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When Your (Good) Plans Get Ruined

Couple romantic dinner plans

I had my plans. But here I was again as they fell apart, getting bent out of shape, buzzing like the bee,

That booms against the window-pane for hours

Thinking that the way to reach the laden flowers

My laden flowers? A few quiet hours alone with my man on Friday night. That was my plan.

How My Friday Night Plans Fell Through

6:15 pm– I plopped the groceries on the counter, set the oven and kicked off my shoes. I’d gone straight from work to fetch the boys and a friend, then to settle them in at the waterpark. Now came the sigh.

And the ringtone.

Mom, you have to come get us! Sam’s really sick. He’s just sitting here with his down and I don’t feel so good either.

Weary Mama rolled her eyes. Why don’t you get some fresh air and take it easy and we’ll come get you in 2 hours. Good-bye.

6:23 pm– Undeterred, I rubbed the salmon, poked the potatoes and set them baking. I was tearing greens when the phone rang again.

Hi Mom. He’s really sick. You need to come get us now. Please. 

This wasn’t my plan. I hadn’t even sat down. You can last an hour. Besides, $50 is a lot a money for one hour of fun. 

Hanging up sounds heartless, I know. But that son can be Chicken Little, and the caring adults were all around.

6:35 pm– Jim got home and the salmon was done and my phone dinged again. My sister, also at the waterpark,

Can I bring the boys home? Sam looks pretty sick.

Jim called back. I filled our plates, lit a candle and sat down.

And Why I’m Glad

I wasn’t glad. I was grumpy and mad and starved for a quiet dinner alone with Jim, who was calm on the phone as I sat stabbed at my salmon.

They’re on their way. Your sister’s bringing them home.

We were eating our last bites as in they walked in smiling. All better. Their friend Andy wanted to stay and play games. So we cleared the plates and set out Codenames. And in between obscure teen-ager clues, they introduced us to their music and soon Andy had Sam at the piano plunking out tunes.

I wasn’t so blind to miss those. Those answers to prayers I pray almost every day. That the boys would enjoy using the gifts they’ve been given, make and be good friends, and that we’d have more fun as a family.

Then this: Do you trust my plans are better than yours?  I ruined your plan to answer your prayers. I nixed your quiet night to give you this. 

Trust His Better Plans

It all boils down to trust issues, again. I need a consistent trust. I trust God to wake me each morning and bring me safely to heaven, but I can’t trust him with my dinner plans?

This is not to say we shouldn’t make plans. Only  that we should hold them loosely. James wrote, “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:15). So sit loose. As we make our plans for tonight remember that God may have different and better plans than ours.

My plans have come crashing down before. And I’m starting to understand that when, in infinite wisdom and matchless love, God ruins my plans, he’s really wanting me to trust him. Because, 

God knows infinitely more than we do, and can do infinitely more than we can — should we be surprised in the least when he has planned differently than we have? Plan on it. He has, and he will…Disruptions become welcome reminders that God is real, that he is almighty, and that his plans always prove wiser than ours. 

Marshall Segal, “Few Are the Plans of Many

The disruption of my Friday night was God’s kind reminder that he is wiser than me. If I’d have had my quiet night, I’d have missed His better plan.

 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.

James 4:13-15

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Go Bold

And I pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying
“O LORD GOD, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours?    Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.” 

But the LORD was angry with me and would not listen to me.  
And the LORD said to me, “Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again. Go up to the top of Pisgah and…look at it with your eyes, for you shall not go over this Jordan.” 
Deuteronomy 3:23-27

How do you handle NO? Does self-protection keep you from asking? Do you resist requesting to avoid the dreaded monosyllable? 

Stop, Mom, please!  Can we stop and talk to Emma and Isaac?  Please, mom?

That request interrupted our drive home a few nights ago. The boys had spotted their friends’ whole family out in the yard. I wasn’t in a particularly friendly mood. Besides, it was dinnertime.

But Christ’s love compels, and I turned around. Maybe they’d like to come to Vacation Bible School with us, I said off-handedly as we pulled up the driveway.

After reintroducing myself, I got the scuttlebutt on the boys’ school. We discussed 20-inch bike tires needed by our lengthening sons. After a few more minutes we said good-bye. Then, as we reached the van, Gabe blurted (at about 75dB),

Mom, aren’t you gonna ask them to come to VBS?   

I hadn’t sensed an openness during our visit, and honestly, I didn’t want to risk the NO. But.

