Manipulating God

I once explained a classroom management strategy to my students, and a bright young man piped up, “You’re manipulating us!” I laughed as we talked through the implications of my pedagogy and the connotations of the word “manipulate.” The class eventually admitted it was an effective way to get them to engage with the content and that I wasn’t a villain for using the strategy that “tricked” them into learning. Obviously “manipulation” has a negative connotation, but that class discussion did force me to think about ways I engage with others or even God when I want certain results – because sometimes the results aren’t bad. So what if the manipulation leads to good things?

After reading the genealogy in Luke 3 Thursday night, my friend Danyell and I had the most incredible conversation about Rebekah manipulating God (as recounted in Genesis 27 which, to be fair, we had not just read). Well, we actually discussed whether or not she actually did that or if God worked in spite of her manipulative behaviour to bring about the promise he had made. Danyell made a point about how Rebekah knew that Jacob would be the greater son because of the prophecy the Lord gave her when she was pregnant. I kept returning to the point that I had no recollection of Rebekah’s motive being anything related to fulfilling God’s will but rather entirely presented as her favouritism of her younger son. How would the story change if it was presented as, “Knowing that God had promised Jacob would receive the blessing but that Isaac wasn’t willing to give it, Rebekah enacted a ruse to fulfil God’s plan…” I imagine there was a way God could have worked the prophecy out without the family fighting quite so much. If Isaac and Rebekah had each listened to God better, perhaps Esau’s life would not have been so rough. Heck, perhaps Jacob wouldn’t have gone on to struggle with God so much that he was literally renamed “One who struggles with God.”

My takeaway is still that Rebekah was not honouring God in her behaviour. Her manipulation was for selfish reasons despite the fact that it all worked out how God prophesied it would with the younger son being a greater nation than the older.

Our conversation included some reflections on an event in my life that feels unresolved and how I cannot force God’s hand. I can’t make the miracle of nerve recovery happen, but I can keep following promptings God gives me to pray and obey with my life choices. One of those promptings which I’ve shared many times in the past few years was to invite a coworker to pray for me which led to him telling me that God wouldn’t heal me until I had “learned about suffering and lamentation” and then gaslighting me when I found the courage to call out that bad theology. That encounter has led to a lot of hurt and confusion, but I’ve also seen God bring incredible fruit from it. Friday morning was a fresh reminder of the good things God is working out from my witness and ongoing growth.

I chatted with Isabel on Friday, and she brought up how profoundly that event has impacted her husband’s spiritual life. Nick watched one of his closest mentors speak untruths about the character of God that caused a huge wound for another one of his closest mentors. He and Isabel then had a front row seat to my initial unloving response through my ongoing healing as I took that wound to Jesus and began a radical prayer journey to become a healed healer instead of a wounded wounder. Isabel reminded me about how that had grown Nick’s relationship with God as he intentionally began to listen for the instructions of the Holy Spirit. Significantly, he listens for instructions on how to engage and encourage repentance and reconciliation. He bravely spoke to me about how my unkind words were unhelpful, and he bravely remained silent when God didn’t give him instructions to pass on to the other person.

Unlike Rebekah meddling to make things work out her way, Nick has patiently prayed alongside me for God to keep working in my story and for miraculous healing to happen. With one possible exception, Nick is the only person on earth with a close relationship with both parties, and he’s admitted to me that he’s longed to bring this up to the other person but has not felt at peace to do that. I applaud this kid’s restraint to let the Holy Spirit direct his choices instead of trying to force God’s hand by nudging someone out of turn.

This morning’s sermon at church was on finding people open to hearing the Gospel and being discipled. Tim reiterated multiple times that this didn’t require you to change your personality but to be open to the opportunities God places in your life. Let me make this clear, you don’t have to manipulate the opportunities into existence; God is already at work in the lives of others and just asks us to respond to what he hands us. Tim asked the church to think about who might already be someone in their life who is, as Luke calls them, “a person of peace.” I was thinking of a lot of young people in my life who are resistant to the message of Christianity, but I also had a few names of young people who are eager to talk to me about their spiritual life and give me the opportunity to point them to Jesus. Nick is obviously one of the young people having those conversations with me, but one of his classmates who is not in any way a Christian falls into the category of “person of peace” because he’ll talk to me about all kinds of God stuff when he drunk calls me. I can’t manipulate this kid into becoming a Christian – and he knows that. He also knows I love him unconditionally whatever level of sobriety he’s in when he calls me. I also know his story isn’t over.

My story isn’t over yet, either, and I’ll keep posting updates here about the blister popping and slowly drying out with the help of occasional Betadine droplets on the pad of my foot. Today had lots of unexplained leg spasms, but I’ll still get out of bed tomorrow. In fact, I’ll get up a little early to make sure I’m ready to catch my ride to the discipling intensive over the next two days so that I can learn how to better love and serve others as a worker in this plentiful harvest. I can’t change God’s plan for my physical recovery, but I can be a part of inviting him to move in my body. I also have the privilege of extending you a place in my story as you pray for my full healing and participate in the miraculous work God is doing through this American girl called to New Zealand to disciple young Kiwis. I don’t know how this story will get written, but I know that God will not be robbed of his glory. Full disclosure, I’ve made mistakes along the way, but by the grace of God, he’s not waiting until I’ve “learned my lesson” in order to use my story and advance his kingdom.

Honestly, this blog is my attempt to bear witness to the work of God in my life, and I pray that comes through as I vulnerably share where I’ve needed to grow and ask for ongoing prayers for my holistic healing. Asking the masses of the internet to pray for a miraculous healing isn’t an effective way to manipulate God (hopefully I’ve made clear there are no effective ways), but it is an effective way to invite people to participate in the ongoing work of God in my life. I’m still asking for everything: for blisters to disappear, for nerve function to be restored, for my muscles to stop spasming. Everything.

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