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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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(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. 

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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.

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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!

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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 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. 

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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?

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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. 

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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. 

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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)

I’ll Play My Drum For Him… (Part Two)

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Have you ever had to give a loved one LESS than you would have liked to have given?

At Christmas, while others are giving name brand name clothes, high-end electronics, expensive toys, etc., you are giving out dish towels and hand made jars of hot coca mix or cake mixes? Although you had to make your choice of gifts because of your lack of means, it likely left you a bit embarrassed and ashamed. It wasn’t any FAULT of your own, but you FELT feelings of shame. Granted, I have met ‘cheapskates’, that regardless of means, we just know they chose to spend as little as humanly possible on others as it is just their nature. I know that sounds judgmental but I think we all know those people who are just plain ‘stingy’. I guess that is why we hate to give small, insignificant gifts… because of how we will be perceived by those around us, particularly by the recipient of our gifts.

As a side note but actually quite relevant to this discussion, ‘shame’ is a powerful emotion. One doesn’t even have to be guilty of anything to FEEL ashamed. Do you know how many poor souls there are in this world who have been ‘shamed’ or told (or experienced) they were insignificant? Guilty vs innocent is a matter of ‘doing wrong or doing right.’ However, what happens when a person has had their character or their actions defined (labeled) as “wrong” or “ugly” or with impure motives – labeled ‘guilty’ – but those accusers have been false and unkind and have had their own skewed motives of advancing themselves at the cost of another’s own view of themselves?

In fact, I’ll go one step further… one who innately has a low opinion of themselves will almost always, if they are being honest, redefine themselves negatively regardless of how the people in their lives try to convince them of their worth. Their own opinion of themselves isn’t based on reality but on their own ‘worse case scenario’ image of their life in their own skewed mind. (Sorry, I got off on a tangent that I am rather passionate about. I told you, I am a VERY passionate person… And I’m not necessarily talking about an ‘affectionate’ person. I’m talking about the other word: ‘passionate.’)

Back to considering my Savior, Jesus! Back to my introspection. “What is MY gift to Jesus?” What about all my gifts of service to Jesus and for Jesus’ sake (both duty and genuine adoration)? Naively as a teenager, when I committed my life to serving Jesus and committed, with my husband-to-be, to go into FULL-TIME ministry, with reckless abandon and no holds barred, I certainly expected my life to have looked differently by now (talk about rose-colored glasses)! I won’t detail what I pictured our lives to look like today, but I’m sure you can imagine some scenarios. Although I obviously didn’t dream that our lives or our gifts of service would appear as lofty as the wise-men with their gifts of “gold, frankincense and myrrh,” I certainly thought that it would feel a bit more significant than the poor drummer boy who had nothing to offer the king but his frail little self and a simple song on the simple little instrument he carried on his person.

But what if God has NEVER been impressed with MY gifts of service? What if MY road of struggling to MAKE Him and KEEP Him happy with MY life (what could possibly be wrong with trying to please HIM, right?)….
was inadvertently more about validating MY life, MY character, MY gifts, MY duty, MY single-hearted, one-way love and adoration of HIM?
***Did you notice how many times I highlighted MY???***

I think that we believers in Jesus Christ have kind of a God-complex about ourselves: we often struggle to EARN and PROVE our worthiness to God, to become more holy (aren’t we commanded to be ‘more holy’?) as if we are attempting to elevate ourselves to this higher dimension of God’s favor, to look around us and compare ourselves to others (“well, I’m definitely more holy than these people beneath me”), and we seriously think that when we get to heaven, God is going to rate us and pat us on the head and say, “wow, I’m so proud of the holiness you achieved.”

To be honest, I have become so consumed with the sovereignty of God in my life. I won’t give away topics of future posts, but my life has had its exhausting share of hardships, health issues, failed dreams, ministries that have failed to take hold and ministries that God, in HIS sovereignty has allowed to be ripped out from under us. It has been an exhausting life trying to balance the weight of all the needs of the people we have been called to be responsible for (marriage, children, family, the people in our church as well as others God put in our path to whom to minister, and the list goes on) and all the things and duties to which God called us (my husband’s full time secular job, the tent-making pastoral ministries that were always “full time” even when many might have considered them “part time,” our home’s maintenance, the projects that had to be done NOW, the responsibilities of being a member of an extended family and contributing to their needs as well, and that list is just the tip of the iceberg). I’m sure every person in the world has their own overwhelming pressures and burdens, maybe more, that weigh heavily on their lives).

Let me get to the point before I lose you all. You see? This is what I firmly believe: God, in His sovereignty gives and takes away. If you have wonderful health, He has given it. If you have poor health, He has given it. If your burden is heavy with responsibilities (IF He has indeed called you to these – but that is a topic for another day), then He has given it. If you have lost your job or are no longer in a past ministry, He has taken it. I DO believe God does discipline for OUR own good SOME-times (but those who believe that this is ALWAYS the reason should listen to that song, “you’re so vain, I bet you think this ‘song’ is about you”)!

However, most of the time, I REALLY believe
He is the divine superintendent of His own glory.

He does things (sometimes things that don’t make sense to us because of our depravity), that have its ultimate culmination in HIS glory. In fact, we may live and die and never know WHY God did or allowed things in our lifetime. But God, being outside of time, has a plan. And God will ultimately use ALL the events that he orchestrates and allows to bring HIM glory!

(And He should, by the way! He has that right! HE IS GOD!)

So, consider your ‘blessings’. Consider your sufferings. Consider your responsibilities. Consider your limitations. Is God not the author and finisher of our faith? Isn’t He the ONE Who gives all our ‘gifts’ to us in the first place? It’s like when we used to give our kids $20 to go into the dollar store so they could buy us Christmas gifts. They bought our gifts with the money we gave them.

The question then is this:
Are you ok with THAT? Are you ok with
how God has sovereignly orchestrated your life?

Are you ok with both the ‘nice’ gifts He has given you and the miseries He has allowed to come upon you (both burdens AND sufferings)? The apostle Paul said it this way:

“And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am (He is) strong.” 2 Cor. 12:9-10

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body…… For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound TO THE GLORY OF GOD.” (2 Cor. 4:7-10,15)

“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” (Phil. 4:11)

imagesNow, let’s journey back to the manger…..
(Close your eyes…. are you there?)
Do you see yourself in the image of the lofty wise men with their very impressive, costly gifts? Do you see yourself in the lowly curious shepherds, or in Joseph, or Mary? Or, if you are honest with yourself, do you see yourself more as that fictitious ‘little drummer boy’? You have no impressive gifts to bring your King? All you have is your person, your heart and whatever ‘song’ HE HAS GIVEN YOU RIGHT NOW with which you can RETURN TO HIM as praise?

Now…. I’ll ask you again. Are you satisfied and content with your gift to Jesus, those gifts however large or small He has entrusted to you that you are RIGHT NOW able to bring to your King? I declare, I am!!! And…. even when I forget these important principles and feel like slinking away in shame and defeat at my seeming unworthiness, I CHOOSE to return to this theoretical manger again and humbly remember the divine orchestrator of my life and I affirm again:

“I am content with my humble gift to Him!
Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum!”

I’ll Play My Drum For Him … (Part One)

719rCnKK9KL._SY355_During this holiday season, reminders of Christmas are all around: lit trees, decorations all around, my little village is up, festive music can often be heard throughout the house and nativity scenes (both large and small) have been placed in prominent places as a constant reminder of the Reason for the season amid all the other ‘noise.’

So, as I am trying to integrate Christmas music and meditation into my day, I have transitioned to adding Christmas music to my morning walk playlists. Personally,  I have found that when I’m walking, whether the fresh air or the exercise or just the lack of other ‘noise,’ my ever more foggy brain clears up and if only for 45 min, I can think deeply, meditate and let the insights just flow. My playlists are diverse from Evie (1970’s pop) to Josh Groban to Bing Crosby to contemporary Christian. But the songs like “Where’s the line to see Jesus?” (Becky Kelley) and “Happy Birthday, Jesus” (Heather Henry) and “Mary’s Prayer” (Bebo Norman) and “Mary, Did You Know?” (Buddy Greene) leave me terribly emotional, weeping emotional.

Now, anyone who knows me knows I am a sentimental crier; the old cotton commercial could make me cry for Pete’s sake. Sappy movies? Don’t even get me started. So, when a worship song touches me deeply, the neighbors driving by might find me absolutely sobbing.

People who know me have described me as a deeply ‘passionate’ person (I’ve never known whether to take that as a compliment or a criticism…. It certainly has been both a blessing and a curse for me), a driven ‘can do’ person (not in recent years, for sure), an empathetic sensitive person, but I hope everyone that has known me well would say that I have always been passionate about holy living and living a life of integrity, no matter what the personal cost, even when the controversy around us has at times been intense.

Yesterday, as I was walking, my mind drifted back to that Bethlehem scene again. I wondered what gift(s) I might have been found giving the baby King Jesus if I had been aware of Who He was, the God of all creation, come down to earth on a mission to live among humanity, then die for the sins of mankind, MY sins. I considered all the ‘gifts’ I have aspired to give HIM during my Christian life; frankly, I wasn’t impressed.

As I look back at my life, from the time I was in high school till now, I have spent so much energy in my life trying to please God, represent Him well, serve Him with my gifts, and challenge others to live their lives single-mindedly for the Master. Now, as admirable as that may sound, these attempts have been met with very mixed results and responses, some positive and some negative. I don’t want to sound all negative and down on myself with a distasteful false humility. That’s not what this is about. I have just been more willing to be transparent and introspective in the last 5-6 years.

So, today I want to focus my attention on my OWN assessment of my ‘gifts’ to God, my trying to please Him, my attempts to live holy and godly in this present world in a manner worthy of the gospel of my Savior. I am faced with verses like, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14).

Wow! I come away with my head down with a sense of regret at the disappointment I feel I might be to my Lord; that’s how it feels more and more these days. So many perceived failures, so many misunderstandings, so often have I fallen short of the holiness I strove for, so little to show for all my years on this earth. My life has certainly NOT turned out how I had dreamed it would as a young adult passionate about ministry and service and a living life fully committed to Christ.

Now I want to stop right here and clarify something as I bet many friends and acquaintances will assume that my self-analysis is pretty hyper-critical, exaggerated for attention, a type of self loathing, etc. Facebook is the perfect place for people to throw out a “whoa is me” and wait to get ‘patted on the back’ which is their true intent: to have people who know them (or barely know them) reassure them of their goodness and value. These status updates are really about looking for attention. PLEASE don’t comment about any perceived goodness or value on my behalf!!! While I might appreciate your intent, it will completely miss the point I am trying to make. Scripture is the ONLY lens with which to view oneself and in that I fall miserably short! I hope this clarifies my point.

 “There is none righteous!
There is none that seeks after God.”
Scripture likens our righteousness
to “filthy rags.”
“The heart is deceitful and
desperately wicked…” (Jeremiah).
Ecclesiastes reminds us that “all is vanity.”
The apostle Paul, who had the right
to claim his service was really worth
something great instead said that it was
nothing compared to the glory of God.
(Read Phil. 3 )

Yet, as I look back over my life, I have tried SO HARD to bring gifts of “gold, frankincense and myrrh” with my life (my very BEST! No, let’s be more precise, I’ve wanted to be PERFECT, yep, that’s the word)! In fact, how immature and arrogant for anyone to think that perfection and holiness are attainable in these bodies! So, if I am honest, I haven’t brought much but wood, hay and stubble. How can one who has spent her life so driven, a perfectionist by nature, so sure of how to live this Christian life ‘correctly’ (the worst arrogance imaginable), so impassioned to serve Him with the core of her being, and so ministry-minded get to the latter days in her life and determine that she’s doesn’t have much to show for it????

Truth is, I feel more like the fictional ‘little drummer boy’ than one of the great wise men of the Bible. I guess the questions for today are these: Am I ok with that? Should I be ok with that? More importantly, what does my Savior think of that, the One I have committed my life to loving and serving? Can I (and should I) be content if all I ever bring to my King is a ‘simple song’ after spending my whole life TRYING and STRIVING to make my life a sweet smelling sacrifice of frankincense to give my King?

(Part 2 to come…..)