Ohhh…yes, okay.  (Followed by an awkward about face toward the house.)  

Hi again. Gabe reminded me that I wanted to ask if Isaac and Emma could come to Vacation Bible School with us next week. I mumbled times and places; they smiled and nodded. Would you be interested?  

Then: No thank you.

My friend Lisa is insightful. She intuits the counter-intuitive.

So being meek and making such bold requests can go together? Moses was the meekest man on earth. Yet he dared to ask God to change his mind. 

Prima facie, making bold requests is not meek. The Bible study group had been discussing the meek acts of Moses. Among them were some mighty big favors. Like asking his brother-in-law to stay and play wilderness scout for 40 years. Asking God to relent of the punishments he’d decreed for Miriam and the Israelites is very bold.  His requests were fearless and daring, pushing brash.

Atop the gutsy list was Moses’ plea to God to reconsider his own punishment. He had struck the Rock, profaning the LORD before the congregation (Numbers 20:10-11). God’s just decree was heart-wrenching: despite 40 years guiding this beloved, provoking people, Moses would not lead them into the Promised Land. Joshua would.

Canaan was so close Moses could-probably had-tasted it; it’s gargantuan grapes, pomegranates and figs. Then with arms outstretched, he’d seen the Amalakites fall. The kingdoms of Sihon and Og had already been conquered. Just across the Jordan.

The Child’s Story Bible is succinct:

This was a bitter disappointment to Moses.  He begged God to let him cross the river so that he, too, could see the longed-for promised land.  God did not give Moses what he asked for.  

“Be satisfied with what I have decided,” God said to him. “Do not speak about this any more.  Climb this mountain, and I will show you the land. Then you are to die here on this mountain. For you are not to cross the river.” 

What a blow! If meekness is strength under control, this must be its pinnacle. In the face of bitter disappointment, the meek man of God managed his emotions. Moses didn’t stomp off in self-pity. He went bold to God, trusting the Judge of the earth to do right. Then, he took NO.

About his rejection, Matthew Henry comments,

It bore hard upon Moses himself, when he had gone through all the fatigues of the wilderness, to be prevented from enjoying the pleasures of Canaan; when he had borne the burden and heat of the day, to resign the honor of finishing the work to another. We may suppose that this was not pleasant to flesh and blood, But the man MOSES was very meek; God will have it so, and he cheerfully submits

But why was he denied? What about Matthew 7?  You know: Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. Why didn’t Moses win his appeal?  An “unanswered prayer,” post is forthcoming.  For now, let John Piper’s answer suffice:

I think the context here is sufficient to answer this question. No, we do not get everything we ask for and we should not and we would not want to. The reason I say we should not is because we would in effect become God if God did everything we asked him to do. We should not be God. God should be God. And the reason I say that we would not want to get everything we asked is because we would then have to bear the burden of infinite wisdom which we do not have. We simply don’t know enough to infallibly decide how every decision will turn out and what the next events in our lives, let alone in history, should be.

Back to Lisa’s question. Do meekness and bold requests go together? Were Moses’ appeals anomalies; deviations from his meek nature? Or were they part and parcel of it? 

I land on the latter. Here’s why:

The very act of submitting a request, knowing it may be denied is meek. Moses submitted requests. He accepted NO for an answer. This makes him submissive. Therefore, submitting requests, appealing, asking must be integral to meekness.

If I submit an article for publication, odds are it will be rejected. If I request a personal day, it could very well be denied. Big, bold requests get rejected, too: pregnancy, adoption, restored relationships. When they are, sometimes I’m weak without control. Pity parties and ice cream a aplenty. And sometimes, strength under control: spirit gifted power, love and self-control. 

Is it more meek to fear the no so much you don’t go? Or to go bold, willing to take NO? Which is more hopeful and faithful? Which exalts the goodness of God? Scripture is clear: Submit your requests to God. The righteous are as bold as a lion. Come boldly to the throne of grace. The righteous shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back my soul has no pleasure in him. Therefore since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 

Go bold.  In hope. Take NO if you must. You’ll be in good company. Moses, Hannah, and Daniel. Hezekiah plead for his life, and God gave him 15 more years. David appealed for his son’s life, and on the seventh day the child died. David took NO. God will have it so, was good enough for him

It is hard to hope against hope. The urge to protect self looms large. In Allure Of Hope, Jan Myers describes the yearning that wells up. We are just afraid, that’s all. We intrinsically know that hope is a painful process. Yet we want to have the courage to respond in hope anyway. (p. 24) 

Hope in God’s mercy gave Moses courage to appeal his case. But it also empowered him to take NO. And hope in God’s future grace allowed him to transcend his disappointment and stay faithful in all God’s house. 

