Finding Peace With God In My Depression: Part Four

Part 1 can be found: here!

Part 2 can be found: here!

Part 3 can be found: here!


Learning to Retell My Story

In essence, it took years of living in this tension before I could I retell my OWN story from a gospel perspective. If God’s story in the history of mankind is to weave His gospel thread of redemption through all of man’s lives, and His overwhelming mercy, in spite of their depravity, what hurt me the most eventually led to my ultimate peace and my ultimate redemption. 

My story became a story of ALL about GOD; and none about Heidi. My story became one of 100% grace and mercy towards me (HIS love story), and surprisingly, not only was God pleased to bestow it on me, but I was pleased to offer my weakness back to Him as my sacrifice. 

The calling He had in mind for me, (MY personal calling) would require my giving up my efforts so that He could show me what He had ALREADY done for me, and how He would glorify Himself at my expense by taking pleasure in HIS own acts of mercy, (because “justice was no longer in the way.” (Reference to  Phillips Craig and Dean song, “Mercy Came Running!”) His calling for me was to be His trophy of grace and mercy. And I was ok with that. My peace was found in a confidence that this was HIS calling for me. 

My Relationship With Jesus

After He Removed My Depression From Me

Grace! This was what our relationship would now be built upon from here on. The 12 years of my depressive illness was the quality time He was using to draw me into His bosom. On this end of it, I still can’t listen to someone tell me what I HAVE to DO to please God! For me, it offends and degrades the very intimacy I found in the heart of God toward me when I was in a state where I couldn’t do what I thought God needed me to do to please Him. Though I disagree with them, I have to remember to show them grace, too, and remember that that may still be their own calling.

However, just because it is God’s calling for ME, doesn’t mean it is God’s calling for YOU! Nor does it mean that just because you don’t experience depression doesn’t mean that there aren’t some lessons that you can learn about self-righteousness and trying to earn God’s favor through works. It just may be that God wants you to learn “All God! And zero of you,” too.

So, I’m not here to tell you what God’s calling for you is. I am just reminding you that God does call us all to different roads. Some to strength; some to weakness.  And just like He told Peter to take the gospel to the gentiles for the first time, when no one had ever done that before, He may just be calling you to a different kind of obedience. One in which you’re WEAK and HE IS strong. Not you’re weak and then HE makes YOU strong. Just…. you’re weak. He’s strong.

Jesus’ Final Lesson To His Disciples

I think there is a lot of significance to the last thing we see Jesus do with his beloved disciples before He gave His life on the cross to redeem them to Himself, reconcile them to His Father and pay for their sins. He washed their feet. Good old Peter resisted. He wanted to be the one to demonstrate His love for the Lord with his actions, but what the Lord wanted was for them to experience His loving tenderness on their behalf. 

He could have used those last few hours as an opportunity to teach them how to obey and serve Him better, and the importance of their duty to Him, BUT instead, He chose to demonstrate the lesson He had told them about several times before. More than anything, the God of the universe wanted them to witness what Christ could do FOR them. Specifically, when Peter said, “No, I want to be the one to do the washing.” Jesus corrected him, “No, it must be about what I will do for you. 

And here’s Jesus’ demonstration: John 13:3-8 “Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that He had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist,  and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash MY feet?” Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” “NO,” Peter protested, “you will NEVER wash my feet!”

My Translation: “Um, Lord, surely you want ME to do something to serve YOU?!?!? This can’t be! Please let ME demonstrate MY love for YOU.” But…..

“Jesus replied, “(Peter) Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”

My Translation: Jesus said, “Peter, roll over and lie on your back, Now stay! … And Wait! I want to show you what’s in my heart. Look into my loving eyes. Unless I wash you, you won’t be clean. Unless I do the washing, YOU’LL NEVER be clean!”

The lesson Jesus was teaching was, 1) That He loves the weak because they know they are weak. 2) And That He would much rather SHOW MERCY than receive sacrifices of service, and 3) most importantly, that His GREATEST joy is that we KNOW him, NOT in our sacrifices. (Hosea 6:6 says, “I want to show LOVE … I want you to KNOW me more than I want burnt offerings.”)

In essence, He was demonstrating, “Since I have one more thing I can do on this earth before I pay the ultimate penalty for your sins, I choose to leave you with this as your final lesson that I most want to imprint upon your hearts. I’m glorified MOST, when I get to be the one who does the washing. I’m glorified MOST, when YOU let ME do the washing.” 

How did I find peace in depression?

You see, before depression, I thought I knew God. But I only knew OF God. But my view of God was warped and twisted. I’d come to learn that I had loved a God I never really knew, for the God I knew was one to be feared for I could not reach His standards of righteousness. Oh, I loved Him before but always hoping that He’d see my love as righteousness and that it would earn me favor in His eyes, too. I had been a true believer for 35 years but never fully understand the loving heart of God. But now, after God’s kindness to me during my period of depression, I echo Job’s declaration, “I had only heard about You before. But now, I have seen You with my own eyes.” (NLT) 

So, what about JOY?

First of all, if you are in the throes of depression, you won’t be happy and you won’t feel joyful. Your brain is broken and unable to process those emotions. But I experienced utter RELIEF that my relationship with my Savior didn’t rely on me at all. My joy was Jesus, the One who bridged the gap. HE was my ENOUGH. HE was my PEACE! HE was my JOY!

I found the smiling face of Jesus in my depression. He called me to orient myself to the gospel story that HE was writing with my brokenness, a story of HOPE in spite of my DESPAIR, a story of PEACE in spite of my TURMOIL, a story of GRACE in the face of MY sinful condition and a story of MERCY in contrast to MY efforts. Jesus spent all those 12 years, continuing to reach down to me, His wounded struggling lamb, picking me back up and drawing me back to His bosom, and embracing me with compassion and THAT was better than any gift I could’ve given Him before.  (This concludes this 4-part series.)

Finding Peace With God in My Depression: Part Three

Part 1 can be found:  here!

Part 2 can be found:  here!

How Could I Ever Be Enough?

Third, God taught me that when I couldn’t reach God’s standard for righteousness, God Himself bridged the gap.

“When all you can do is all you can do, then all you can do is enough.” I call this my “Enough” principle. If on any given day, I was given the grace to behave somewhat righteously, I was HS filled, I did all the right things, I served in the church, I was kind to my family, I lived in the joy of the Lord, I still wouldn’t be able to attain the righteous holy standard of God Himself. 

But, whatever I lacked in perfect righteousness, God looked at the righteousness of Jesus on my behalf. and said, “Whatever you lacked today, I’ve got this covered. You are 100% righteous before Holy God. I am now pleased.”

Sand Illustration: 

Imagine that I am holding a bag of sand and a empty jar. In the example above, I was able to partially fill up that jar myself with my good works out of a heart for God and love for Him. So, God filled my partially filled jar of sand to overflowing. When Christ’s righteousness and your efforts are married together, that is enough to please God. Let me be clear, YOU are not enough! God multiplies and redeems your efforts and God’s work is enough!

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However, when I was in the pit, I despaired, I became angry, I refused to talk to anyone, my social behavior was despicable and unacceptable, I didn’t feel the Holy Spirit and He was not in control of my thoughts. I wanted nothing to do with God. In fact, I had little to no desire for Him. I was nasty and testy, my soul felt empty, and I had NO joy! 

But the Lord looked at me and compassionately said, “Whatever you lacked today, I’ve got this covered. You are 100% righteous before Holy God. I am pleased.”

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Back to our Sand Illustration:

If you looked at my jar on those tormented, depressed days, you could hardly find the few grains of sand that I could contribute to the jar. But still, God looked at what I was able to contribute and then proceeded to fill up my almost empty jar of sand to overflowing. When Christ’s righteousness and your efforts are married together, that is enough to please God.

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My new relationship with Jesus was one of tenderness. It was one of compassion. It was one of Him being the Sustainer and my being the helpless one.  It changed everything for me. It took all my despair I felt for not feeling acceptable and gave me permission to stop trying to earn it. My eyes were opened to His shepherd’s heart and I fell in love with Him in a way that I had never done before. I was imperfect, but I was beloved. He was ok with my brokenness. He was ok with me, meaning my brokenness didn’t deny me His affection and love.

Paul says in I Timothy 1:15-16, “But I received MERCY for this reason, that in me, Jesus might display His perfect patience, as an example to those who were to believe in Him.”

Oh the joy that I felt when I was finally convinced that God didn’t require reciprocation for His love and kindness, compassion and ministry to me. God as my caregiver was able to love me past all my unpleasantness.

Fairness vs Grace

I felt, this can’t be! It doesn’t seem fair to let me disappoint on some days while He required others to behave? To not require me to try hard on some days? To accept less than perfection? To have mercy on my condition? To not make me bang my head over and over and over against the wall because I just couldn’t make my mind or my spirit to cooperate?

You see if you add anything to grace, it’s not really grace. It’s earning! Only grace … plus nothing … equals grace!!!!! And if there was one thing I knew God was doing to me in my depression, it was to demand that I learn that I was NOT in control. It was that He would be glorified, NOT in MY actions, but in HIS actions. Once again, He rolled me over onto my back and said, “Stay! You made a mess. Now, let me clean you up.”

Learning a New Way Of Living In My Depression

Although, I started to experience a new intimate relationship with Him when I was in the light, one of the continual affirmation that our relationship was still ok, one of being an ongoing object of mercy for anything I did that didn’t seem holy… MY depression still DIDN’T GO AWAY!!! So, that merciful feeling of peace that I’d receive when I emerged FROM the pit was still not available to me IN the pit. 

What I knew in my head, that I was an object of mercy, didn’t give me warm, fuzzy feelings IN my depression. I’d still plummet into the darkness. I’d still plummet into despair, into ugly responses, into isolation, into a place where I still couldn’t feel God or see Him, but I was learning to live in a new tension. 

Learning to Trust In The Dark

I was learning to trust a God I couldn’t feel or see. I was learning to trust in the dark what God was teaching me in the light. (Read that again! Don’t miss this!) With only my will, I learned to cling to the truths He had taught me when I COULD see Him before our sweet intimacies slipped away into oblivion. I didn’t have to feel them for them to be true. I didn’t have to mentally assert them as truth. I didn’t have to verbally agree to them. I didn’t have to emotionally connect to them. I just welcomed them into the tension and let them marinade in my soul. 

I also learned that my life could no longer be lived in “all or nothing.” I could no longer cling to a dream of living a perfect life. It wasn’t one of complete relational continuity—one of 100% faithfulness to God and obedience in every area, but more like a series of little moments.

This was new to me. Only a hypocrite thinks one thing then turns around and does another! I fought the self-accusation of hypocrisy! “I couldn’t count on tomorrow! I couldn’t even count on the next five minutes!” But when God opened a window and peeked in, and I caught just a glimpse of His smiling face, I welcomed the intimate moment with Him (even though I knew it was fleeting). But fleeting as it was, I chose to welcome moments freely, worship Him freely, embrace Him warmly! And then, over and over, the moment would be gone. The despair would remain. 

The Locket Of Trust

But I chose to put God’s truth in a locket and hung it around my neck. (This is a reference to Matt Hammit’s song, “Trust.”) My locket contained the truths I’d come to learn about God and about myself that I had discovered in the light. However, these truths, while life-changing, didn’t change my current circumstances and they didn’t change my depressed illness. But I still hung them around my neck in confidence that God was calling me to trust Him and have confidence in something OUTSIDE of what I could do and could feel.

When I went into the darkness, I clung to God’s Truths safely stored in my locket which hung around my neck. While I was in there, it was too dark to see them or feel them, but I held onto the locket determined that I was still ok. And when I emerged from that darkness, I opened the locket and all the memories of God’s promises and faithfulness came flooding back. 

While I studied the foundational truths of God in His word in the light, I began to feel layers and layers and layers of guilt-motivated, good-intentioned,  performance-based righteousness fall away. I felt like Jesus was lifting weight after weight after weight off my shoulders reminding me: “Heidi, it is already finished! Done! You are redeemed, yesterday, today, forever! There is nothing you have done, are doing or will do that isn’t covered by My love, My mercy and My grace!

You no longer need to strive to earn My favor! In fact, you never did! Simply look to Me, the Author and Perfecter of your faith! I’m just waiting for you to stop trying to run your own world and let Me have control. Let me give. Let me take. Let Me shower my love and grace on you! Stop striving after the wind! It’s exhausting and it’s defeating! My grace is sufficient for you and is made perfect in weakness!” 

Wow! I thought, if we are saved by grace, why is it so hard to remember we must also live by grace!? I prayed, “Speak Lord, for your servant hears You. Teach to me embrace grace in this tumultuous affliction You’ve ordained for me to endure. 

These are those truths I learned and clung to:

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I remembered The Lord is my shepherd. I remembered The Lord is my Redeemer.
My soul was at peace even when my spirit was not. My peace didn’t COME from the darkness, but it is FROM within that dark place that I was forced to trust in the all-sufficiency of Jesus to make our relationship right.

I remembered that only God was holy. God and God alone. Although I knew that He was holy, and that although His longing was for that day in glory when I would finally lay aside this sinful shell, I trusted that He alone could present me to the Father as righteous and acceptable.

I was convinced that God Himself was asserting His sovereignty and His authority every time He allowed me to be subdued by depression. I learned sooner and sooner to just surrender to His hand. I cried out: “Lord, I don’t want to go back in there. It’s so dark and lonely.” “I know,” He said, “but I’m always right beside you even when you don’t feel Me there.”

I came to trust that while I was in the darkness, He carried me like a wounded lamb. I was unable to feel Him or see Him. I couldn’t reach out and feel that He was still beside me, carrying me, His wounded little lamb. But, I learned to not fight Him to stand on my own. In my weakened condition, it was always safer to just let Him carry me.

I was convinced that He knew my heart was one that ultimately desired to please Him, but was weakened by my affliction that held me captive to my depravity. I didn’t need to PRETEND to be holy to please God, something I was NEVER capable of doing in the first place.

I trusted God to be able to handle my authenticity. I’d spend many hours lamenting and expressing my sorrow. I came to trust His compassionate heart and came to depend on His mercy and grace as I opened up the wounds of my soul for Him to tenderly clean up. 

I was convinced that there was nothing I could do to earn His favor, but I still believed it was because of His intimate favor that He Himself had wounded me – not to punish me but simply so that he could show me His mercy and ongoing love. 

He reminded me, “This thorn in your flesh, I gave it to you to keep you from exalting yourself.” And though I begged the Lord too many times to count to take it away, He told me, “My grace is sufficient for you. MY power is made complete in YOUR weakness.”

I was convinced that the cross of Calvary had settled it all and that God had credited the righteousness of Jesus to me, making me righteous in His eyes.

And when the darkness passed, my relationship with Jesus came right back. He looked into my eyes and I looked into His, and He said, “I know that was hard. I know that was scary. Are you ok now? Are we good?” I’d say, “It was scary, Lord. And it was so hard. But I never felt your condemnation. I only sensed your mercy. I never felt you were angry at me. I only sensed your compassion. Ya… we’re good.” 

Can you see that as difficult as the struggle was for me, how necessary it was for me to live in that desperate place of tension, all in order to get me to the intimacy on the other side? I needed to give myself permission to search my own heart and ask God some really hard questions. I had to live in the struggle of some really hard theological tensions. I had to challenge my whole foundational belief system as to what it means to “please God.”

I had to own the utter helplessness of my own depravity and my desperateness for someone other than myself to save me. I had to see myself from God’s perspective. His relational intimacy with me was MORE PLEASING TO HIM than my thoughts or good deeds were to Him. But this I know, He needed to remove my strength before I would accept His mercy.    (to be continued tomorrow here)

Finding Peace With God In My Depression: Part Two

Part 1 of this 4- part series can be found: here!


Developing a Relationship With My Alpha

Do you know what all that “Wait, Submit, Stay” was all about? Relationship!!! It was HIS longing for ME to enjoy a relationship with HIM of trust and of authority. The first thing He knew I had to learn, was that if our relationship was going to work,  I’d have to recognize and surrender unquestionably to my Alpha. There cannot be two top dogs in the house. 

Secondly, He was assuring me that He wasn’t hurting me, just subduing me, if for no other reason but to convince me that He could because He had the authority to do so. 

Thirdly, He was showing me in His eyes, that although I felt incapacitated, He wasn’t unhappy with me. And truthfully, the more often I experienced Him pressing me into my incapacity, the more I felt He loved me. It didn’t make sense, but there was something in His demeanor toward me that demonstrated to me compassion, mercy and grace. 

The Nagging Question Of Justice

And while I experienced this one aspect of peace, that is, that He still loved me even though He was subduing me, and that I didn’t feel He was angry, there was still the nagging tension of the holiness of God and my duty as a believer to live righteously. How could a holy God be ok with unholiness? How could a holy God, in all His justice, still be able to be pleased with one as despicable as me? It was not enough for me to only have a “feeling” that God was ok with me, but I needed to reconcile it with what I knew of His Word. I needed to have a confidence that He was ok with me. 

As a born and bred performer in the world of Christianity as a way of earning God’s pleasure, a Pharisee who looked to my obedience to the Laws of God, His mercy overwhelmed me! While I was still struggling with His justice, I felt the only thing I could do to bear up under ALL the incredible shame I felt was to cry out for His mercy! I cried out, “God, I can’t bear up under the burden of your justice! How can you still even look at me???? Have mercy on me a sinner!”

And He told me, “ My mercy is not held captive by your sin or My justice. I’ll have mercy on whom I’ll have mercy!” He NEVER told me my sin was righteous; He convinced me that my sin nature had ALREADY left me utterly unrighteous. But He told me, I’d always receive mercy when I asked. His mercy was absolute relief.

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.”

I love Rich Mullin’s song, “Hold Me Jesus.” He sings it this way as a prayer, “You have been my King of GLORY, won’t you be my Prince of PEACE?” In fact, do you remember the Jews rejected their Messiah because He didn’t come to be a victor but to redeem them, to reconcile them to God, to establish a tender loving relationship with them that He could not do until He had buried their sins in the deepest of seas. But they didn’t want that kind of Messiah! They wanted a strong Messiah that would overcome and release them from their suffering. They wanted a Messiah to prove His victorious strength. Sadly, they rejected the Messiah who came to offer them relationship and are still waiting for Him today.

I, too, had seen God as the One who would turn ME into God’s glorious victor, but that left me with no need for His sufficiency; I felt no need for God’s peace when I was strong. I was already sufficient in myself. But what I really needed was the Prince of Peace, acquainted with my insufficiency, to speak peace over me in spite of my weakness and desperation. 

Complete Honesty

When He offered me mercy so readily, so graciously and so kindly, I couldn’t wait to bring Him one more thing, I was DYING to get it off my chest. My honesty! My authenticity! One of my greatest fears was that God could only offer me grace and mercy because I had been able to pull the wool over God’s eyes and He didn’t know really how bad my heart really was.

As great as it is to be offered grace for a seemingly perfect life, I was intensely afraid that God would not be so gracious if He really knew my wretchedness. So, if I was ever going to be able to take comfort in His mercy. I’d have to be convinced that He knew EVERYTHING He was offering me mercy for.

I needed to test our new relationship based on one-way favor. I needed to know whether He would cringe and turn away in disgust if I showed Him all my nakedness and all my wretchedness. You see, I could understand being loved by someone who had the appearance of righteousness, something I had been trying to portray to the world my whole Christian life. What I couldn’t fathom was God offering mercy to one who had NO appearance of righteousness!

I was dying to take off ALL my masks. If I tried to pretend one more moment that I was doing ok, I’d go crazy. I hated the feeling that I was just masking the dirtiness lurking beneath the surface in my depression. I felt like I was prettying myself up with my own ugly rags and hoping God saw them as righteous. But if I had to wear those ugly rags I’d been using to cover up what was inside one more day, I’d go insane. The pretending felt like weights on my ankles dragging me to the ocean floor. My ultimate freedom would only be proven to me if I could be absolutely honest and God would prove to me to be absolutely merciful and gracious. It was “all or nothing.” 

Could I trust Him with the truths of my soul? He reminded me, “This isn’t much of an offering, you know. I’ve always known what was in your heart. But thank you for sharing your honest confession.”

Michael Card sings it this way, “Come lift up your sorrows, and offer your pain. Come make a sacrifice of all your shame. There in your wilderness, He’s waiting for you, to worship Him with your wounds, for He’s wounded too.”

What About My Duty?

But there was still that nagging question I couldn’t let go of. “What about MY duty? What will I have to DO myself to be assured of His pleasure with me? What about His justice? It just wasn’t fair for God to be ok with me even with my wretched depravity on display. I couldn’t reconcile my ‘inability to DO’ with what His word demanded that I should do.

God Answers With Truths I Already Knew But Had Long Forgotten 

And then it was as if God opened up heaven and sun rays shone down in front of me and angels started to sing…. “Heidi, there is not ONE thing I have asked you to do that either 1) hasn’t ALREADY been done FOR you, or 2) for which I haven’t ALREADY paid for, putting in place a way for my justice to be satisfied! Right now, I don’t want you to do anything. I want to be the One to do for you. I want you to embrace an intimacy with me, where You know my heart and I know yours.

What?!?! But what about ME?  What about MY duties? What about the strength I felt when I had the power to not sin? What about the satisfaction I gained from presenting Him with MY righteousness?  I felt absolutely devastated because I would never become His Trophy of strength! While He was merciful to me as a poor schmuck, I grieved that I would never be one of His best. 

And although I am not claiming to have heard God audibly, that is when I heard him ask me, “Since when has this always been about YOU and your glory? Since when was this about YOUR righteousness? Since when has MY purposes been to help YOU have confidence in your own righteousness?”

You see, I had pre-determined which path I wanted God to use … to glorify Himself in my life. I determined that He would be MOST glorified in the strength of MY character, the strength of MY resolve, and the success of MY living out righteously. While my intentions were all FOR Him, and about Him, my trust and confidence had been in MYSELF to please Him.  

Contemplating God’s Answer To me

But what I hadn’t even stopped to consider was, What if He didn’t choose me to be a trophy of His strength? What if had chosen to make me a trophy of His mercy and grace?

What if when He looked down from heaven and pointed me out to the angels, saying, “Do you see that wounded, broken, bleeding lamb down there? She is special; she touches my heart. My other lambs run off and do their thing and I love them. My other lambs are strong. They please me in other ways, win awards at the fair, produce wool and milk for me. But this one…this little runt and I have a very special relationship. She knows how desperately she needs me. I am always finding her out stuck in the thicket, and she’ll cry out to me, and beg me to pick her up. And when I do, she nestles her head into my chest. That is when My heart leaps for joy. For she finds joy in ME.” 

What about SHAME?

Then finally, God, in His kindness, showed me what my silly heart had been hiding all along, in this dark place of torment, this depression: Shame. I was ashamed in my depression.

God is a God of JUSTICE!!!! And I couldn’t measure up to His holy standard. (Not now! Not in this terrible affliction of depression.) He is God, I was sure that fairness would demand that He would one day apply justice to my wretched sinfulness. I feared that I would eventually see those eyes of kindness turn to eyes of disappointment. So, I clung to His mercy; I bathed in His mercy, but my mind and heart still needed figure out how I never felt shame in the presence of God.

I kept wondering, “What about the wrath of God? What about the holiness of God? What about the guilt?“ Then, God reminded me that the justice of God didn’t just ignore my sinful depravity, the sacrifice of Christ fully satisfied God’s justice. Justice was already completed on my behalf.

The Cross

As if the blinders fell off my eyes, it all became very simple. The CROSS. It was the cross!! When Jesus died for me, He forever satisfied the wrath of God on me. He completely paid the penalty of my sin’s guilt. He forgave me all my debts  (ALL the debts I’d ever incurred in my past sins, ALL the debts of my current sin, and ALL the debts I’d ever incur for my future sins). He prepaid the cost; he left His credit card on file and said, “She’s gonna rack up a huge bill, but… it’s all paid in full.” He justified me forever. 

He reminded me that, choice or not, I was STILL helplessly chained to my sin nature and I’d remain that way. That’s exactly WHY He came to die for me in the first place. Every issue that the justice AND holiness of God required had been satisfied. “There is now therefore NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) And the most wonderful gift of all was that, God took the righteousness of His own son and like a warm, comfy blanket, placed it over my wretchedness, so that when He looked at me, He would always see ONLY Jesus’ righteousness. Praise God, I was redeemed!!!

God’s Grace Covers It All

BUT the final tension… But what about all His commands about righteousness? I was not doing a good job obeying any of them. i wanted to, more than anything, but I couldn’t. I still felt like a failure in God’s eyes! His first answer was…  “GRACE, my child! The answer is GRACE!

Some of you may have to chew on this a while… You’ll have to wrestle in the tension of it yourself. Although you have a free will, every good deed and act of righteousness you do was FIRST enabled by God because of a gift of His grace. He plants in our hearts and minds a desire to live righteously. He grants the self-control and the Holy Spirit gives the enabling. But make no mistake, YOUR righteousness first came to you from God who enabled you to live righteously. It is HIS gift of grace that saves you. And it is HIS gift of grace that enables you to resist sinning. 

And if, because of illness, or disease, or something I’m not acquainted with, He genuinely doesn’t give you that gift today or tomorrow (say like a retarded child, a diabetic in insulin shock, a demented senior, or a depressed individual), then HE is God. That’s HIS choice. It doesn’t make Him culpable in the committing of sin anymore than allowing a child to be born retarded makes God culpable of that child’s actions or inactions towards or against God.   

God’s Compassion

Second, He saw me in the helpless condition that my illness left me in, but more than my obedience, He wanted relationship. Rich Mullins sings it this way, “I’d rather FIGHT you for something you don’t even WANT than TAKE what YOU give that I NEED.” 

Oh! What a treasure in the truth of those words. That was me for 35 years, struggling to offer God my perfect righteousness. I fought Him and fought Him and fought Him for the right and ability to live righteously, to gain His favor, to show forth my holy life. That’s what the whole Christian life is supposed to be about,right? Or is it?

But what I really needed was an intimate relationship with Jesus and peace with my Savior. What He really wanted was for me to embrace His kindness, His compassion and His grace. What He really wanted was for me to recognize that it could only be Christ’s righteousness on my behalf that could ever truly please Him. He wanted me to finally lay down my sword and accept His love for me and for me to love Him back with all my heart, mind, soul and strength, in whatever capacity or incapacity He ordained for me.

When Jesus was asked why He spent so much of His time on earth with the sinners, He told them (Matthew 9:11-13). “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire compassion and NOT sacrifice,’  for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

(to be continued tomorrow)

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 4)

This is Part 4 of a series of posts. Please scroll back  and read part 1, before continuing on here.

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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.” 

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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.”

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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?

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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?

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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. 

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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!”