How My Religion Failed Me
My religion said, “After I was saved, God would turn me into a “good girl.” He would help me if I tried hard enough to keep getting better. And so if I tried, and performed better and better each day, week, year, God would be pleased with me.” And as I grew up in my faith and began to check off the things my religion said I had to do, (things like reading my Bible, praying, going to church, serving him and all the others), I believed that the Holy Spirit working in me promised to make ME more righteous, emphasis on ME.
When I experienced depression, there was no evidence of any righteousness left in me. So, I had some options as to what was happening to me. 1) Maybe I wasn’t saved; I refused to believe that. 2) I just wasn’t trying hard enough and maybe I needed to do more self-flagellation. 3) Maybe, I needed to feel more remorse and sorrow and force myself to repent more. 4) Maybe, I just wasn’t worthy of the Holy Spirit’s or God the Father’s time to make me better. 5) Or maybe—just maybe—the whole foundation of my spiritual journey was built upon MY righteousness, attempting to make God happier with me, rather than allowing God‘s righteousness through Jesus on my behalf to satisfy all His requirements for righteousness: perfectly sinless behavior.
You see, when you pull that foundation stone of my religious self-betterment out from the bottom of the pile, the whole tower comes tumbling down. Why? Because the foundation of my spiritual journey was that God’s favor depended on MY righteousness, the things I did, and the things I thought.
In my understanding, one needed to become more righteous as that was the only way God would be pleased. More importantly, in order to please God, righteous works were the absolute essentials in the whole ideological argument. Earning the pleasure of God always, always, always came from better behavior.
To my despair, I found my religion didn’t leave me any way in my depression to please God. And frankly, I could not believe that God—a good, loving God—would leave me in a place where I could not earn His pleasure. No, don’t misunderstand me, as I’m not talking about earning my salvation. I’m not even talking about being God’s special prized possession. At this point, I just wanted to know that God wasn’t unhappy with me.
Yes, I felt like a worthless, pathetic Christian, but I was more afraid that God’s un-favor or wrath might rest on me? In my depression, I felt with every worthless thought, every unhealthy behavior, and every angry outburst, the rest of my world tired of me. I frustrated them. I wasn’t the nicest person or the kindest person that they could have known before depression. I was an entirely different identity whom I believed didn’t deserve compassion nor mercy nor grace because I found myself so revolting, yes, even to me.
It’s not a huge leap to go from how you believe others see you, and in fact tell you how tired they are of having you act this way, or even worse see you for what they can only believe is simply a bad behavior issue, to leap to the premise that God surely must feel the same way. I didn’t feel that I could please my husband when I was depressed, I didn’t feel like I could please my children, my church, or my friends. In fact, in self-preservation and self defense, my depression kept me from caring what everybody else thought of me. It was the only way to keep myself from drowning in self-hatred and keep my head above water.
So, when I could, I began to re-evaluate everything that I had learned about God, and everything that I had believed about Him, through Sunday school teachers, through parents, through pastors, through friends, through Christian school teachers—I had a lot of teachers who all tried to help me learn how to live to please God. Everything I had come to believe hinged on one’s self improvement. It dealt with works and goodness. In my depression, I was unable to do any of these good things because frankly depression steals away the will to control your life in any way.
And yet, though I despaired, part of me had the state of mind to think, “this can’t be. If this goodness was required to please God and so many illnesses allowed the brain to become ill and thus denied them goodness, I couldn’t believe that my God would be so unkind and unfair as to leave the mentally ill condemned with no hope of pleasing Him. I determined that somehow in my childhood, that I had inadvertently inserted some kind of faulty building block that had broken my religion: my Christianity. Evidently, I hadn’t learned about God in a healthy way. I had distorted God.
In my Christianity, my pleasure to God always seemed to hinge on behavior. The more I felt like I was becoming “just like Jesus,” the more I felt God was up in heaven patting me on my head, and saying, “good Heidi- good Heidi.” To my despair, I hadn’t felt that “good Heidi” pat since my depression began.
It was in that despair that I began to study the gospel, the good news, that my righteousness (and the whole world’s, in fact) was so wretchedly unrighteous, that Jesus came to die to pay the punishment for my unrighteousness and credited to me His own righteousness, in spite of anything I did after salvation. I studied living by “grace alone” instead of just being “saved by grace.” Instead of living as a believer with “grace a lot,” I began to believe God was calling me to live by “grace alone.”
So, after much thought and discussion with my husband, I ripped out that old faulty foundational stone which required my righteousness (my works, my obedience, and my good behavior) to please God. As long as it remained the primary requirement to please God, I was condemned and without hope.
Embracing grace, I admitted and accepted that I would never be righteous (“there is none righteous, no not one.”) Embracing grace, I began to replace that unfortunate delusion with the fact the reason God sent His son was to make me right with God, because the world had been trying for years to become right with God by obeying the Law which couldn’t make anyone righteous. It only proved that nobody could obey the Law in full. Embracing grace, I realized that God sending his son to die for me, a pathetic worthless sinner, was the only way I could be right with God. Embracing grace, I was determined that that old self-righteous, pharisaical way of trying to become righteous through my works needed to be torn down and completely abolished. When I put the right foundational stone in place as the cornerstone of my life in Christ, Jesus’ righteousness, it’s like my eyes were opened.
Every time I looked at my own behavior and the things I said and thought in my depression, and allowed them to condemn me and make me feel like God wasn’t happy with me, I corrected it with the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news that God’s pleasure no longer would be based on my behavior. When I was ugly, I remembered that God had credited me with the righteousness of His son, forever satisfying that condemnation that He might’ve felt for me before He saved me. I realized that when His Word said the work of Jesus on the cross removed His wrath toward me and removed my sins as far as the east is from the west, He was trying to tell me that Christianity should never be about MY works, but HIS.
This whole paradigm change certainly didn’t make my depression go away and it didn’t necessarily make me feel emotionally better. But I chose to let it feed my mind (Romans 12:1-2) with the truth of the Gospel, renewing my mind with the reality of the mercy that God provided for us when our depravity caused us to live in a sinful condition, and with the reality of His grace which continues to offer us favor that we don’t deserve, because of His work 2000 years ago on the cross bestows on us these titles: friends of God, beloved, and children of God.
You see, as a Christian, the very greatest insult, shame, accusation, and condemnation that you can give to somebody who’s depressed and experiencing self-hate, because of their depraved condition, is to tell them that the God that came to the rescue their souls, they could no longer please, love or serve. You are in effect telling them they are disqualified even though they had up until this point been trying to love and serve Him with all their strength.
To tell them that God can’t see past their sick mental health state, that He is forever unhappy with them, and that God has no choice but to turn His back on them, is like a knife in their hearts. You see, for a believer especially, but even for one who is still lost, that is the greatest fear that they can have confirmed by you: That their “good and loving father” and possibly the only Friend that they feel they might have left in the world, is not able to look past their depression and love and accept them.
Knowing that this isn’t true still doesn’t cause the depression to go away, but it gives you something that might be worth living for. It offers you hope that though everybody else might turn their backs on you, He never will. When everybody else can’t look past what you say or what you do, and when the world tells you you’re unacceptable, God tells you, “you are accepted because I have accepted the sacrifice of my own Son.”
I don’t remember when I came to the conclusion that my distorted theology wasn’t working in my depression, and frankly, I don’t know how that faulty theology of works justification is supposed to work for anybody. All I know is somewhere in my depression I found peace and I found hope because I found that for everything that I was doing wrong over and over and over and over again (though God never said my deeds were righteous), He still saw me as righteous because He saw the sacrifice of His son which pardoned me forever.
I realize that it’s hard to understand this if life is going great for you; if you behave well as a Christian because you have such wonderful self-control and will power, oh, the peace you feel in your soul. To some of you, you probably believe that I even stopped trying to live like a Christian—that I stopped trying to love God.
But, let me just posit this: there are far too many churches today, who teach works justification from the time a child enters Sunday School. Children are taught that if and when they love Jesus, their behavior will improve; just like a vending machine: in goes good works, out comes righteousness. If it doesn’t, it’s their own fault.
What is one of the many reasons that so many depressed Christians are taking their life? Why isn’t their faith and their walk enough to keep them wanting to live? One of the many reasons is because their religion told them that Christians don’t get depressed, they don’t act this way, and that there is no grace for misbehavior. It failed to teach that everyone falls short of God’s perfect righteousness, not just the depressed. It failed to teach them to build their foundation on the God Who has already taken care of their “sin issue,” evidenced daily by their behavior issue. It failed to teach them that the wrath and judgement of God have been appeased. It failed to tell them that God made a way through the cross of Jesus Christ to count them as righteous, as if they were righteous (even though none of us are). It failed to teach them that their ONLY hope IS in the overwhelming, undeserved love of God, mercy of God, and grace of God.
We need to understand that God, whose thoughts are so much higher than our thoughts, understands that we, the depressed have a sickness and that our mind doesn’t always work the way we want it to work, and more than anything we might want to sort it out and figure out, “when does God judge my action as sin or symptom?”
The answer might surprise you. We sin every day. We have very few moments during the day when we aren’t having a prideful thought or a testy attitude or whatever. If we could be found righteous in our works, then, by golly, we wouldn’t need the cross of Christ, would we? But whether we sin big or sin little, we need Jesus Christ’s righteousness placed on us so that God doesn’t have to look at our actions or thoughts or behavior or our good works to make a decision about us, because He has already declared us forgiven for those things, past, present, and future.
You see, when I finally realized that I couldn’t control the thoughts or the behavior in my depression, I embraced a new pattern of thinking that could hold me up every day of my depressed life, whether actively depressed or not. I repaired my grace-less theology and learned to embrace “grace alone” which caused me to look to God’s grace, kindness, mercy and favor earned for me being showered down upon me. Together with that, I learned to reject everything that told me that I owed God for any of His favor, because frankly, if I thought I owed Him even one thing, I would despise myself for not being to give Him the one thing He might have asked of me.
My new pattern of thinking rejected good works that were necessary to please God. “No, that’s not right,” you might say. “God’s Word specifically says that ‘without faith it is impossible to please God’” (Hebrews 11:6). Well, I would have to ask you, “if you were beat down, every day, and every minute of the day like I was, could you hold on to a faith that believed that the cross of Jesus was enough to declare you righteous? Could you believe that Jesus’ righteousness credited to you was enough to give you peace with God and justify you when you couldn’t do anything on your own to earn that? Could you believe that even in your deprave state, that God called you His beloved and His friend. How much faith do you think it takes to hold on to a God-alone, God-powerful, God-sufficient, and God-controlled life? Let me tell you: it takes a LOT of faith! I was recently reminded that sometimes all the faith that is necessary is only as big as a mustard seed. Think about that.
So I have basically just put this out there for the world to read so that you could ask yourself some hard questions, especially if you have friends and loved ones who are depressed and are looking to you to support them. As for you who are content with your religious upbringing, because you have pretty strong self control, and you think you’re pretty good already, and you’re pretty proud of yourself, and you think that God is more pleased with you than He is with me, I weep for you. Why? Because one day, most likely, something will happen and you will not be the saint that you have believed you were and that will make you question the love and kindness and mercy and grace of God. Because your hope has been grounded and fulfilled in your improving behavior all these years rather than in a gracious and merciful God. But take comfort even in this, even when your pride fills your heart and you truly believe you’re doing pretty good in God’s economy, He still loves you the same. Your self-righteousness which is something God has always despised is forgiven, too, and He returns to you the same unmerited and unearned favor, as well.
Here’s a fact, nothing I do will ever be counted as righteous. There just isn’t any good works that are perfectly sinless and 100% righteous (sorry to burst your bubble). Obviously, bad works are always bad. But it isn’t the things I do for God that earn me God’s pleasure. He is never pleased with my half-baked, partial righteousness. My partial righteousnesses will never meet the standard that actually pleases God—the things I do for God, my works, the thoughts that I have tried to bring under control, my acts of service, are all acts of love. They do not earn me anything.
God says that man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. And the commandment that He Himself says is most important to Him is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. There is a point when you realize that as much as you want to do the things that show your love to God, (your intentions and your desires), you will never be able to do as much as you want to do or that would be required of you to earn a righteous standing. You will not ever be able to be completely righteous nor completely committed.
So aren’t you glad (I know I am), that God is pleased with those who believe in Him, trusting that that He knows the intentions and desires of our hearts? Aren’t you glad that He said that the cross has set us free from the curse of sin and the Law (our guilt), and that we have been reconciled to God forever? Aren’t you glad that your righteousness/unrighteousness has been overwritten by His perfect righteousness? Aren’t you glad that no matter how bad you feel you are, how many times you have failed, and how much you feel your life disappoints the God of the universe, His righteousness has made you perfect in His eyes! Aren’t you glad that the good news of the gospel is that He sees you now as flawless? Boy! I sure am!
Flawless by MercyMe
Pleasing God: A Paradigm Shift (Part 6)
This is part 6 of a six-part series, I encourage you to scroll back to here and start at the beginning.
In this final blog of this series, I’d like to illustrate a point:
- I would like you to put your hands out in front of you and make two fists.
- I want you to now imagine all the dreams you have grown up having for your life, all the ideals you have in your mind about becoming a perfect wife, a perfect mom, a perfect housekeeper, a perfect friend who is loved by everyone, even becoming a perfect Christian.
- Grip tightly to all those ways you are trying to perfect your own life by changing all your imperfection into perfection, changing all your unacceptability into acceptability, and changing all your unlovability into being lovable.
- Keep clenching those fists as tightly as you can!
- If it would help you concentrate, feel free to close your eyes until you start to feel the weariness and fatigue that that continual clenching is having on you.
- Aren’t your wrists starting to ache from the tension of your tight grip?
- Are all those perfect ideals you are desperately trying to achieve in your life bringing you freedom?
- Keep on clenching your fists and keep reading!
In trying to achieve your most desperate desires, is that making you MORE dependent on YOU and YOUR ability to control your life or is that making you MORE dependent on GOD’S already granted acceptance of you right now? Do your desires make you more God-reliant or do they make you more self reliant? If you are right now relying on yourself to achieve them, do you realize that you have chosen the only door that God has said He would oppose: the pride of self-reliance.
Women, do you want to experience freedom? Do you want to feel relief? You can only find freedom in one way that God promises He will meet you in. The humble, authentic, honest, desperate cry for God, a contrite heart that makes MUCH of His mercy and grace to cover our imperfection. That’s where God says He will meet you. TOTAL God reliance.
And here’s a biggie!
Do you want to please God more than you want to be pleased with your own life? Do you want to please God more than you want the approval of others in your life? Do you have the COURAGE to believe God for HIS acceptance and love and grace and mercy, in spite of your own insufficiency? In spite of NOT achieving any of your idealistic goals in life? In spite of the difficult times that will come in your life?
As you consider all these things I have challenged you with today, do you have the courage to release that death grip on the way YOU want your life to turn out and how YOU want it to look? Do you have the courage to tell God you’d rather choose HIS acceptance of you rather than gain any self confidence in your own achievements. Paul says in Philippians 3:7-9 (NLT):
“I once thought THESE things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with Himself depends on faith.”
Do you have the faith and courage to surrender your imperfect life to Him?
Do you have the courage and faith in God’s finished work to lean into your need of Him and welcome God into your goals and plans and ideals? If you’re longing for freedom in life, THIS is how you find it. He says in His word, that if you want to find your life, you HAVE to lose it. But he who loses their life for His name sake will find it.
So, I’m challenging you to make an offering of all your imperfection and all your brokenness:
Lean into that imperfection and then tell God, “I’m giving you back my life. The only life I want to live now is the one You give me to live. If it’s weakness, let me be weak so that I can see Your power. If it’s brokenness, let me be content with Your grace which loves and accepts me anyway. If it’s a messy past, let me be content with Your sovereignty that orchestrated my life to have landed me right where I am right now. If it’s sickness, help me to lean into Your presence to keep me from feeling alone and the courage to keep trusting You. If it’s an unhappy marriage, help me lean into You to fulfill me with Your intimacy. If it’s poverty, help me to lean into You to fulfill me in that poverty. If it is sorrow, help me to lean into Your tender compassionate embrace.
Surrender Your Dreams Of Perfection Back To Him!
- Surrender whatever it is that is keeping you from experiencing being okay with the life God has given you right here and right now (true freedom),
- I want you to visualize all those dreams of perfection that you are clenching in your fists,
- then slowly open up your fists, palms up, and give them back to the Lord.
- Demonstrate to Him a posture where you choose to give back all those impossible ideals to Him.