His exact response to the divine NO is not explicit. But read to the end of Deuteronomy, and you’ll find it. Moses finished strong. He encouraged, warned, blessed the 12 tribes without a hint of rancor.

Hear his love for the Lord who denied, for the people who provoked, in his last words:

“The LORD came from Sinai…he came from the ten thousands of holy ones, with flaming fire at his right hand. Yes, he loved his people, all his holy ones were in his hand; so they followed in your steps receiving direction from you, when Moses commanded us a law…Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD, the shield of your help, and the sword of your triumph!” (Deuteronomy 33:2-3, 29)

Then, the very day he delivered that stirring speech,

Moses went up from the plains of Moab…and the LORD showed him all the land. And the LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob…I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 34:1, 4-5)

Say, do you know who buried Moses?

  He [God] buried him in the valley in the land of Moab… 
Deuteronomy 34:9

Addendum: Not so fast, you say. Not all asking is meek and submissive. I agree.  I can think of at least two types of requests that are not inspired by faith, not full of hope, and certainly not meek.

1. Foolish people make bold requests. Like, when, on a whim, Son A asks,

Mom, could I just have $150 for a Millennium Falcon Lego set?  I really like it.

 Or off-handedly, Son B, asks,

Could I pleeeease have another [third] bowl of Caramel Sea Salt Truffle ice cream for dessert dessert dessert?

Silly, not meek. And not of faith. Sons A and B didn’t honestly think Mom would deliver. Or foolish because they don’t really know what they’re asking.  Like when James and John’s mom asked if her boys could sit beside Jesus in his kingdom.
2. Presumptuous people also ask favors. They assume. Their requests are demands, and may be disguised by tag questions.

You don’t mind watching the kids, do you?  or

You wouldn’t mind if we borrowed your tent [canoe, camper], would you? or

You can read this book before book club, can’t you? (Guilty as charged.)

And so submissive requests morph into brash entitlement. Like Rachel envying Leah’s fertility. Give me children or I’ll die, she told JacobNot so meek.
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Moses and Mike

Meekness is a lens to view the world and the Word. I saw two powerful portraits of it in the last 24 hours: Mike and Moses.

Mike and his wife have been family friends for almost three decades. They attended my graduation party and our wedding ceremony. They even babysat baby Sam as I sat in on church meetings.

Last year, Mike’s progressing ALS mandated a big move. He and his wife relocated a full day’s drive from southeastern Wisconsin to live near their daughter.

My parents went to visit Mike and his wife in western Iowa last weekend.  Mom and Dad stopped by a day later.

How is Mike doing?  I wondered.

 Dad didn’t use the word meekness in his answer, but he described it to a tee.

“Mike is getting weaker. He always uses his wheelchair now. He’s got a lift when he needs it. Mike welcomes each new limitation.”  

He paused a moment, reflecting.

“I think he takes them as a sort of adventure. He sees God’s gracious hand at work in the deal they found on a mobility van, the grand view they have of a huge cornfield. And Diane has the walk in closet she never had in WI.”  

Mike has been and remains a consummate gentleman.  And he maintains his sense of humor.

“My eating isn’t a pretty sight,” he told my parents before lunch on Sunday.  

His left hand gently pummeled the top of the fork in his right hand. The extra force was needed to impale his chicken.

God’s strength, perfected in Mike’s meekness.

This morning Moses’ meekness was on display. A few chapters in the book of Numbers gave ample evidence for his “meekest man” moniker (see Numbers 12:3).

1. After nearly a year at Sinai the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle. Finally, the tribes can set out by companies, Judah first. At this point, Moses asks his brother-in-law to come along. Hobab refuses. Mr. Meek doesn’t drop it. His Midianite relative knows the lay of the wilderness land better than he. Moses knows he needs help and he’s not too proud to ask.

Please do not leave us, for you know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you will serve as eyes for us. And if you do go with us, whatever good the Lord will do to us, the same will we do to you. (Numbers 10:31-32)

The meek ask for help. And you

2. Now he’s got Hobab as a trusty scout. But the burden of the Israelites weighs heavy. Moses knows his weakness and asks for help again. God answers in wondrous fashion: as they are assembled at the tent of meeting, some of Moses’ Spirit is placed on 70 elders.  As evidence of this divine gift, the men prophecy.

