Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Yes

“Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” (Malachi 3.10)

What Lies Beyond What Is

We’ve been on a Liza kick lately. It started when Walt latched on to “Ring Them Bells,” a Kander and Ebb novelty about a girl who goes to Europe and discovers an opportunity that lurked under her nose all along. Walt’s one of those people who can play a song they love again and again. So, hoping to add some variety to his playlist, I dusted off the DVD Liza with a Z, a TV concert she filmed in the wake of her Cabaret triumph. It opens with “Yes,” another Kander-Ebb tune with a similar message that knocked me off my heels in spite of it pushing the kind of hard-sell, show-biz sunshine that normally gives me the willies. In this case, however, knowing Liza performs it at her peak adds conviction to its brazen optimism. As she belts, “What lies beyond ‘what is’ is not. So what? Say, ‘Yes!’” I’m a believer.

I was raised on the power of “yes,” though not in the same sense as Kander and Ebb’s song. Instead of being told I could do anything I set my mind to, my parents taught the only answer to “No, I can’t” is “Yes, God can.” So what if what lies beyond ‘what is’ is not? Saying “yes” turns a blind eye to impossibility and unleashes our Maker’s power. Romans 4.17 says God “calls things that are not as though they were.” Inability to detect anything beyond options we see has no bearing on His means and methods. When no viable solution exists, He creates one. All He needs from us is belief. When we say, “Yes, You can,” He proves it.

Faith and Surrender

Re-reading the above raises trepidation some may consider it nothing more than a religious twist on the same cockeyed notion that songwriters have served up for decades. In all honesty, it does ring them bells, and I spent most of my thirties hatching rationales in favor of this view. Drunk on self-confidence, I decided countermanding life’s “no’s” with divine “yeses” was beneath me. I was too sophisticated to believe God actually preferred to intervene in my impossibilities rather than trusting me to live with them. (Imagine that—God trusting me, not me trusting Him!) While I muddled along, however, I kept noticing people who knew no better than saying “yes” got out of trouble, not through it. Still, I wouldn’t accept it could possibly be so simple. I rifled through variations on the theme: happy coincidence, self-fulfilling prophecy, or cosmic beneficence—anything but faith and surrender.

Faith and surrender distinguish “Yes, God can” from “Yes, I/we can." When we turn our “no’s” into God’s “yeses,” we must sincerely believe He can do the impossible and let go so He will. We dismiss what we think in order to rely on what we know. That’s how it worked with me, anyway. In His amazing kindness and wisdom, God sent a raft of unbelievable opportunities and impossible situations my way. All at once, I faced the fact I was neither smart nor talented enough to seize chances I’d been given, let alone resolve crises I’d stumbled into. “What should I do?” eased into “I can’t possibly do it,” which left no alternative to confessing, “I can’t, but I know You can and believe You will.” Once I said, “Yes,” things began turning around. One Sunday morning, the choir hauled out an oldie I’d never been crazy about, “I Tried Him and I Know Him.” And in that moment I understood something I’d never put together: I tried Him because I know Him. I said, “Yes,” because “Yes” made total sense.

Tests

In getting to know God, we learn He often tests us so we can test Him. We see this in Malachi. The Jews have reassembled after 80 years of exile and foreign occupation. They scrape together what’s left of their assets to pay enormous reconstruction costs. With “no’s” at every turn, it takes all their resources just to keep going. In the process, devotion to God’s work and House wanes. So what does God do? He asks the impossible, demanding Israel sacrifice one-tenth of its income to restock Temple coffers. “Test me in this,” He says, “and see if I won’t bless you beyond your capacity to contain it.” Building Temple reserves while struggling to put roofs overhead and meals on tables doesn’t make sense. God has asked more than they can possibly do or afford. It takes time for Israel to forget saying, “No, we can’t,” and agree, “Yes, God can.” But when they conclude savvy and skepticism are merely fear in fancy dress, they take Him up on His offer. They test Him because they know Him. Just as He promises, prosperity and security are restored. What was impossible for Israel proved entirely possible for God.

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God,” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1.20. With a fresh year approaching, there’s no better time to know that we know God—to know tests that look like big fat “no’s” to us are really grand opportunities to test Him. He will prove there’s more than “is not” behind “what is.” There are promises we can trust and creative power we can’t see. Every promise God makes is an automatic “yes.” Our “yes” declares faith and surrender. We say, “Amen”—it is so. I pray 2010 becomes our Year of Yes, that we enter it with minds to trust God’s power and leave it having seen Him prove Himself with every test.

Having nothing left to say but “No” is the exact moment we should say, “Yes!”

(Next: In With the New)

Postscript: “Yes” and…

Minnelli’s optimistic booster and “I Tried Him and I Know Him” by Perfect Praise.


4 comments:

jake - aka the comment novelist said...

I needed this one, Tim. Thank you.

Tim said...

Thanks, Jake. I needed it, too.

Sherry Peyton said...

Tim, I've been kicking around writing about resolutions, given the time of year, and this looks about as good a one as I can think of. The brilliant point you make is simple but so elegant. WE can see that there is no way to accomplish the task given the perameters of the situation, but we fail to see that God can CREATE new perameters! As you point out, it is this we need to trust in. Thanks for a good lesson I'll remember!

Tim said...

Sherry, I think we err miserably by casting God in the default role of Mother/Father, when that's only one aspect--admittedly a critical one--of His nature. He is first, foremost, and always the Creator. Not allowing our faith to tap into His infinite power to imagine what doesn't yet exist and make new things out of nothing limits us.

Because there is no human comparison to this capability, though, it's typically the first thing we forget about God. It's so far beyond precedent, we tend to shy away from believing it, discounting it as "fantastic thinking." Well, it is fantastic, in every sense of the word. But shouldn't it be?

Thanks for the comment. Stay warm and a most marvelous, happy--and fantastic--New Year to you and yours!

Peace,
Tim