I have a friend who, in conversations frequently says, “Yes,…” apparently agreeing with something I’ve just said; and then follows it with, “but,…” apparently not agreeing with what I just said – at least, not in total. It’s a speech mannerism that I have come to expect, and more or less accept. However, it does irritate from time to time.
So, we (my wife and I) were discussing this the other morning. And, it suddenly occurred to me (I’m positive the Holy Spirit was at work) that this friend and I have something in common. I use the same mannerism quite often. Except it’s not so much in my speech. It’s in my actions. God (the Holy Spirit) prompts me in a particular direction; and I, either say – or do – a “Yes, but….”
Looking back over my life, both before and after I truly accepted Jesus as my Savior, I have said “Yes, but…” to God more times than I care to even think about, let alone try to count. I wonder just how great God’s Grace truly is, that I haven’t been hit by a lightning-bolt as that “…but” comes out. (There are times I hate free will. At least in retrospect.)
Can anyone tell me why I think I can plan my life better than God can? Why I think God even needs my input on the solutions and help I ask for? Don’t get me wrong. I believe God wants me to talk to him about my problems and difficulties. But, let’s look at it from another perspective for just a minute. Think back to a time when someone has related a problem to you, and asked your advice. You respond. And, they ultimately proceed to do what they really wanted to do all along. Did you feel frustrated? Did you ever respond, “Look, do you want my advice or not? I mean, you ask for my help, then you reject it. Why do I bother?” And, even if you didn’t say it, did you think it? I have.
My one consolation in this area is that I am not alone in this failing. A couple of my heroes from the Bible managed to do the same thing. Both Abraham (especially Abraham) and Joseph managed a “Yes, but….”
Let’s look at Joseph’s story first. Favorite of his father and therefore despised by his brothers, they attacked and sold Joseph into slavery in a foreign land (Egypt). Yet, Joseph maintained his faith in God. He did his best in every situation, always waiting for and trusting God. And, he always gave God the credit. God rewarded him. From lowly servant of Potiphar, the Captain of the Pharaoh’s Guard, Joseph became the head of Potiphar’s entire house-hold. But, Potiphar’s wife had the ‘hots’ for Joseph. When Joseph politely told her that, out of respect for God and her husband he would not have sex with her, she publicly accused him of attempted rape. God protected Joseph from death, but never-the-less Joseph ended up in prison. It was while in prison that Joseph had his “Yes, but…” moment.
Joseph became the “trustee” of the warden. One day, two of Pharaoh’s servants were thrown into the jail that Joseph was then “running”. After some time, the two servant’s each had mysterious dreams, on the same night. They couldn’t figure out their dreams, so they asked Joseph for help. Using God’s insight, Joseph interpreted their dreams – one would have his trusted position restored; the other would be executed. And, this is the point at which Joseph decided he could help himself. This was his, “I trust you God, but…” moment. Joseph told the servant who was going back to Pharaoh, to remember him to Pharaoh so that Pharaoh might get him out of prison. Good plan. NOT!
Right there Joseph took matters into his own hands. Joseph should have waited for God to act. I believe that, had Joseph not done his “Yes, but…” the servant would certainly have told Pharaoh about the man who had correctly interpreted both dreams. After all, it was a huge event in the servants life; and, interpreters of dreams were very highly respected in the culture. I think it probable that Pharaoh would have had Joseph released right then and there. But, instead, the servant “forgot”. I don’t know this for a fact; but, again, I believe this cost Joseph some extra prison time – it was another two years before Joseph was released – to interpret a dream for Pharaoh. You can read the entire story in the Book of Genesis, starting in chapter 30, verse 24.
The story of Abram/Abraham is also found in Genesis, beginning in chapter 11, verse 26. In chapter 16 Abram (and his wife Sarai) decided to “help” God fulfill a promise. God had told Abram that he would become the father of a great nation, yet at age 85 or 86 (his wife at age 75 or 76) he still had no children. Sarai suggested to Abram that since she was apparently barren, he could have sex with Hagar, her maidservant, and they could have a family in that manner. (This was quite acceptable in the culture of the time.) Abram agreed. And just like that, we have another, “God needs our help” moment.
Well, their plan seemed to work… but, only to a point. Hagar bore Abram a son. God gave him the name Ishmael. About thirteen years later God changed Abram’s and Sarai’s names to Abraham and Sarah. A year after that, Sarah bore a son of Abraham (100 years old at the time) and he was named Isaac. God’s promises to Abraham are all fulfilled through Isaac.
It is through Isaac’s line that the Nation of Israel came into being; and, Jesus is born in Bethlehem. Through Isaac all nations of the earth are truly blessed – exactly as God promised.
Ishmael became the father of the Arabs. Six hundred years after Jesus’ death, an Arabian man named Muhammad wanted to unite the Arab people under one religion. Muhammad claimed that while spending some time alone in a cave, the angel Gabriel came and gave him a new and final revelation from God. Muhammad could not read or write, so he memorized the angel’s words, and they were later recorded (along with other visions) in Islam’s holy book, the Koran.
And, those are my two stories. What do they “say to me”?
First, that when we say “Yes” to God, we need to give it 100%… period. And, give God the credit. Anything else is going to have a less than optimal outcome.
Second, since we are imperfect, there will be those times when we will say to God, “Yes, but….” When we do that, we will experience consequences. We are responsible for the consequences – not God.
Third, through those times of consequence, God does not abandon us. We may feel abandoned. We may even think we deserve it. But, that is our “broken” way of thinking; and certainly not how God thinks. God is faithful. We are His, and He never forgets or forsakes us. We need to remember that; admit our pride; ask forgiveness; and get back into the center of God’s Will.
Father, time and again in your Word, you show us the perfection of your plans. In your world we see the perfection of your work. And, we stand in awe.
Yet, we try to make our own way through life. We fail to trust you. We ask for help, when what we really want is affirmation for what we want to do. We have a prideful spirit that only thinks it is in control.
I’m ready for this to stop. Jesus, Father, help me to seek your ways as I go through my time here on earth. Help me, Lord, to see with your eyes and to hear with my heart. Help me to find ways to trade my pride for submission. And, it might also help, Lord, if you would give the Holy Spirit within me, a little louder voice. I really and truly want to hear Him. Teach me how, Father.
Finally, Lord, Thank you for never, ever, losing patience with me. I must be terribly trying. I’m truly sorry. I love you…