Meanwhile, back at camp and out of the sacred environs, Eldad and Medad also prophecy. This arouses Joshua’s jealousy. He tells Moses to stop them! (Numbers 11:28)

A show of mighty meekness, without a hint of jealousy, Moses responds to Joshua

Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!   (Numbers 11:29)

The meek don’t hoard God’s gifts. And you? 

3. Soon after, Moses faces another round of jealousy. This was a baser type; jealous of-not for-Moses. And, it was from the lips of his very own brother and sister. Aaron and Miriam already had big roles in God’s redemption story, but they wanted bigger parts. So they put a self-righteous cover on their even uglier jealousy.

They spoke against Moses because of his Cushite wife.” And they said, “Has God only spoken through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?”  And the LORD heard it. (Numbers 12:1-2)

Then, the LORD himself becomes at once defense attorney and head prosecutor.  He calls out the envious siblings.  Hear my words, God says:

“Moses is faithful in all my house.  With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly…and he beholds the form of the LORD.  Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” And the LORD’s anger was kindled against them and he departed. (Numbers 12:7-9)

And when he did, Miriam was leprous. Aaron immediately confesses their sin to Moses and appeals to him on Miriam’s behalf. Moses forgave, and in an astounding act of meekness

Moses cried to the LORD, “O God, please heal her – please.” (Numbers 12:13)

The meek are quick to forgive?  And you?

4.  I saw one part of the portrait of meekness. Alone, it’s enough to land Moses the title of “meekest man on earth.”

Moses had sent spies out to the land. Now they’ve returned, yellow-bellied, except Caleb and Joshua. The faithless reports of giant in the land arouse such fear that all the people grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, “Would that we had died in Egypt!” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:4) Ouch!

Stoning of Joshua and Caleb is averted by only as God’s glory appears before all the people.  And the LORD said to Moses,

How long will this people despise me? How long will they not believe in me, despite all the signs I have done among them? I will strike them with pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they. (Numbers 14:11-12)

 Were I in Moses’ sandals, I’m pretty sure I know how I’d have answered. Something like,

“Great plan, God. Go get ’em God. They deserve it.”

 Not Moses.

Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for you brought up this people in your might from among them…Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, “It is because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them. (Numbers 14:13,15-16)

In his defense of the rebels, Moses appeals to God’s character. He quotes the very name God revealed on the mountain months before (Exodus 34:6-7).  Moses asks God to save that wicked generation.

And now, please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying, “The LORD is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression…” Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now. (Numbers 14: 17-19)

And God relented.

The meek appeal to God to have mercy on sinners? (Even insolent, hostile sinners.) And you?

Two portraits of the meek in the land. Moses and Mike: meek and mighty. They are the ones who inherit the land. This land, with verdant Iowa cornfields and spacious walk-in closets, manna and water from the Rock. And an even better land.

      And desiring a better country, that is a heavenly one.       
Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, 
for he has prepared for them a city. 
Hebrews 11:16

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More Meek?

Mom, that sounds like you and Dad arguing, ya’ know?

So interjected seven-year-old Gabe, as I wrote this very post yesterday. In the background, a radio talk show host was arguing with a caller. I wish I could say his comment was scripted.

In May I posted an introduction to Mademoiselle Meekness.  I offered some reasons to pursue her and debunked a couple of misunderstandings about her. Matthew’s Henry’s 1698 essay, The Quest for Meekness and Quietness of Spirit,” prompted both posts.

Our ladies’ small group finished the book last week.  But before she’s shelved beside Puritan peers, I must pay my respects to the fair lady. 

By way of recap, meekness is not a shy temperament. Nor is she mousy or weak. She is certainly not “tolerant” refusal to reason or settle on truth. I can’t resist including this century old G. K. Chesterton quote, describing such misplaced meekness:

What we suffer from today is humility [meekness] in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert—himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt—the Divine Reason . . .(Orthodoxy, p. 31f.)

Meekness is “an attitude of humility toward God and gentleness toward people, springing from recognition that God is in control.”1 Meekness is power under control. She helps us govern our anger when provoked, and patiently bear the anger of others. She lets us keep silent when the heart is hot, and put up with insults. 

In a June, 2013 Revive Our Hearts broadcast, Nancy Leigh DeMoss shared this wonderful example of meekness.  George Whitefield was an 18th century English itinerant preacher and evangelist. During his ministry he received a malicious letter accusing him of wrongdoing.  He replied:

I thank you heartily for your letter. As for what you and my other enemies are saying against me, I know worse things about myself than you will ever say about me.

With love in Christ, 

George Whitefield 

Such adornment! Meekness makes us more attractive, certainly to our Lord, and likely to our neighbor. Adorn yourselves with a meek and quiet spirit, wrote Peter, which is very precious in God’s sight.  We must remind the Father of his beloved Son when clothed with meekness.  Learn of me, Jesus said:

for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest for your souls. (Matt. 11:29)

No wonder a meek spirit is so precious to God.

Are you a spiritual bee? (#4 below)

Matthew Henry offers these “good principles which tend to make us meek and quiet.”  

  1. He has the sweetest and surest peace who is the most master of his passions. Whoever controls his temper is better than a warrior…He that rules his spirit than he that takes a city. (Prov.16:32)  Application: At the start of the T-ball season, our son seemed to be parked in the outfield, without much fielding opportunity. Were the coaches following rotation protocol? (Wo! to the Tiger Mom in me.) My spirit was vexed. In prayer, the Spirit convicted me to wait before I spoke or fretted more. Sure enough, sweet peace was restored-and before the next game when Gabe rotated to pitcher.
  2. In many things we all offend.  We all stumble in many ways. (James 3:2) Henry adds, [Knowing man’s tendency to sin and stumble] should not be used to excuse our own faults and take the edge of repentance…but to excuse the faults of others and take the edge off our passion and displeasure. Application: Sometimes when others do not acknowledge “personal” emails, I (wrongly) take offense. Was it received, read, meaningful? I was just recently working into that peevish state after two unrequited notes, when what should appear?  Scrolling through “marked as read,” I spotted a few of my own. No excuses and no edge off this repentance!
  3. Men are God’s hand, as it is said in Psalm 17:13-14.  Men’s reproaches are God’s rebukes and whoever he be that offends me, I must see that the Father corrects me.  Application: Exhibit 1: Gabe’s quote above. Out of the mouth of men and babes, God speaks.  I stand corrected- again. 
  4. There is no provocation given us at any time, but if it be skillfully improved, there is good to be gotten from it.  It is an ill weed indeed out of which the spiritual bee cannot extract something profitable. Application: Last Friday a dear friend suggested I was being deceptive during a discussion.  I wasn’t.  I was being gracious, ambiguously allowing the possibility that the subject of our conversation had no ill intent. That’s all, not being deceptive.  I (defensively) explained. Then, buzzed the bee. I zipped my lips. Maybe I could be more forthright. 
  5. What is said and done in haste is like to need repentance. As when Abigail suggested to David that repentance would be needed if he avenged Nabal’s household. Application: An email again.  The tone of the email was sarcastic and accusing.  I drafted my response.  Not mean, just clear and direct.  Then- two sentences in- I paused. Don’t add gas to a fire. Or, to borrow Henry’s word picture, be soft sand, not loud rock, when the waves hit

In case we’d need something more concrete than “principles,” Matthew Henry ends his essay with these “Rules for Direction” (AKA: “9 Tips To Be More Meek “):

1. Sit loose to the world and everything in it. Break a piece of new china when it arrives so you won’t be too attached to the set.
2. Be often repenting of sinful passion. If we confess our sins…
3. Stay out of the way of provocation. If possible.
4. Learn to pause before speaking.  Count to 10 if you must.
5. Pray that God will work a meek spirit in you.  Amen and amen!
6. Be often examining your growth in this grace. As my head hits the pillow.
7. Delight in the company of meek persons. So grateful for the meek, quiet friends God has given me.
8. Study the cross of our Lord Jesus. Who, when insulted, opened not his mouth. 
9. Converse much in thoughts with the grave. Death will quiet us shortly; let grace quiet us now. (p. 143)

“Patient and meek beneath affliction’s rod,
And why her faith and hope were fixed on God.”
-Engraving on tombstone of Bridget Kilroy,
who died in 1848 at age 50 in County Clare, Ireland
Gabe’s comment wasn’t my only tip-off.  I need more meekness. So, I tip my hat to Lady Meekness, and pray she’ll adorn me more and more ’til this life is past.  
1. Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., Harrison, R. K., & Thomas Nelson Publishers. (1995). Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary