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!

 

 

 

The Idolatry of Religious Self-Improvement

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Sometimes I get such a heavy heart as I ache to share what God has done in my life, but the words either won’t come or seem trivial, or offensive, or theologically impertinent. How can I possibly tell you how much Jesus changed this performist’s heart? How can I possibly tell you how God turned my theological world upside down? How can I possibly share the shocking paradigm shift God showed me in the last 10-15 years? 

Like the apostle Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, God decimated me so that He could help me see that I wasn’t actually glorifying Him with my spiritual fervor. I was idolatrous of perfection and self-improvement. I was so mistaken to believe that my drive for spiritual self-improvement could make God more pleased with me. I completely misunderstood the life He wanted me to live for His glory. Like the apostle Paul, I thought I knew how I was supposed to prove my commitment to my God and King; I learned how to be a ‘good’ Christian growing up in Sunday School and in a Christian home.  It was all about achievement of a sinless life. It was all about having more self-control. It was all about beating my body into subjection, until I could become ‘just like Jesus.’ I zealously set out to prove myself with my righteous deeds. But in the end, those actions and those attitudes were born out of idolatry to become better, to sin less than others, to achieve more than others, to gain more favor from the Lord.

You see, seeking to become “just like Jesus” is the most offensive phrase to me today.  Because my whole problem began by believing I could become “just like Jesus.” How arrogant and impertinent is that!

It reminds me of two Scriptures: First, In Genesis 3:5, Satan comes to Eve and tempts her with the phrase, “when you eat of the tree, you will be LIKE GOD.” And in Isaiah 14:14, during Satan’s very famous boast, Satan says, “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself LIKE the Most High.” Friends, there are a lot of Christians who would scoff at the arrogance of the devil, but in their hearts, still think they are pretty good Christians. They believe with all their religious piety, that their perceived righteousness has raised themselves to some level in which God takes note of THEM, “wow, look at how righteous they are!”

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Although I didn’t know it at the time, more than anything in the world, I wanted God to take notice of ME. I worked hard to earn His favor. Listen, I was already saved. I had already taken care of my eternal security many years before. This was about my idolatrous heart that wanted to become better and better so that I could rest in my perceived belief that God was somehow impressed with ME! I worked hard to acquire self-control. I set very high standards for myself and my family so that we didn’t accidentally fall short in some way. I read my Bible and attempted to implement all the “that shalts” and stayed far away from the “thou shalt nots.” I worked hard to perform in just the way I thought Jesus-followers should perform. But the problem was that I was trying to create a self-improved version of myself. The glory of my life was my achievements. God’s grace and His mercy meant very little to one who thought she was doing pretty good on her own. No, I didn’t worship myself. But I did want more than breath itself to become a better version of myself. And do you know what? As long as I applied a little extra self-control, I could manage to keep that old sinful nature at bay (I thought). I could pursue holy living. I could force myself to adhere to righteous behavior and righteous thinking. As long as I grit my teeth and worked hard enough at it, I felt like I was succeeding. 

But, I believe God, in His kindness, eviscerated me. You see, He knew that I would never feel like I was ‘enough’ as long as all I could see was my SELF and my performance. So, He gave me a devastating illness: DEPRESSION! Depression takes all your desire for life and improvement and satisfaction away. The most crushing thing it takes away is a person’s SELF control (a person’s ability to control what their SELF is feeling and is doing!)! You see, what was keeping me from realizing God’s sufficiency for my insufficiency was MY ability, up until that point, to SELF-CONTROL my life and my actions. I had worshipped becoming ‘better’ but missed the Savior Who had come to rescue me from a life of bondage, the bondage of trying to become as good as God, to earn God’s favor, to be favorited by God (you might even say). I thought that’s what Christians were supposed to do! I thought God would be proud of me for achieving religious improvement! But without realizing it, I had raised that standard of MY becoming ‘better’ above my Savior’s already provided perfection for my imperfect self. My glory was my religious zeal and fervor! It wasn’t in my gracious and merciful Savior, to my shame!

After Paul’s own evisceration on the road to Damascas, he realized his religious zeal was misplaced, too. The God he believed he was serving was actually unhappy with his actions, as religiously zealous as they were. God didn’t strike him down in His anger; He struck him down in His kindness because He had so much He wanted to show Paul about His gracious mercy and what God actually wanted for his life. 

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Don’t you find it ironic, that the religious zealot of Saul, became the apostle Paul that penned these words: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24) Paul! He calls himself a ‘wretched man’ and he describes in agonizing detail his battle with his sin nature which, though he hated it, kept winning.  Yet, two verses later, he reminds us that there is “NO condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus!”

In my depression, I lived in the tortuous prison of “wretched man that I am.” There was no possibility of self righteousness. God saw to that, in His mercy. There was no possibility of self-improvement. There was no “take the bull by the horns and better your life by grit and determination” mantras. There was only defeat, disillusionment, despair, and disappointment! Is it any wonder, that when I discovered that I was in the most wretched of situations, that God’s mercy and grace for an imperfect life started to become really important me!? It was like I came to know the Lord all over again. I had learned Him to be a task master and a God of high expectations for me. But I came to know Him in my depression as a gentle shepherd, a loving Father, a tender friend, and a merciful Savior! During my 11-12 years in depression, I finally gave up all my attempts at perfection and at self-righteousness. I came to embrace the truth of my condition, that I was a totally depraved and needy sinner, in desperate daily of God’s mercy for my failures and His grace to even hold my head up some days. 

During God’s surgery on me, I learned to love basking in the tender affection of a Savior toward me, a saint who had NOTHING to offer Him but my brokenness. I had nothing left to show Him of my merit. While my view of mySELF decreased, my view of HIM increased. (“He must increase while I must decrease!” – John 3:30) The effect of unmerited favor powerfully drew me into His heart. I longed to be loved like that. I longed to lay down my burdens, battle worn and weary, and feel love like I never had before. It felt so unnatural to know I was loved so deeply when I felt so unworthy! I was so surprised to find such satisfaction in being loved without having earned it. 

The way God kept me alive I think, during such darkness of my heart, was to teach me to cling to Him and His righteousness in spite of my unworthiness! He taught me to fight the darkness with this truth: God passionately loves me in spite of the continued darkness of my heart. He passionately longs to show me how all the things that showed me how depraved and unworthy I was were already settled in the debt He already paid! There was nothing left He needed me to do to prove my worth to Him.  My worth was determined when Jesus died to take away the penalty for my sin (my ugly, depraved life). He made me a child of God, which gave me infinite unmerited affection from my loving Father. And until God eventually removed my depression in 2014, that unmerited affection for one who felt short of feeling ‘enough’ had to be enough for me. Chronic, miserable, devastating imperfection would have to be enough for me because of one redeeming truth: God loved ME as I was! Imperfect, sick, without the ability to act righteously, without the ability to think righteously, but redeemed, loved and cherished! What a treasure He was to me!

Many who hear my story think I am callously promoting lawlessness. It couldn’t be further from the truth. “God’s word says that man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” I love my Savior more than these pathetic words could ever express and I wouldn’t choose to hurt Him. If I could, I would remain sinless the rest of my life. But God didn’t make us sinless when He saved us; I suppose He could have. But if he had removed our sin natures, why would we need Him!? Why would we be so amazed by His grace and overwhelmed by His mercy when we failed? He left us with our sin natures so that we would sing of His amazing grace for our continued imperfection. He left us desperately needing Him. He left us longing for redemption from these miserable and yes, even sick, bodies. He left us craving His perfection for our imperfection. He left us here in our sinful world so that we would consider HIS GLORY more important and more precious to us than our own successes and perceived goodness.

7E07BD83-120D-4278-AA06-850BC78D1C3ADo you see it? Do you see how much God wants us to be amazed by HIM!? By HIS love? By HIS kindness? By HIS grace? By HIS mercy? Friends, this Christian life isn’t about OUR SELF IMPROVEMENT at all! Our job  in this life is to show forth the glory of HIS grace! Our job is to be daily amazed by His incredible perfection and glory and to shout it from the rooftops! 

When your desire to self-improve ultimately brings glory to YOU, you steal God’s glory! You elevate yourself to become ‘like God.’ So, while we should never seek after lawlessness, we should never, EVER, EVER stop being amazed by His incredible love and undeserved kindness! 

When you fail in this Christian life and sin (which you WILL do!!!!!!!!!), take heart because God’s love never fails. When you stop and think how kind God is to love a miserable wretch like you, you demonstrate your utter dependence on His daily grace bestowed upon you and you reiterate your desperate need for Him. When you are content to rejoice in your Savior’s glory and perfection in spite of your brokenness, you demonstrate, “You must increase, and I must decrease!” You demonstrate, “whom have in heaven but You!” You demonstrate, “Your mercies are new every morning.”

You see, while the Christian community to this day, is yelling from the rooftops, “become better versions of yourself!!!! It’ll make God happy!!!!” I’m cringing!!!!! For in my drive to become better, I took my eyes off Him and set it upon myself!  So, for me, (this is MY story), getting better, doing better, thinking better, behaving better were all seeds to my idolatry. ‘Getting better’ made me believe I could actually become better – this depraved, sinful soul. (The Bible says, “There is NONE righteous, NO NOT ONE!!!!”) I was disillusioned to believe that my sinful depraved heart could achieve a particular holiness that God would count as HOLY! God cannot call ‘righteous’ anything that is not 100% righteous!!!! And there is NO WAY for even Christians to be 100% righteous! The only reason He can be pleased with us at all is because of one thing: Jesus, His son, did everything to compensate for my sinful condition, and bring me into a right standing before Almighty God. He did this for me at salvation, but He does this every single day that I remain unrighteous. For anything that isn’t 100% righteous, God calls unrighteous! 

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So, when I sit in church and listen to a preacher pound the pulpit and tell me I need to do better, think better, make life changes, have more self control, make better life choices, and the list goes on, so I can make Almighty God ‘happy,’ my spirit revolts. When I read Christian pop stars self-improvement memes about making choices to just overcome difficulties and get busy improving your Christian life, I just scream! Because for me, those powerful self improvement messages sent me head long into the idolatry of self-worship. As righteous as those exhortations might sound to the Christian community, they tempt me to start wearing the crown again.  They tempt me to believe that I can achieve everything my heart desires. They tempt me to believe I am the author of my life and the captain of my ship. I’m not! God is the captain of my ship, and I pray that I will never steal the glory from Him again nor seek validation from Him for my righteousness that doesn’t first come from a systemic love for my Savior.

You see, His grace perfects me day by day, but not by my digging down deep and making choices to perfect myself. God, Himself, is sanctifying me because I love Him more than breath itself and He’s restored to me a right mind with which to respond to His promptings. Praise God! His Spirit working in tandem with my spirit longs to show Him my love, but yet, I choose to remember to wholly embrace the fact I’m still a wicked sinner. You can’t magnify the Lord for His incredible grace and kindness without first being intimately aware and disgusted by your own depravity and shortcomings. But it is that very depravity that should leave you running headlong on a straight path to the protection of His mercy and kindness. And there, my friends, God will have you right where He wants you, needing HIM. Glorifying HIM! Magnifying HIM! Thanking HIM! Praising HIM! 

Friends, there is nothing more freeing than learning to become wholly dependent of Him for His righteousness! NOTHING! No more striving! No more beating yourself up! No more self-flagellation! No more lying to yourself as you attempt to show the God of the universe your pathetic attempts at righteousness. No more trying to fool the world around you into thinking you are more righteous than you are! Just stop! You are seeking self-adoration. It may be religious thinking, but make no doubt about it, it is still sinful! It is quite  possibly even idolatry.

So, here’s my story: My sin was rooted in my drive for perfection, but my redemption was born out of my brokenness! That blessed brokenness, which was so painful to me for so many years, was what took my eyes off of myself, and placed it wholly and completely on the only One worthy of my affection, my LORD and Savior, Jesus Christ! And friends, that is Who should get the glory. Yes, that puts a lot of the emphasis on God and very little on you. That’s exactly where the emphasis should have always been, all along. God says, He is our ‘enough!’

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So, I will never cease to glorify my Savior. I will not (I can not) become enchained to this idea of self-improvement or self-achievement. My only glory will always be God’s amazing love for me and my undeserving life. And my life has never been happier. I have never felt more freedom. I have never felt as loved as I do today. I have never felt freer from the shame and condemnation of failure. 

I wonder how many Christians would benefit like I did to living with depression. How many of God’s people would consider HIS works on our behalf more amazing than their works on His behalf. Not because of their successes, but via the path of their failures. How many of His children might sit there reading this article on their phones and laptops and begin to bawl like I am now because they finally discovered what they were searching for all along, the relentless, passionate love of God, even in the face of their failures and in SPITE of their brokenness?! How I want this gift for you!!! Embrace His grace and mercy for your imperfect life!

As a final note, if God has allowed you the devastating illness of depression, could I offer you a possible suggestion? Might He want you to make MORE of HIM than you make of yourSELF!?????? He may not heal you but if you learn the love and mercy and grace of your amazing Savior, it might make the journey more bearable. It did for me. God’s grace and peace to all of you.

 

 

 

 

 

Living IN The Struggle

This may be the first time that some of you will learn that I lived with severe, chronic depression for twelve years. Though the illness is now gone, at the time it was a desperate darkness that left me completely lost in every possible way. You see, before depression and for so many years, living my life to please God revolved around MY ability to self-control. I believed that anyone who had the raw grit and will-power to keep from sinning could please God with their holy living. So, I became addicted to spiritual performance because I mistakingly believed that God required that of me.

I spent years in this wilderness before God completely disassembled the crumbling foundations upon which I built my life. In their place, He rebuilt my life with Him as the Cornerstone, the Giver of all good things, and me as the undeserved recipient of His lavish mercies. Although a believer, it was quite uncommon to me for see God’s awesomeness rather than my own achievements. But in my depression, I finally came to realize that God wanted to use the incapacity of my illness (which I actually believe God Himself gave me) to teach me about Himself and HIS glory.

The following is probably the most important practical thing I learned (and the most practical advice I could share). If you live with chronic depression and are a child of God, I pray that God will use what I learned to help free you from the oppression of spiritual performance.

Don’t Bury It, Live In It!

One of the most helpful choices I made in my depression, wasn’t really a choice but more of a resignation. Depression leaves you feeling absolutely helpless: the lack of being in control of your faculties anymore; the loss of your normally healthy thoughts and behaviors which used to be your natural responses; the broken-heartedness of being a victim instead of being a victor; the never-ending confrontation of your sinfulness over and over; the heaviness of the grief for being not only a disappointment to yourself but to everyone else in your life (including God); the utter defeat of becoming the very epitome of what some have condemned you for; and the constant reminder that nothing you ever do or achieve in your depression will satisfy those high demands others feel you should satisfy, etc. (there are others….)

In depression, you are imprisoned by all these haunting, self-defeating accusations. If you try to ignore them, deny them, or put the bandaid of a forced smile or good behavior over the top of them, an overwhelming sense of contradiction and deception will eat at your soul. Deep within, you know the darkness that lurks in your heart and no amount of chanting positive mantras will make it go away.

If you choose to deny the reality of what you’re feeling, you will feel a sense of betrayal of all that is real and true. This will only serve to intensify your turmoil. The truth is you can only find inner peace when face the reality of your situation head on, wholeheartedly accepting it and owning it. While you may not like the feelings that churn around in your unsettled heart, authenticity is the framework by which you can find freedom to live in that horrible place in which God has called you to live.

Authenticity is the framework by which you can find freedom to live in that horrible place in which God has called you to live.

God Will Meet You There

Once you resign yourself to this uncomfortable place, I believe God will meet you there. