March 6, 2017

What Do You Want in a God?

Our answers to that question may be different.

Heather Vandenhoven

I often ask myself, what do I want in a teacher. People are asked what they want in a president; what they want in a job, marriage, school, computer device, or hometown. We even ask what we want in ourselves.

What about what we want in God? Or need in God? Is it right or wrong to ask these questions or, perhaps, to think them? Their answers may be just as powerful as the questions themselves.

My Daughter, the Teacher

My teen daughter has already taught me that I have more questions than answers. I got the other stages down—diapers, healthy meals, and sand toys; new shoes, chore teaching, and parent-teacher conferences; laughter, “I love you,” and hugs a-plenty. But this teen stage: I don’t have it down. Worse yet, I don’t have the feelings down that go with it.

I love my daughter. I love “us.” But “us” is changing into questions. I want to rise to meet that. I pray God’s shoulders are broad and strong enough for my insecure parade of motherhood questions. I need help sorting out the important ones from the “let it ride” ones. And while I’m sorting, she may also be asking herself: “What do I need in a mama?”

So right now what I’m asking myself most is What do I need in a God?

A Shopping Lesson

Recently my family and I went back-to-school shopping. The stores buzzed with people and merchandise, their shelves stacked with new lines ready for anxious fingers and credit cards. We were enjoying the ride: three sizes of jeans and several shirts hanging from our wrists, multiple jackets draped over what was left of arm-length room. Along the way we noted families with hungry, tired toddlers, or older retired couples out with nary a worry for anything.

We felt excited and accomplished as we headed to the checkout stand. Having been a teen myself, I know looking the way you want brings its share of confidence. Perhaps it shouldn’t be that way, but for young girls it simply is at their age. So because it’s relevant to some of her confidence, my teen daughter’s fashion happiness is relevant to me. We work on the real sources of confidence plenty. Today was fun confidence. We headed to the checkout line, and I hugged my daughter, wishing these times together, no matter how complicated or fun, would last forever.

I’m not safe without Jesus Christ. I need the protection of His armor.

My husband was paying at the register when I saw them: two noticeably rugged-looking men walking straight into the store with driven purpose. They didn’t seem to be there to shop. Their focus went way beyond afternoon meandering or meeting up with family. I watched as they exchange looks, then split off in different directions—no store bags, kids, or company, just stressed jeans, plain T-shirts, and highly intense faces. My eyes became glued to them and their movements.

They paused in the middle of the store, and started loosely flipping through display shirts, though their eyes paid no attention to the clothes. They walked around some turnstile racks, and logged a few connected looks together. My husband joined me in monitoring them. We were in a big-city store in the middle of a big-city mall full of masses of people where what you hate to even think of still happens.

Were they bad men? Were we about to become pawns of terrorists? Was this another perfect setting for mass killing and mass attention to it? I could panic, and thus frighten my child, and everyone else too. Or I could take her hand, tell her to walk with me, and lead quietly away. Without a word between us, my husband and I chose the latter, collected our suddenly unimportant bags, and began to walk out. Our daughter wanted to linger and look some more, her loose fingers wriggling and moving in my hand. I needed to put on my mama bear hat. I said, “Walk and walk now. Don’t let go of my hand. Follow Daddy!”

If gods were on order, I would have wanted a God who takes over. Life was at stake, as far as I could tell. My daughter’s life was at stake. A big takeover God was in order, and a big takeover surrender was necessary. I took over as I prayed and walked. Our daughter surrendered and followed, confused and questioning. Outside the store we continued down the sidewalk, still sandwiching our daughter between us. When we were far enough away, I let go of her hand, but not my focus. When asked what was going on, I answered, “When I see something I don’t think is safe, your job is to trust me to take care of you and obey.”

What Do You Want in a God?

The evening news said nothing about my imagined incident, or even about arrests that prevented it. But my imagination that day hardly reflected the true danger that constantly threatens our destinies. There are city malls where danger lurks, and there are private places where some soul is breaking apart, or even wrestling with the forever questions. It is easier to feel safe when we’re not the ones affected by tsunami, ruin, or war. The God we most identify with is in church on Sabbath and in prayer in hospitals.

But the God we all most need may well be the God of my shopping mall incident. The biggest rescue humanity needs is from the battleground within our souls. Terrorism has hit there in so many ways. It hits when we succumb to the distractions and dangers of this worldly life. It hits whenever we allow the devil to insert his savage behavior into our thoughts, homes, and lives.

I open my Bible to Ephesians 6:10-18. I read it, read it again, and read it again. I write it down. Then I read it again. The Holy Spirit moves around me, igniting my heart and empowering me with protection. Some of my questions are answered in my reading on the armor of God: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (verses 10-12).

I need truth buckled around my waist; I need the breastplate of righteousness; I need my feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace; I need the shield of faith to extinguish all the evil one’s flaming arrows, the helmet of salvation, and the weapon of God’s Word. Finally, I need to pray in the Spirit, constantly and in all kinds of places. I need to pray for myself, and I need to pray for you.

What He Needs From Me

My struggles with terrorism in my heart, my struggles with the devil’s schemes, and my struggles with the dangers of this world are all far too advanced for me. I’m not safe without Jesus Christ. I need the protection of His armor. I need to ask Him lots of questions when I’m confused. But what does God need from me? He needs me to be His daughter, to obey and walk when He knows, though I cannot always understand, that it is time for Him to take over. I need to let Him hold my hand, and He needs me to let Him hold me.

“Follow Daddy,” He may say. And while I’m following, He answers the confusion of my mind by saying to me: “When I see something I don’t think is safe, your job is to trust Me to take care of you.”

I’m all in, Lord. Please hold my hand. I surrender all. Please take over. Please.

Heather Vandenhoven is a freelance writer who lives in northern California with her husband and daughter.