- As you feel your hands open, can you just feel the shackles falling off?
- Are you starting to feel the relief of not having to face tomorrow by trying and failing again to live up to all those impossible ideals?
- Don’t worry, He’ll join you in this place with grace and mercy and
- He’ll begin to show you the journey He wants to take you on.
- Let Him lead! You just follow.
Right now, if you have followed my instructions, having opened up your hands and lifted them up to the Lord, you are the most vulnerable you will ever be. As you consider a future that no longer tries to earn acceptance through your own achievements, you’ll be tempted to close your hands back up and take back parts of what you just offered to Him. You’ll be tempted to want to do part of your life on your own terms, but that is not where you will find Him. That is not where you will find grace and mercy. Remember, you’ll find Him in your greatest need (in the broken, messy, imperfect areas of your life).
But right now, you need to embrace these truths. If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, you are right now accepted by God. You are loved. You are cherished. God is bending down to you right now and asking you to grab a hold of His grace and mercy freely offered to you! Now in THIS most desperate place is when God’s mercy and grace is MOST available to you! Reach out and touch it! Reach out and embrace it! Swim in and immerse yourself in Jesus’ mercy and His grace for THIS moment right now! Doesn’t the freedom of HIS mercy and grace for what you didn’t achieve on your own feel so much better than that merry go round of trying and failing to perfect yourself? Don’t let Satan tempt you to take it back. Push thru until you have surrendered every last ounce of self-perfection and until you have nothing left but your desperate cry for mercy and grace. You WILL find Jesus there. I promise! And Jesus will not disappoint!
Your Chance To Interact With The God Of The Universe
I am going to close with a song which I believe is the posture that God is asking us to take as we embrace the life of an imperfect believer. Its Chris Tomlin’s song, “Lord, I need you.” Sing it as a prayer to the Lord telling Jesus how much you need Him.
This is where I challenge you to remain, from this day forward! This is where Jesus will find you and deliver you from your own self-righteousness and self-perfection and help you learn to be wholly dependent on Jesus. This is what pleases God? How can it not? This surrender of your life to Him is what He has been waiting for!
Pleasing God: A Paradigm Shift (Part 5)
This is part 5 of a six-part series, I encourage you to scroll back to here and start at the beginning.
Pleasing God In Depression???
I’m sure that those of you who know that I suffered with clinical depression for 12 years knew that I would eventually get around to telling you how this whole paradigm shift came to be. God used it to help me live in the desperation of my depression. God used this precious shift to help me embrace His grace and mercy toward me.
I was asked to share my story about surviving depression to a local MOPS group over a year ago but as I started to learn more and more about the struggles of the women in the group, I realized that depression wasn’t the only sense of shame, dysfunction, imperfection and failure that women all over the world are struggling with! But one of the main reasons I was sought out was because I not only survived 12 years of depression but I actually emerged from it more free and more in love with Jesus than when I went into it.
I have a story to tell, a life-changing beautiful story about Jesus and not about me. You see, the illustrations that I have given in this series were about me. It was my inner struggle I battled for years. I spent many years banging my head into the wall trying to self-achieve. While I thought I could make the “do it myself” (orange side) work before depression, I was actually trapped in an endless loop of defeat! I’d always keep coming back to “imperfect, failure, defeated, loser, unrighteous” and so I’d head right back off to the right again chasing perfection with sheer will power and determination.
But God, in His kindness, took away my ability to control anything in my life. I could not self-improve. I could not self-achieve. I was not stronger than the illness. I could not will myself to get better. I could not change the undeniable fact that depression left me utterly depraved.
In my depression:
- I would spend days feeling lifeless and dead.
- I would sob uncontrollably.
- I would frequently get really angry for no reason.
- I couldn’t recognize anything as good in my life.
- Everything that used to mean something to me meant nothing to me.
- I couldn’t feel the love of family or friends. I couldn’t even feel God.
- I was miserable.
But worse than all of these was that all my hopes of trying to convince God that I really was a good person came crashing down. Everything I did PROVED I was NOT a good person. I felt I’d never be able to please God again, and that devastated me! When depression came in and stole away the protective barrier that had masked all my imperfections from the world I was left naked and bare for all to see how imperfect I really was. I despaired for my very life!
(Find this chart in part 4 of this series- you’ll be lost if you don’t start from the beginning.)
To be honest, nobody showed me a chart like this when I was younger and nobody ever taught me how to accept grace for myself. So, as much as I would like to say, I followed the method on the blue side of the chart during my depression, (leaning into my depression, leaning into my sorrow, and leaning into God) I didn’t. I was clearly in Orange camp territory (“I could do it myself”) and stuck in a cycle of defeat! I was a born and bred performer, clearly trying to please God with my good behavior. It wasn’t until the last few years that I discovered the beauty of the blue side of the chart. That’s when I learned about leaning into my imperfection, into my weakness and into my brokenness.
In my depression, I spent the first five years trying to keep clutching the orange side (my own self-control). But finally, I had to come to the end of myself. I said, “I give up. I can’t keep doing this anymore.” Depression is bad enough on its own without the additional self-hatred and self-loathing of my continual defeat for all my well-intentioned attempts. I was left with no other option but to resign myself to my situation. In that resignation, I believed. “I guess I’ll never please God.”
I thought, “so, this is my new normal, huh? I can either keep beating myself up or I can just accept it.” I wish I could say this was true surrender to God and His purposes but it wasn’t. It was purely self-preservation. I just could NOT live with that burden of guilt and shame and defeat anymore.
I was what I was. I didn’t like it. I hated my depression. I’m sure no one else liked it, either. But I couldn’t change it. I resigned myself to being the ultimate failure I was destined to become. But as I began to feel more and more pathetic, more and more worthless, more and more of a failure, His Holy Spirit went to work on my heart. That’s when He introduced me to the blue side which showed me His grace bestowed on me in spite of the ugliness of my heart.
This chart that I have shared in the last blog with you didn’t come to me easily! (go back one step to find the chart I’m talking about) It was brutal. Giving up my ideals of appearing and behaving good any time I wanted to, perfecting my life and proving my righteousness to God literally had to be ripped from my clenched closed fists. It took years… but I finally let go of trying to change my situation. In fact, in time, I came to believe that God wanted me to be content with my imperfect self because I came to believe that instead of becoming ‘better,’ He wanted me to lean into Him for undeserved kindness.
You see, before depression, I had forgotten that the God of the universe already knew I was imperfect. But He had already accepted me. He already deeply loved me. But I had foolishly believed I could perfect myself so I kept pushing away the free gifts of grace because I had wanted instead to prove that I could do it myself.
I finally got to the point where I gave up what I most wanted in life and simply accepted where and what I was. In this specific way, I got to be okay with ME just like I was: imperfect and messed up. I refused to let my behavior (my depression) define my worth. Although I didn’t like the depression, I just decided I would show myself kindness. If I had to live my life always worrying about how others felt about me or how I should be feeling in any scenario, I would’ve committed suicide.
But, you might ask, “How can you just accept all that ugliness in yourself?
“How can you just accept that defeat? That despair? That darkness?” All I know is that when I embraced that most awful desperate place, that’s when the mercy and grace of God came flooding into my heart. I thought it was the beginning of the end and all was lost, but it was just the beginning of a whole new relationship with my Savior.
At first, He offered me just little tidbits of grace to chew on. He’d say, “Just chew on this for a while, this little crumb of truth. Find it in my Word. Find a song that sings this truth.” It was bitter at first because it wasn’t MY OWN righteousness, but in time, I acquired a taste for HIS grace He was offering me. But week after week, month after month, and year after year, He showed me more and more of His grace, and took me deeper and deeper into the truths of it.
Especially, on the brief days when the darkness temporarily subsided, I dug down deep and studied the gospel of Jesus’ finished work for me and determined, “He no longer condemns me! Wrong or right, whatever depression is, He no longer condemns me! Praise the Lord!” So, it got to be that the only way I could wake up each morning was to think, “God doesn’t condemn me. I won’t condemn me either!”
In time, I determined that if God, the Just, was satisfied to look on Jesus and pardon me, that I was safe to give myself as much grace as God did. God showed me grace and it didn’t make Him unholy. I felt this gave me permission to preach grace to myself, too, and believe that His same grace wouldn’t condemn me either.
I determined to extend to myself the very same grace that the gospel extended to me, which was this: My sin and my imperfection no longer made me unacceptable to God!!!!! I was reminded that grace is a kindness NOT based on merit but based on someone else’s kindness.
The more I studied His incredible grace towards me, the more I gave up all the ideals that I had previously wished for my life and spent my life trying to achieve — and just embraced the life God had given me right then and there.
- Without condemnation! For God no longer condemned me.
- Without self-hate! For God loved me unconditionally!
- Without guilt! For Jesus had erased my guilt!
- God knew that I was imperfect (always had been) yet He still genuinely loved me.
- God knew I still made mistakes, but there were none of them that weren’t fully forgiven.
- Because I was forgiven, every punishment due to me was already paid by Jesus.
- Because I was reconciled to God, I would ALWAYS be acceptable in His sight!
- Because His wrath was appeased, I no longer angered the God of the universe.
- In fact, His word said that I now have peace with God and was a friend of God!
- Because I was always and already acceptable, I no longer had to improve my behavior to be MORE acceptable or MORE pleasing to God.
- Jesus had already made me fully acceptable to God.
I could not make myself MORE righteous to God because my nature kept me from that standard of perfect righteousness, just like I could not become less depressed and more characteristically “BETTER” behaved because the nature of depression kept me from attaining that standard. In both spiritual and physical realms, I realized my helplessness to simply choose to change my nature! I was trapped in a scenario I didn’t like but which was true nevertheless.
When I challenge fellow depression sufferers that the most loving and kind thing they can do for themselves is to simply accept it, most initially reject my counsel. You see, people feel like if they reject it, it gives them MORE control over it. They tell me, “but I don’t like it! I want to change it!” What they don’t understand is that depression cannot be beat! The illness is so pervasive that control is nearly impossible. What they are really saying is, “I’d rather keep beating my head against this wall.” The truth is that the only true freedom one can find in the miserable life of depression, as unthinkable as it sounds, is to lean into it. Own it; it’s an illness that God has allowed in your life. I didn’t like it! I hated it! But that didn’t mean fighting for the impossible of control was more admirable. It was just dumb.
Is it right or good to be okay with yourself?
Embracing the reality of my condition (leaning into my depression) doesn’t mean that everything I did in depression was right or good. Being okay with myself didn’t mean I felt justified for anything I was doing; it didn’t make anything that was wrong right! And grace does NOT justify anything you are doing; it is a kindness shown to you IN SPITE of what you are doing! Accepting the grace of God doesn’t mean you think He justifies your sin; it means He justifies you in spite of your sin.
You see, some of us learned when we were little that we could only be loved unconditionally when we were good, behaved good, did good things or otherwise had earned the privileges from being good. So this goes against everything that we had learned. But GOD’S GRACE loves us unconditionally when there is STILL nothing good in us! Being okay with myself was my way of showing myself kindness I didn’t have to earn because I was imitating God’s grace towards me. It didn’t make the endless sadness happy. It didn’t take away the depression. But it gave me courage and hope to survive it. It gave me peace in the midst of the storm. “God is ok with me. God is ok with me. God is ok with me,” I whispered to myself.
It changed EVERYTHING for me! I finally experienced freedom in my depression because through the darkest hours, I believed God hadn’t let go of me. He hadn’t turned His back on me. He hadn’t abandoned me! He still loved me. He was still pursuing me. He had the power to hold on to me when I was delirious in my dark disease. And I believe now that my faith that God could love and accept me in spite of the darkness of my heart, in fact, pleased Him. I believe that He rejoiced when He got to remind me of His grace when my heart tried to object because depression didn’t look godly. It didn’t look spiritual. It reeked of the depravity of the human condition! But He pleased HIMSELF, He glorified HIMSELF, when He showed me grace because I gave up my right to be perfect and let Him be perfect.
How do I know that is the heart of the Lord? Remember Ezekiel 20:44?
“But you will know that I am the Lord, when I have honored MY name by treating you mercifully in spite of your wickedness”
Here’s an important concept to grasp: God’s grace wasn’t as much of a big deal to me before my depression because I was doing pretty ok without Him. I didn’t need His pity! I considered His mercy and grace pity for the weak and the broken. So, I denied the grace and mercy of God from touching me, the very attributes He Himself was longing to bestow, because I felt no desperation of need for it!
But after my depression, I can’t fathom a life without relying on His grace and mercy. You see, they became MUCH to me! They were the only way I could get up in the morning and take a breath. They were the only way I could face life and a future.
God became the only Person whose opinion mattered to me. For a person like me, who felt like she had never been and would never be “ENOUGH,” that’s a big deal. I had spent my whole life trying to live up to somebody or other’s expectations of me, not the least of them being my own, but pretty much, God’s acceptance of me became paramount. More important than anything else I wanted Him to be pleased with me!
What do we as women want more than anything? We want to be fully accepted, yes, even our true self that we don’t like to uncover. We want to be loved unconditionally, yes, even the unlovable self that we try to hide. We want to experience intimacy with someone. We want to know that we will never be alone. We want to know that there isn’t anything we can do that will make us lose the affection we so desperately long for. And while I didn’t have those things from everyone in my life, I had those things from the only One who mattered to me. “God the Just” justified me forever and always. He is the only One who could say, “there isn’t anything you could do to make me think less of you and there isn’t anything that YOU could do to make me love or accept you more.” My God was the One who knew every corner of my imperfect self and STILL chose to see the righteousness of His son in me!
How could I be okay with me?
Some of you have a hard time even accepting God’s grace because you have been trained that it can only be received via your merit. Because, you see, grace isn’t fair. It doesn’t satisfy justice. It’s in spite of it. But once you can accept the grace of God in spite of your imperfection, then you too can abandon the chains that say, “I’m not okay.” If Christ can accept you as okay, then you can accept yourself as okay. You see, we only want to allow ourselves to be ok IF we deserve it. So, when God offers us grace, we often push it aside because we don’t think we deserve it.
I learned that I could be okay with me because I finally understood that He would forever be okay with me. Every objection I could come up with had been satisfied. Every objection you could come up with has been satisfied. Every contingency is covered. It was like God stood on his throne and as fast as I could spit out my “But what about…..?” He’d say, “Covered! Paid for! Forgiven! Pardoned!
If we turn everything on its head and start with God’s view of us:
The ultimate justice and righteous one, and if HE treats me with kindness (extends me grace) even when I don’t deserve it, then it gives me permission to do as God does and accept grace in my own life. And while it seems counterintuitive, the truth of the matter is that grace received breeds mercy in me, which gives me permission to treat others kindly even when they don’t deserve it either.
Here is the thing I want you to consider:
While some may think it is more weak to accept imperfection (or even depression), I’m here to tell you that it takes more resolve and more confidence and a firm belief in the biblical gospel of grace to rest in God’s completed work of Jesus Christ to make you complete in Him (okay with Him), than it takes for you to work your fanny off trying to achieve some other type of perfection on your own merit.
(To be continued)
Pleasing God: A Paradigm Shift (Part 4)
This is Part 4 of a series of posts. Please scroll back and read part 1, before continuing on here.
SO THIS IS OUR Paradigm Shift: What pleases God?
2 Corinthians 5:9 (NAS): “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.”
Hebrews 11:6 (NAS): “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”
Well, I guess we all need to decide what God is calling us to do to please Him? Do you really think He wants us to live perfect lives? (Which by the way, was Jesus’ job: to live a sinless life for us and die for us, redeeming us from the curse of the law which demands obedience to ALL God’s laws?) Or does it please Him more to be utterly honest with Him in our imperfection and choose to BELIEVE that He did what we couldn’t do so we wouldn’t have to? He died to redeem us from the CURSE of having to obey the law.
Is it possible that God is pleased with us when we are quick to let him show us mercy for our imperfection? Don’t you think it pleases Him more to have his children live by the very grace He died to give us? Not embracing the sin He hates, but embracing the God who saved us from having to live under the guilt and shame and bondage of an impossible drive to meet an impossible ideal: Complete and perfect righteousness.
Does our freedom In Christ please God?
Galatians 5:1 says “It was for freedom that Christ set us free! Therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject to a yoke of slavery.”
Do you know what that yoke of slavery was that Paul was talking about? The law! The good and perfect Law, that God Himself gave as a stopgap to His people! Following a bunch of impossible, albeit, seemingly good behavioral rules.
Do you know who the Pharisees were in the New Testament?
They were the “good Jews” of the day who asked themselves, “hmm, what would please God best?” And, what they determined was that God would be MOST pleased by their behavior. So they created long lists of rules to obey and thereby prove to God their righteousness. However, Jesus said they disgusted Him. Because their perceived righteousness was tied to their deeds instead of being birthed from a love in their heart towards God.
“And He said to [the Pharisees], ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.’” (Luke 16:15 NAS)
God says that you push away His grace by trying to live up to some impossible righteous standard.
“For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.” (Galatians 5:4 NAS)
So, are all the commands in Scripture, even the original Law of God bad?
Of course not! Our Bible is not a bad book full of ridiculous commands. They are God’s words and are truly good.
“But still, the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good.” (Romans 7:12)
In Romans 7, Paul asks the same question: “So, is the law bad?” The answer is No! The commands are good. But trying to live up to satisfying ALL the commands is bad because that’s not what its purpose was. Its purpose was to show us how powerless we were to live up to the perfection of God! That was its purpose! To prove our imperfection to us. If you feel imperfect in living up to all its commands, then the Law has fulfilled its purpose! Trying to or expecting to perfect ourselves for the purpose of pleasing God is enslaving and leads us back to the very slavery that Jesus died to save us from.
Romans 10:3-4 says “For they (Israel) didn’t understand God’s way of making people right with Himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they clung to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the Law. but Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the Law was given. As a result, all who BELIEVE IN HIM ARE MADE RIGHT WITH HIM.”
Now, let me ask you, if trying to achieve this idealistic perfection in our Christian life is both wearying and enslaving and is in fact impossible, doesn’t it make sense that God probably doesn’t wish for us to allow any other impossible idealistic goals in life to enslave us either?
So, now we’ve come full circle.
Why do we NOT feel “enough?” Because we have not learned to be content with who we are, where God has placed us, and the circumstances God has put in our life. Where we are right now will never be enough as long as we keep chasing the impossible ideal. In fact, that very ideal may not even be God’s particular will for us, so then we’re stuck in this place where we are actually fighting God for the life WE want instead of the life HE wants for us. And spiritually, WE will NEVER feel enough as long as we are reaching for an ideal that isn’t grounded in Jesus’ finished work for us. The only One in History who WAS enough was Jesus. The only One who can make us feel “enough” is Jesus! The only way we can feel enough is if we are content with Jesus’ perfection on our behalf.
Why are we holding onto impossible idealistic expectations in life and our self-fulfilling attempts to become righteous?
So, if God’s loving desire for us is freedom from self-reliance and self-fulfilling ideals that are impossible to achieve anyway, why are we holding onto them with such a death grip? in the same way, if His desire for us isn’t as much a perfect life as it is a life that is completely God-reliant on his mercy and grace, totaling believing Him when His Word says we are already completely accepted and intimately loved, why are we turning our backs on the open door to His grace and mercy, with our own attempts at self-righteousness? Why are we trying to fulfill with pride some impossible perfection? Why don’t we enter through our authentic and humble confession (a contrite heart) that we ARE imperfect and we know it, to find the very grace and mercy of the One Who already loves and accepts us without all that striving after the wind?
I am going to try to give you an illustration that helps you come to grips with the beauty of this paradigm change for anybody.
Leaning into our imperfection leans us into God
whose desire is to show us mercy!
I’m going to try to show you a series of charts. Try to follow them to their logical conclusions with me. We’re going to start with this:
We are indeed imperfect, sinners, failures at times, messy-life people who haven’t achieved all they originally desired they could with their lives! Our first question is which way are we going to lean when we become painfully aware of our own imperfection?
We have have two choices: 1) we can either lean into self-perfection (orange side) or 2) we can lean into our imperfections (blue side) that makes us feel like such failures? Which way would you lean?
1) When we lean into our self-pursuing, self-achieving, self-reliant self-perfection, our goal we justify is only that we are simply trying to do the right thing and do the best we can. We will usually choose this method because we truly believe this is right. Our unfortunate deception is that “good behavior makes US good.” (orange side)
2) On the other hand, rather than denying our inability to perfect ourselves, we could agree with God and just come out admit that we surely aren’t perfect! Does our acknowledgement of our imperfection agree with God’s assessment of us? Doesn’t God even say that our righteousnesses are like filthy rags! He knows we’re imperfect. So, we agree with the apostle Paul in Romans 7:18 “For I know that nothing good dwells in my, that is in my flesh!” (Blue side)
1) But if we still futilely attempt to achieve all our dreams and our self righteousness, too, with every failure, we decide we need to try even harder. We believe that God will be pleased if we try harder to become “better.” We believe that His commands are what God’s actual expectations of me are (fully obedient, every one, absolute perfection). We reason if it’s in the Bible, God expects us to achieve them on our own. We believe, “we can make God happy in us if we can only make ourselves better!” (Orange side)
2) But when we lean into our imperfection, we freely acknowledge our own neediness and our imperfection. We long for justification. We discover in His word that when we accepted Christ as our Savior, God justified us long ago. We long for acceptance. We discover that God’s acceptance of us was won by Jesus on the cross. Unable to take any comfort in our OWN successes, we long for someone to redeem us and for lives which even we, at times, can hardly stand to look at. We long for Someone to make us feel complete, rather than this feeling of failure hanging over our heads. There is a hole in our heart, a longing, that is dying to be filled. (Blue side)
1) Still striving to the right (to achieve all your own perfection), on the off chance that we are somewhat successful in our goals and in our ability to impress a God with our obedience, who are we really MOST proud of? US!!! Self-fulfillment! Self-satisfaction! PRIDE! We feel pretty good about ourselves so we believe God must be pretty proud of ME right now, too! If I succeed, if I win, if I achieve all my goals? “Look at me! Look at my self-control! Woo-hoo! Yay, ME! We are so proud of ourselves that we bring our impressive acts of righteousness and success to God! (Orange side)
2) But for those who are still willing to continue to lean into their imperfection, we recognize our great neediness. We acknowledge our great need of a Rescuer and someone to love us in spite of all the ugliness we feel. Out of desperation, we cry out to God in our brokenness, in our messiness, in our ashes, in our imperfection, and in our depravity (our sinful condition). In our desperation, we find the courage to show Him our brokenness. We find safety in that humble admission. We choose to be authentically honest. We choose to embrace a humble and contrite heart. By now, we acknowledge how far from perfection we have fallen. Groaning out to the spirit of God, we affirm, “I don’t want to live this way!” (Blue side)
1) For all the self-reliant, self-achievers, if you even succeeded in deed, you likely failed in spirit, because you attempted to achieve it through self-righteousness. You probably only succeeded because of your own stubborn will power. Unfortunately, it is highly probable that God may not even have been in that success. Although you may have obeyed the rules as you understood them, you likely felt pretty good about ourselves doing things yourselves (self-reliance = pride). Pride is sinful, by the way! The glory of the Lord was diminished because He was cheated of getting the glory! Unfortunately, in your futile attempts to please God, the irony is that you denied God from being the Hero of your story! You just made yourselves your own self-proclaimed heroes.
But what happens if you fail in those struggles and attempts to win, to succeed, to self-rely, to beat your bodies into perfect righteousness? What happens when you don’t succeed? You’ll beat yourselves up again! “I’m imperfect! I’m a failure! I can’t achieve anything good! My life is a mess!” And the cycle of getting beat down over and over again begins all over.
In this paradigm, the harder you try to improve, the more you fail. And the more you fail, the more unacceptable you feel because you’ll only see YOUR efforts and YOUR achievements. Because it depends on your own efforts, you will determine that you don’t deserve to feel acceptable. Because you’ll let people down (couldn’t make others happy), you’ll feel unloved. You’ll condemn yourselves because of failed expectations (you expected more of yourselves). You’ll feel judged because you’ll have fallen short of the perfection mark (the standard). You’ll feel like a failure because you’ll never arrive at a perfect mark all the time. You’ll feel unloved because you won’t feel acceptable because of your failed behavior which was supposed to earn your love and acceptance. In this paradigm, demonstrated by your banging your head up against the wall over and over again, you believe you really can and could have arrived at that perfect mark given a little more effort and more will power. (Orange side)
2) But what if you had humbly leaned into your imperfection from the beginning (I know, it’s counterintuitive)! God would have seen your hearts in perfect agreement with His! You wouldn’t have denied His holiness! You would have agreed that His holiness was so far above you, that your actions were nothing but filthy rags in comparison. You wouldn’t have denied your imperfection. You would have freely confessed that you had fallen short of His perfect standard. Both you and God agree that it’s not what either of you had intended or desired. But as a response to your humble and contrite heart, He’ll pour out His mercy and grace on you! God will be pleased because you demonstrated your great need of Him to complete you! The cross covered your sin! Jesus’ righteousness was put onto you! And finally, God did what glorifies God most. He demonstrated His own character by giving you His mercy and grace!
What happens in this scenario is that when you make mistakes and don’t succeed, you’ll just keep leaning into His grace to sanctify you from within and remember with confidence that your acceptance is complete and your sins forgiven. You don’t lose your footing because it already aligns with where you truly are. You need Jesus! I need Jesus. His grace and mercy are always available to both you and me.
Psalm 51:16–17 (NAS): “For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”
Let me ask you again: We have have two choices: 1) we can either lean into self-perfection (orange side) or 2) we can lean into our imperfections and our need for God (blue side)? Which way would you lean? One way causes us to need God more! The other way causes us to need God less! One way causes us to crave the grace of God—it means everything to us! We can’t live without it or the God who freely gives it! The other way grace is cheapened! We don’t need it. We can do it by ourselves! Which side do you think pleases God more?
A heart that is humble and contrite towards God, sorrowful at anything they do that doesn’t reflect His character (all their imperfections and all their failures), is a heart that leans into the heart of God Himself. The fruit of such a heart will naturally yearn to please Him which will more often and likely affect their future actions.
If you are faced with a child who adamantly refuses a parent’s help and grudgingly insists on doing things himself and his way (“I’ll do it myself”) as opposed to observing a child who acknowledges his bad behavior and says, “I’m sorry, mommy!” Which child is more likely to do the right thing the next time? The child who is genuinely sorry and acknowledges his imperfection to his parents because it’s a natural outpouring of his tender heart.
Similarly, a child of God who leans into God by leaning into their imperfections in this paradigm will yearn for the heart of God, will be more likely to align himself with the behavior that reflects God’s heart, and the sanctifying work of God HIMSELF through the work of His Holy Spirit will produce fruits that are more reflective of the character of God.
Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
But not thru human effort. Thru God’s work in us. Our job is to lean into Him via our great need. His job is to perfect us from the inside out, in His grace and in His timing!
Philippians 1:6 “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
(To be continued)
Pleasing God: A Paradigm Shift (Part 3)
This is Part 3 of a series of posts. Please go back here, then here, read the first two parts before continuing on here.
What are the disadvantages of holding tightly to unrealistic expectations of idealism and perfection?
1) We deny ourselves the ability to align ourselves with what God is doing in our life right now. If we set perfection and idealism as our ultimate goal, we will lack contentment for anything less. How can we be content with our little house, if our idealism wants us in a bigger house? How can we be content with our husband and our marriage, if our idealism wants a completely different picture of what marriage looks like so that we’re always trying to improve our spouse? How can we be content with our imperfect children if we are never happy with them because they continue to misbehave? How can we be content with our Savior’s sacrifice for us, if our idealism demands that our goodness should be perfect and sinless before God?
2) If we set perfection and idealism as our ultimate goal, we will miss the joy in the now. If we’re a mountain climber and our only joy is getting to the the top of Mt. Rainier as the ultimate fulfillment of our dream, we may very well miss the wildflowers along the way. We may miss the beautiful tranquil streams in the valleys. And so on. If we lack contentment with where God has us right now, we will miss the joy of a husband who may be imperfect but may deeply love us. We will miss the joy of being able to enjoy our little imperfect rugrats. We will miss the joy of the simplicity of a home that doesn’t require as much maintenance as a big house. You get the idea.
3) Do you know the phrase, “if you live by the sword, you will die by the sword?” It means that whatever standard you set for your life, will be the very standard that will one day condemn you or at least imprison you. If our standard is perfection, we will fail every time we aren’t perfect.
4) Perfectionism and idealism are exhausting. Are there things in life that we can set our mind to and achieve? Sure! But whatever ideals and perfections we set our hearts on achieving will require every last drop of your energy. We will end up enslaved to the chase of that ideal. So, we need to ask ourselves, is that worth giving our lives to? Is it worth the exhaustion? Is it worth the enslavement to continually chase that perfect goal? Do you feel that increases your freedom or enslaves you?
5) Another disadvantage of holding tightly to an unrealistic expectation of ourselves is that we ultimately refuse to agree with God about our current condition. Rather than embracing the thought, “You’re right about me, God. I really am an imperfect sinner who is desperate for You, God.” We claim instead that we CAN still perfect ourselves; we just always need one more chance to prove ourselves.
When you insist that we can do something OURSELVES, it pushes others away. So, in essence, if we are impatient with ourselves and become irritated when we aren’t spiritually perfect, we also push God away, denying Him being welcomed into our sin situation because we’ll refuse His help. We’ll refuse the mercy and grace God is trying to give us now. Humble contrite surrender throws open the door to His mercy and grace! “I can do it myself” pushes Him away! If we aren’t careful, our self-reliance will end up opposing God because self-reliance is prideful and God says He will oppose prideful ways.
6) The tighter we hold on to this need to perform, to do everything right, to do everything well, to achieve all our dreams and ideals, the less we’ll become dependent on Jesus. That chase will consume us. And the more we are consumed with the ideals, the less we’ll be satisfied with our life and our current situation. We’ll also be less satisfied with our relationship with Jesus because, ultimately, when we are consumed with this perfectionist drive, we’ll become less dependent on Jesus.
7) Here’s another really important point: If we aren’t careful, we will adamantly refuse to allow God to give our lives an alternate ending, a different calling for us which is by His design. Listen, if God does not want us to achieve our own goals, if He has something special He wants to accomplish with our weakness, (with our imperfection), He will oppose our plans so that He can use us how he wants to use us. This isn’t unkindness! In fact, this is great love and kindness. He has a special purpose for our lives! Are we willing to give Him control of that future?
I know! He gave me depression for 12 years. I have to stop and clarify here! God is always for YOU! You, the person. But He may throw a monkey wrench into your plans (He may oppose your ways) if they don’t please Him or glorify Him. There are endings in some of our lives that God deeply desires to come to pass because those frailties and those weaknesses will open the door to a way He has planned to glorify Himself with our lives.
What are the benefits of letting go of perfectionism and performancism?
- It lets us recognize and embrace the little wins typically insufficient for a perfectionist.
- It lets us breathe in a breath of contentment and breeds gratefulness for the life God has given us.
- This will give us more energy for the ones we love and more patience with them.
- Letting go, although frightening at first, actually gives us the freedom we really want.
- Finally, letting go of our control makes us more dependent on God, which makes HIM rejoice because HE gets to be the good, good Father and the gentle, Good Shepherd. He gets to please Himself with His own good character.
- And, for most of us, our desire to be “good” probably was birthed out of our ultimate purpose to please God anyway, right? So, why do we then deny God the right to change His desired outcome in our lives?
Spiritual Benefits of Letting Go Of Our Self Righteousness
Because our value is now based on God’s unconditional love, we will always feel loved. Because our value is based on God’s unconditional acceptance of us, we will never feel unacceptable. Guilt and shame won’t cripple us anymore. We choose contentment in Jesus making us enough, not our own efforts to make ourselves enough. We believe the gospel! We embrace grace! We embrace freedom in Christ. God means more to us!
As we lean into our confidence that no matter how imperfect we are, no matter how far we fall short of the standard, no matter how many times we have fail to achieve and no matter how many mistakes we make, we realized we will never surprise God. So we can never disappoint God. We will never be unacceptable to God because God’s wrath is forever appeased. His holiness has been satisfied. Our guilty consciences have been cleansed. Our crippling shame is denied a foothold because our guilt has been erased.
When we believe the truth of the gospel, we learn to trust that we are still accepted by God in spite of our unacceptability. We learn to trust that our deeds no longer condemn us anymore because they have been pardoned by our Savior. We learn to trust that we are loved in spite of our unlovability. We believe that we are bestowed grace and mercy when we come to Him in our honesty, humility and brokenness. We learn to accept God grace for ourselves because what God says is good cannot be evil.
We learn to embrace God’s plan for our lives rather than chase our tails trying to achieve all our hopes and dreams, even our spiritual ideals. We learn to rest in God’s finished work on the cross for our sins. And we learn to rest in His grace for all the rest of our imperfections, all the ideals we fail to meet, and all the perceived failures that we feel.
We learn to choose to not be defined by our imperfections. We learn to embrace grace for the person that we truly are. We learn to choose freedom from being chained to and defined by what we do and don’t do. We learn to choose contentment with where we are, who we are and where we are going. We learn to choose to be okay with where God has us and choose to remain humble and surrendered to His future which He will, by the way, complete in His way and in his timing.
So how can we posture ourselves in a way that God has promised He will respond to with tenderness, compassion, mercy and grace?
God opposes the ways of the proud self-reliant but gives grace to the HUMBLE God-reliant. Remember, He promises that a broken and contrite heart He will never despise. We can either posture ourselves / align ourselves with what God opposes by pushing relentlessly to be the best we can be at all costs (self-reliance and self-fulfilling idealism) OR we can posture ourselves in a humble, contrite manner which God says He will always accept.
You see, when we humbly acknowledge we are weak and often broken, and embrace a contrite heart and a life surrendered to God’s will for us, no matter what that is, our heart is demonstrating its desperateness for God in all areas of our life (God-reliance and a God-desired outcome whatever His will asks of us). I mean, admit it. If you achieved every perfection you ever dreamed of, wouldn’t that just decrease your desperate need of God?
A Greek Lesson about Perseverance and Endurance
James 5:10 tells us “We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”
Who doesn’t want to be known for their incredible endurance and perseverance? But when we read that word (endure or persevere), we think of an athlete who victoriously crosses the finish line and wins, right? Or we envision a mountain climber getting to the top of some mountain and planting his flag… right? He persevered, and with that perseverance he won the prize, right?
Endurance “hypomo-ne” literally means to “REMAIN UNDER.” Which means to exist in the tension of a difficult situation. Like with Job. He existed in the tension of a difficult situation. It does not necessarily mean patience but it means persevering (remaining, waiting, staying) in a difficult situation.
It certainly does NOT mean overcome! It does not mean win! It does not mean become victorious! It means that people who were identified in Scripture as those who persevered with endurance were the ones who surrendered to steadfastly “remaining under the oppression.” What James 5 tells us about Job was that in the storm, Job just held on. When the weight of his trials pressed down on him, he released his control and surrendered to God’s plan for his life. Then, He cried out to God for relief.
But what Scripture is saying is that what God found acceptable in Job was NOT his strength to overcome. It was his embracing his weakness. It was Job’s choice to submit to the will of God for Him and “remain under” this oppression, something that he found incredibly difficult. The suffering was excruciating. But Job “remained under” (persevered, endured) thru great tragedy to find God’s compassion and mercy on the other side.
Are WE willing to “remain under” our difficult life situations to experience that degree of compassion and mercy from the Lord? Job didn’t receive that by winning or overcoming. He found it in losing his way and ultimately his control over his own life. Job didn’t find mercy and grace by leaning away from his pain. He found it by owning it and leaning into it. That is where he found the Lord. That’s when we find Job summarizing his suffering by saying, “I only thought I knew God, but now I’ve seen Him face to face.”
Great Need Precedes Great Compassion
You see, mercy must always be preceded by recognizing our great need of mercy, and it is received by LEANING INTO our NEED. If we refuse to embrace the authenticity and desperation of the way things are right now (the life God has given us right now), we will never find mercy in it. It cheapens mercy when we don’t want it, because we don’t feel we need it.
The more desperate our authentic confession that we desperately need it, the wider the door is to finding it IN the Lord. You see, God often pulls us into a desperate, broken, unfulfilled life to force us to interact with Him because He wants to display His kindness and His grace. Danielle Strickland (from the Salvation Army) said that it is in the chaos of life where she finds the Spirit of God hovering over us. I agree with her. Because in the chaos of MY life is where my need for Him was the greatest!
It’s also true that if we hide our brokenness from our brothers and sisters in Christ or our spouses or even our children, we shut the door to them showing us compassion and mercy IN it. Nobody will know! We’ll give the illusion that we’re strong already. Nobody will be given the opportunity to show us mercy.
What do we perfectionists (what I call performancists) hate more than anything? OUR NEED! NEEDINESS! INSUFFICIENCY! Not being able to do it OURSELVES? But what does God desire more than anything of our hearts, the recognition of our NEED!!! Owning up to our imperfection and our recognizing our inability to ever achieve true perfection!
Here’s a really good check of our dreams and aspirations:
Are the dreams for your life causing you to be more self-reliant or more God-reliant? Does your picture of success increase your need for God or attempt to prove yourself to God, thus decreasing your need for God? If your goals in life don’t cause you to become more God-reliant, you’re chasing your own tail. You’ll never find contentment. You’ll never recognize mercy and compassion when God tries to give it.
So, how can we align ourselves with what GOD’S will is for our life?
Start with where you are— right now (all your circumstances… even the messy ones). I know it is hard, but I challenge you to release your death grip on how YOU want your life to look. Start with being honest with God and agreeing with God about the truth about you (you are imperfect, you can’t be righteous no matter how hard you try, you can’t fulfill all your ideals, you can’t fulfill yourself by remaking yourself perfect), because you need Him desperately!
Recognize that God in His sovereignty has allowed everything that has happened in your life to happen and He has kept from happening everything that hasn’t happened. Lean into the way life is RIGHT NOW (even the negative things), drinking in your life as a result of His perfect sovereignty. Lean into the imperfection that you hate because in doing so, it acknowledges your great need. I’m NOT saying to rejoice over any sin and imperfections and unrecognized dreams but embrace them in that you own up to your shortcomings, which means aligning yourself with how God sees things and sees you.
A biblical truth you can take to the bank: Even if you are imperfect and, in fact sinful, as a child of God, are you despised or rejected by Him? No! You are still loved and still forgiven! So, as you seek to align yourself with how God sees you, don’t be afraid to see yourself as an imperfect sinner because you are still loved and forgiven (if you have asked Jesus to save you). Drink in the truth of both of these tensions!
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how we can experience freedom in Christ in spite of being imperfect! (To be continued)
Pleasing God: A Paradigm Shift (Part 2)
This is Part 2 of a series of posts. Please go back here and read the first part before continuing on here.
What is the significance of the cross?
All humans are born into the world imperfect. From Adam’s very first sin, we were sinners because a sinful nature was passed on from his generation to our generation, from Adam until me. There is not a single human on earth, nor has there ever been, who does not have a sin nature or who does not sin.
Unfortunately, once Adam had introduced sin into our heritage, we no longer could be at peace with God. God’s holiness and His justice demanded punishment for sin. Our sin made us enemies of God! We were irreconcilable! In fact, that original sin set about a chain of events and consequences made it absolutely impossible to EVER please Him. You, see, someone had to pay for it. A sacrifice had to be made to punish his sin and ours to satisfy the justice of God.
So, God sat down at the beginning of time, and came up with a plan to satisfy His own holiness, His own justice, and appease His own wrath. A perfect sacrifice had to be offered; anything but perfect wouldn’t have been acceptable. So, God sent His own perfect Son Jesus to live a perfect life and to die a sinless death, so that the penalty could be paid for all who would believe in the ages to come. And THAT death was acceptable to God. In fact, because God placed the entire weight of all of mankind’s sin on a His shoulders, and as He died, He took on Himself the penalty of all of mankind who wanted in on the deal (those who would call on Him to save Him).
His one atoning sacrifice would once for all cover ALL the sins of mankind in eternity past, in the present and throughout eternity future, on ONE condition! A transaction had to occur. The transaction begins with acknowledging our sinful condition and our great need to be rescued from our sin, to escape eternal judgment. A person needs to recognize that Jesus Christ was and is indeed God incarnate. A person needs to believe that when Jesus died on the cross, it was for the sole purpose of paying the penalty for the sins of mankind. Then, one needs to unquestionably believe that He could save them forever from their sins. And finally, a person needs to ASK God to save them. With the confession of our need, our declaration of our belief in Jesus as the son of God and our belief that God would save us because HE promised He would in His Word, the transaction is complete. Upon our acceptance of that legal deal, our names are written into the Book of Life and can never be removed.
So, does everyone on earth have this gift of salvation? Unfortunately, no. Salvation only belongs to those who in simple faith, believe God and trust Him to save them. The transaction is so simple, a little child can understand it, but a transaction still needs to occur to reap all the benefits of being justified by faith.
So, what is the beauty of the gospel (which means the good news of Jesus)?
After I am saved, the beauty is that Jesus gave the Father what He wanted from me, which I could never give Him. Perfectness. Jesus offered HIS perfectness for ME and God the Father accepted that sacrifice for ME! I trusted Christ as my personal Savior completing this transaction for me at the tender age of five. But, I admit, it took years to fully understand the ramifications of that transaction on my life in Christ! But the fact is that once you accept Jesus’ sacrifice and become a child of God, God says “your life is finally enough to please me” because God gave HIMSELF all that He demanded from me through Jesus. God the Father is pleased with Jesus’ sacrifice and has forever made peace with us.
Once we are saved, will we finally be perfect?
Do any of you know any perfect people? No! None of us are perfect. Why? God didn’t take our sin natures away! He simply forever pardoned us for all our sins. He used His own righteousness to cover our sinfulness. But we are still plagued with these dumb sin natures that make mistakes every single day! But, unfortunately, it doesn’t stop us from trying to chase down and achieve a state of righteousness in and of ourselves.
Doesn’t God want us to do what is right?
Yes! Absolutely YES! Does He think we can ever reach His righteous standard? NO, Absolutely NO!
But the irony is: Before salvation, we needed Christ to save us BECAUSE we were sinners. He didn’t make us righteous first so that He could save us. He saved us to redeem us back and apply Jesus righteousness to us. He saved us so that HE (not us) could make us righteous in the Father’s eyes!
So, why do Christians have this misconception that AFTER salvation, we can make now ourselves righteous with our own attempts when we could not BEFORE?
The Bible reminds us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart.” (Jeremiah 17:9-10a)
It does NOT say, if you try hard enough, you can make your heart ‘better.’ To believe that you can actually make your unrighteous heart righteous is actually refuting what the Bible says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23)
In fact, while we are trying to become better and better, we may actually be sinning in order to attempt to arrive there. And here is how: It is actually a sin to attempt to justify ourselves, trying to self-fulfill our own self-righteous perfection. Another word for self-righteousness, self-fulfillment, self-achievement, is PRIDE! And pride is sin. In fact, pride is one of the very things that God specifically says He opposes.
James 4: 6 “God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
So, while we are trying so hard to become perfectly righteous, we are actually doing it the opposite way of how God says will please Him. (stay with me-I’m getting there)
So, what is the “will of God” then if it isn’t becoming more and more perfect / more and more righteous?
Contrary to what we’ve learned, His word says that God draws near to those with a broken and contrite heart (NOT a heart who is becoming more and more perfect, more and more confident, more and more strong, more and more put together, more and more self-controlled or more and more sinless). This is really important: Listen!
Ps. 51:17 “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise.”
Ps. 34:17-18 “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit.”
Doesn’t God want us to obey His commands and attempt to do better?
Just because there are commands in Scripture that tell us how God wants us to live doesn’t mean that DOING those things make us any MORE righteous, or that God is MORE pleased with US when we do them. The truth is: there is NOTHING we can do that will make us MORE loved or cherished by God.
The truth is: there is NOTHING we can add to the righteousness of Jesus that God has not already attributed to us by His son’s death on the cross that can make us MORE righteous.
There is nothing WE can do that makes God take notice of us and have a special affection for us because we are good, “Wow, THEY are pretty special (THEY are such ‘GOOD girls’) because THEY are living life so well.” But we also don’t have to worry that God thinks poorly of us when and if we don’t live sinlessly, because Jesus has already accomplished all the perfect that was required to be accomplished on our behalf.
Why do we want to achieve idealistic righteousness of any other idealistic dream anyway (besides possibly just being proud of ourselves or making others proud of us)? Because we want to be accepted by others. Because we want to please the ones we love. Because we don’t want others to point their fingers at us and condemn us for being bad. We want to be easy to love. We want to be treated with compassion, kindness and tenderness, and not accusations and condemnation.
So, if we are achieving these things so that we will be loved, accepted, and treated with kindness, then aren’t we simply desperately trying to ultimately achieve what God has already given us? And if the method we are using to achieve them with (self-fulfillment, self-reliance, self-righteousness) is going to push God away, aren’t we just shooting ourselves in the foot, meaning we’re doing everything that God Himself says He will oppose?
Rather than aiming for the ideal end result, maybe we should be more concerned with the method that brings God running to us, our hearts in love with Him.
“1 Samuel 16:7 (NAS): for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Sometimes, I don’t think we trust God to really know our desires to please Him. We believe we have to SHOW Him with our perfection. However, if we are honest, we discover we just can’t ever be perfect. But through humility, with honest authenticity, when we acknowledge to Him that we are weak and often broken, and contritely acknowledge the truth that we are indeed imperfect, that is when God comes running to us to show us mercy and compassion.
Matthew 9:13 (NAS): But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
You see, LEANING INTO our weakness and imperfection throws the door wide open for God’s mercy (compassion) and grace. PLUS, His GREATEST joy isn’t experienced in OUR triumphs, but He is glorified more when HIS own attributes glorify HIMSELF, not when we try to replace His perfection with our own. (Carefully examine what God says here! …When I (God) have been made happy by MY actions.
Ezekiel 20:43-44 “You will look back on all the ways you defiled yourselves and will hate yourselves because of the evil you have done. But you will know that I am the Lord, O people of Israel, when I have honored MY name by treating you mercifully in spite of your wickedness.”
Are we embracing the world’s definition of success — or God’s definition of success?
I John 2:15-17 “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of your flesh and the desires of your eyes and the pride in your life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
Is it possible that all of our aspirations that we women have spent our whole life trying to achieve have been driven by self-reliance which we learned would prove us to be “good girls” and that would make others happy and proud of us? Isn’t another word for self-reliance and self-fulfillment of something you want more than anything else in life, just another word for the “pride of life” which says “I can do it myself?”
So, I guess what we all have to ask ourselves is, “Do all of our high expectations for ourselves even please God? Or is it possible that most of our high ideals are really about making us feel good about ourselves? Looking good to other people? Earning people’s favor? Worrying about other people’s expectations? Etc.”
Another lie we believe is that our high ideals and expectations are actually realistic goals. They are NOT! God never promised you can achieve everything you want to achieve! The world might have told you that, but God never did. You can climb that cliff and climb that cliff and climb that cliff but if the cliff is not climbable, you are only setting yourself up for failure.
My dear sisters, do we realize that there has never been a perfect mom? There has never been a perfect marriage. There has never been a perfect home. There has never been a perfect bank roll. There has never been a perfect body. There has never been a perfect friend. And there has never even been a perfect Christian. (Gasp!)
If you set an impossible ideal in front of you as your goal (perfect mom, perfect wife, perfect Christian, whatever it is), you will ALWAYS end up feeling defeated. You will ALWAYS fail. You will NEVER attain that wonderful elevation of yourself having arrived at the life of your dreams. The only possible outcome for all those unrealistic idealized expectations is failure. And failure is the one thing we don’t want! Am I right?
My husband, a firefighter, told me recently about a call his crew had gone to. A woman had fallen down a flight of stairs. While the firefighters urged her to go to the hospital to make sure she hadn’t broken her back, she was impertinently stubborn. She was determined to get up by herself, and walk by herself, and climb those stairs by herself because she felt it showed her strength and fortitude. But in reality, it showed her stupidity. She chose self-reliance over acknowledging she was weak, broken, and injured. It is more likely that her valiantly portrayed fortitude, pushing through the pain, probably cost her a lifetime of back problems—all so that she could prove to observers that she wasn’t hurt and that she could do it herself.
We women often do the same thing, pushing through impossible situations, to prove that we can do it ourselves. We’re more like a bunch of two-year olds than mature realistic adults. We don’t want to admit that we’re just plain ol’ everyday humans who can’t achieve all our idealistic goals. We aren’t super-woman! We are afraid to admit our weaknesses and our brokenness! We’re afraid deep down inside that it will prove that we are failures. Ladies, we’re not failures unless we try to pretend to the world that we are winners! That’s unfortunately, when we simply prove our naive stupidity! On the other hand, we prove that we are mature when we can freely admit that we are not everything we wished we were, and that we’re only human, and that we might not ever arrive at any level of perfection, and learn to be okay with that.
Is it even good for us to hold so tightly to all these expectations of success and achievement? What about self-control and righteousness? (To be continued)