statistics estimate that at least a million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered in 100 days.
Ironically, it took more than two months for the United Nations and the international community to rule the systematic killings of the Tutsi at a rate of 10,000 per day a genocide. This staggering number includes those dearest to me — my parents and two of my siblings, close friends and classmates, neighbors and fellow citizens.
A stranger saved my life.
By the grace of God, three of my younger siblings, who were all under 10 at the time, also survived. Initially orphaned and separated, we were eventually reunited and able to return to school. Providing for my siblings was not an easy task. They were so young and required more than a teenage girl could give, but I knew I had to grow up quickly. I soon became their mother, especially to my youngest sister Mireille who cannot even remember the faces of our parents.
As for me, I have never been young. I never knew what it was to buy fancy clothes or wear pretty shoes. I never spent money on trinkets or jewelry like other girls. And I never dared to shop just for the joy of it. The awareness that I had to save every coin for the well-being of my siblings was always with me. I never had the freedom to complain or whine like more fortunate children. I was grateful to just have something to eat, and a place to lay my body and close my eyes.
Many wonderful people have helped me along the way, but God has been the “crew chief” on this journey.
He revealed Himself not only in times of joy but in the most devastating of situations. Although I struggled to pay for food, clothes, medical expenses, and find a place to live, I was able to win a full scholarship to college in Rwanda where I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Electronics Engineering, and in the United States where I earned a Master’s Degree in Telecom Engineering.
Although the genocide left many scars that I still carry to this day, my gratitude to God is immeasurable. For years I struggled with stomach problems that started shortly after the Genocide ended. After being treated with every stomach drug available in Rwanda between 1994 and 2004, a doctor at Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Kigali (CHUK), where I was transferred as the only option left, shocked me with news I wasn’t prepared to hear: “You have an ulcer. It seems like you have been drinking alcohol and smoking for many years.” I could not help but laugh. “But doctor, I’ve never smoked or drunk alcohol,” I replied.
A surgery that was then scheduled didn’t take place for reasons I don’t remember. I was instead prescribed more medication which was by then my daily diet. Then one day in the beginning of my senior year (2004), I noticed I was pain free. At first I thought it was just a break from the pain. Then more days passed and before I knew it, my stomach problems were completely gone. No more sickness, no more hiccups, and no need for a special diet. After many years of stomach pain and abdominal burning, God had listened to my cry and put an end to my sickness. Several years later, I consulted an American Gastroenterologist to be on the safe side. The results showed there was nothing wrong with my stomach.
God is the great I Am. Not only has He been my protection, healer, father and a friend, He is also our provider.
I will never be able to explain how my siblings and I got where we are today. At this writing, my brother Eric and my sister Alice are both expecting master’s degrees in 2014; and Mireille is a junior in college. I have no doubt these three are the reason I am alive today.
One night after the genocide ended, trying to grasp what just happened to my short-lived life, I had a dream. In it, I was talking to my father, Alphonse, and I promised him I would love and care for his surviving children as he would if he were alive. I am grateful to God who has instilled in me the love I have for my siblings. I will never be able to put it in words.
I have one answer for those who ask me why I am not bitter or why I forgave those who made me an orphan.
Knowing that my parents are in heaven with God, I will do whatever it takes in this life to please the Lord, because I live with the sole hope that I’ll again see Colette and Alphonse, my life’s inspiration, in the new life that knows no sorrow or separation. I love my parents deeply and often wish they could see what their little girl has become. They would have been proud. For all that’s worth, I’m willing to sacrifice everything to please the God who has my parents and two siblings with Him.
I have not only been a parent, but God blessed me with people who call me their daughter. Bob and Glori Lovall, whom I met shortly before graduating from college in Rochester, New York, have nothing in common with me through flesh’s eyes: skin color, background, lifestyle, social or economic upbringing, but they call me their daughter. For many years, no one extended such an offer, not even my relatives in Rwanda. No one had called me daughter since I lost my parents.
“Wherever you will be in the world, remember that you have a home here,” my new mom said. While I was forced to become a mother as a teenager, now at last I have a place where I feel young and spoiled, a place where I am constantly told that I am loved.
This is my story: how I was not only able to survive the loss of my parents and a country torn apart by genocide, but to succeed and become the woman of faith I am today – and the promise of the person I hope to become tomorrow.
Alphonsine is a Network Engineer with Cisco Systems in North Carolina. She was born in Rwanda where she lived until moving
to the United States in 2006. She is also a Motivational Speaker through her
Non-Profit Rising Above the Storms (R.A.S) with a goal to teach Forgiveness,
Love and Hope. You can find out more about R.A.S on the website or follow us on Twitter
A few weeks ago, one of my eight-year-old students handed me this letter.
Dear Miss Felicia,
Thank you for being such a nice teacher. You say “good job” or “that’s wonderful” when I dance well. When there’s something that’s going on in my family you always listen. You make things fun and we still learn. You make things funny. You never get mad. You teach me well. I will remember what you teach me forever.
Not only did this sweet letter bring a huge smile to my face, it also reminded me that I have a sphere of influence.
“I will remember what you teach me forever.”
Sometimes I forget that every ordinary day counts. So often we get caught up in the big things of life that we forget to enjoy and maximize the little ones. It matters how I go about my work and it matters that I take the time to listen to my students. The ordinary day-to-day things matter.
So, what little moment can you enjoy today?
Who can you influence positively?
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.” Colossians 10:31
Jen searched her calendar, urgently looking for a free evening. She simply must squeeze her sister in somewhere—they hadn’t gotten together for weeks! Friday was her only open evening, so she texted her sister to confirm she was free and then excitedly wrote in “dinner with Sis!” in the small empty white space in her calendar.
Then, Wednesday evening, Jen got a call from the youth pastor. “Jen, we really need another female chaperone, or we’ll have to cancel the girls’ event on Friday night. Can you help us out?”
Jen was torn: Should she help out or not? Yes, her sister would understand if she volunteered, but she’d already worked at church two days that week. It wouldn’t be fair to cancel on her sister. Still, the youth girls had really been looking forward to this event. They needed her. And being a Christian meant sacrificing. How could she refuse to help?
And so, using “I can do all things through Christ” as her motto, Jen once again donned her Superwoman cape.
Yes, Christ does give Jen the power to do anything He asks her to do. But are the things in her schedule things God purposed for her to do? Or were some of those things meant as tasks for other believers?
How about you?
Is it hard for you to say “No”? We’ve all heard about the stressed-out Mom who, because she couldn’t say “no,” didn’t have time with her children, or the workaholic Dad who always missed his son’s soccer games.
But have you ever considered that you might be overcommitted?
I know I’m often guilty of taking on too much. It crowds my relationships with family, friends, and even God. Now, of course it’s important to be available to serve the Lord. But sometimes we think that we are the only ones who can help. We get into a pattern of prioritizing everything else over our relationships.
How can we avoid overcommitment? Here are some practical steps we can take:
- Do not answer immediately. Pray about it, check your calendar, and seek godly counsel if necessary. You may also try screening your calls to avoid feeling pressured into giving an immediate response.
- Count the cost. Ask yourself: Is committing to this activity/performing this favor going to cut into my time with God, my family, or my partner? Will I be making a one-time commitment, or will this become an on-going responsibility?
- Pray. God doesn’t intend for you to do everything. In his book, Freedom from Tyranny of the Urgent, Charles Hummel points out that “As Christians, we feel an obligation to be a good Samaritan. Yet we must realize that the need itself, however urgent, is not necessarily a call for us to meet it. The need may be an occasion to do what the railroad signs command: ‘stop, look, and listen’—and to be open to changing our plans if necessary. But the call for us to act must come from the Lord, who knows our limitations (Ps 103:13-14).”[i]
- If you do accept, communicate your limitations. Instead of just saying, “Yes, I will babysit your kids,” be more specific. For example, you might say, “I’m excited to watch your kids. But, I get off of work at five o’clock, so I can’t get to your place any earlier than six. And, because I have an early morning appointment, I need to leave no later than eleven.” Don’t assume that people know your limitations. Make them known up front to avoid being overstretched and volunteering more time than you have to give.
- If you don’t accept, give them a lead. If you decline an opportunity to serve, perhaps you can still assist by suggesting someone else who might be able to help. Don’t limit your suggestions to people who have already helped out in similar situations. God wants all of His children to know the blessing of serving others. Give others a chance to experience this blessing by drawing attention to their potential, which may be unknown or hidden from the person looking for an assistant.
- Don’t feel guilty about your well-considered decision. You don’t have to justify or explain why you can’t do it. Just say no graciously and trust that God will provide the right person to fill the role. For example, “I really would love to help out with the church pot-luck, but I can’t make it this time. Please let me know when the next one is.”
Learning to say “no” can be hard, but this it is worth it! Learn to say this little two-letter word now, and reap the benefits in your relationships for the rest of your life.
[i] Charles Hummel, Freedom from Tyranny of the Urgent. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1997 (p. 62)
This article appeared on Crosswalk.com
When I see that word I think 1800s, Abraham Lincoln, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin. But slavery is very much alive today. In Northern Sudan there are thousands of Christian slaves who are:
- denied freedom to practice their religion
- deprived of food
- tortured (burned, blinded, and/or raped)
Thankfully, there are organizations, like Christian Solidarity International, working to free the slaves.
It’s interesting to realize that the slave owners are willing to trade their slaves for cattle vaccines.
A human life in exchange for a vaccine!
The price of a cattle vaccine is around $50 U.S. dollars. So that is the price of a person’s freedom. That is such a small amount of money! I mean, I could buy two shirts (maybe 3) at Macy’s for $50.
What would you choose? Three shirts or a person’s freedom?
Pretty mind-boggling when you think of it that way, huh. At the same time, it’s exciting to know that it doesn’t take thousands of dollars to change a person’s life forever. I can help. You can help. And, together, we can make a difference one life at a time!
Find out how you can help free a slave at Christian Solidarity International’s website
The cruise ship menu blurred in front of me as I imagined vanilla ice cream melting over a warm slice of apple pie. Oh, how I wanted that delectable dessert! Remember, you shouldn’t eat rich foods before singing, my conscience dutifully reminded me.
Yes, it’s true—I’m now embarrassed to admit it, but I was a finalist in the karaoke competition that evening. (Hey, you have to entertain yourself somehow in the middle of the ocean!) Sure, the competition was for fun, but I would still be in front of a few hundred people, and I didn’t want my voice to be affected by my meal. I’d carefully eaten only a light dinner, and my stomach was quite content—at least it had been until I read the dessert menu. Then my self-control went out the window.
All I could think about was apple pie!
When the waiter returned to take our orders, my stomach seemed to sigh as each family member requested a mouthwatering dessert. Turning to me, the waiter asked, “And for you, miss?”
“Nothing, thank you.”
“Nothing from our delicious dessert menu? Are you sure?”
“Well, I would love dessert, but I have to sing in the competition tonight, so I shouldn’t eat any.”
“”I understand,” he said with a wink. “I wish you the best.”
“Thank you,” I replied as he turned to attend another table. But what I wanted to say was, “Come back! I want the apple pie!”
I retreated to my stateroom to spare myself the agony of watching my family eat their desserts while my stomach grumbled. A few hours later, I sat in the green room with the other finalists. The emcee walked us through the order of the program and, thankfully, dessert was the last thing on my mind.
After the contest, I returned to my room with my sister. Opening the door, we found a tray sitting on our little table. A note read, “Hope the competition went well. From the dinner crew.” I lifted the cover off of the tray and— lo and behold—a slice of apple pie!
This experience came rushing back when I read the verse:
“No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).
The staff knew that I loved dessert (I confess, I had ordered dessert every night for the past four nights), and while it wasn’t an appropriate food before singing, it was perfect to feast on afterwards!
There are young people praying for spouses, couples praying for babies, parents praying for prodigals, people praying for jobs… Sometimes we really want something, but it’s not the right timing. In those moments, we must remember that God doesn’t keep anything good from His children.
If he does withhold something, it’s because it wouldn’t be beneficial for us at that time.
In faith, we must believe that He hears our prayers and that, in His perfect timing, He will fulfill His promise to give all good things—when it will bless us most. “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)
The key is, what we think is desirable is often different from what He knows is better. God may sometimes make us wait for good things, but then we find it later—when we least expect it—waiting in our stateroom.
This article first appeared on Crosswalk
My pastor shared this video with my Bible study group a few months ago and I loved how Jeff Vanderstelt explained evangelism.
Hope you are blessed and encouraged by it!
“Don’t freak out, but there’s a bear on your right,” my friend whispered in my ear.
Mm-hmm, sure, I thought. For the past hour, she’d been trying to scare me with fake bear warnings as we hiked through Glacier National Park. Still, I turned good-naturedly to look up the hill. To my horror, I linked eyes with a giant black bear.
Suddenly our all-girls hike didn’t seem like such a bright idea. We were three city girls. While we loved the outdoors, wilderness knowledge wasn’t exactly second hand, if you know what I mean. Wild animals in my neighborhood consisted of rabbits, skunks, and the occasional possum (not to be confused with the neighbor’s cat). Now, here we were in the middle of a forest, face to face with a huge bear.
“Stay calm,” my friend repeated. “Don’t freak out. We don’t want to scare it.”
“Okay,” I responded nervously. “I’ll get the bear spray.”
My hands shook as I clumsily extracted the bear spray from my backpack. What thing do I push? How close does the bear have to get? Do I use the whole can? How do I make sure the bear is downwind so I don’t get this in my face?
I had briefly read through the manual, never believing we would actually encounter a bear. I hadn’t mentally rehearsed its use or even taken the can out and examined it. I just figured that, if the need arose, I would wing it and it would all work out. Brilliant, huh?
Isn’t that how we are with a lot of things? Especially in the area of relationships, we believe knowing about something will get us through it. But does it?
I’ve had many friends who “knew” that sacrifice was necessary in a relationship. They’d read books on it, heard it preached, and listened to married couples talk about it. And they left it at that, figuring they could work on it when they got there. Why waste their time beforehand?
Looking back, many of them now wish they had applied their head knowledge before meeting The One. They realize they should have worked on their characters during their single years. It would have made their transition into a relationship and marriage so much easier.
What Are We Waiting For?
The more I watch those around me, the more I realize that we should never wait to develop our character. As singles, we get caught up in improving our looks, improving our finances, and improving at our hobbies. Meanwhile, our character gets pushed aside.
We know what the Bible says about the foundations of a good marriage. We’ve listened to sermons and read a few books, so we’re good. Right?
As in my encounter with the bear, knowledge is worthless without application. I needed general knowledge, sure. But I also needed to walk through the process of using the bear spray so that when the time came, I would be ready, not fumbling around and putting our lives in danger.
Similarly, we need more than just the knowledge of what character qualities are necessary for a godly marriage. We need to put them into practice now. In Ephesians 5, God lays out His design for marriage:
- Wives submit to your husbands, as to the Lord (Ephesians 5:22).
- Husbands love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25).
- The wife must respect her husband (Ephesians 5:33).
- Each one of you must love his wife as he loves himself (Ephesians 5:33).
Are you practicing selflessness and love? How about respect and submission? Are they a part of your character?
Here are some questions we should ask ourselves:
Guys: Selflessness – Do I put myself first? Do I take care of my own needs before I think of someone else’s needs? Do I prioritize people over my hobbies? Am I following the cultural idea that life is all about me? Is that healthy? Can I die to myself? Can I sacrifice my pride and lead in apology? Am I willing to protect others emotionally and physically, even at a cost to myself?
Girls: Submission – Do I submit to those God has placed in authority over me (parents, pastors, boss, etc.)? Do I have a hard time with submission? Will it get easier or more difficult with marriage? If I struggle with submission, how can I improve in it? Am I allowing the world’s negative mindset regarding submission to influence my view of it? Is that healthy?
Guys: Love – What is love? Do I always act in love, or just when I feel like it? How will that affect a marriage? Can I treat my future wife lovingly, even when she isn’t behaving lovingly towards me? Will I love her more than myself? In what practical ways can I love those around me right now? Can I love another person enough to sacrifice for them?
Girls: Respect – What do I think when TV characters belittle men and make them look like weak idiots? Do I think it’s funny or sad? Do I find myself following Hollywood’s example and disrespecting the men in my life? How will this affect how I treat my future husband?
Wrapping it up
Okay, so back to the bear story. As you probably brilliantly deduced, we survived. And I was very fortunate because I didn’t have to use the bear spray. We just backed slowly away and, thankfully, the bear didn’t follow. But would I risk it again? No way! Next time I will definitely take the time to practice!
Will you join me in actively trying to improve your character? Don’t delay! Get out your Bible, know what it says about Christian character, and apply it with the Holy Spirit’s help.
Your character growth will bless those around you, and will one day bless your future spouse as well. What’s more, you’ll bring glory to your Savior as you grow into His image. And isn’t that our ultimate goal as His children?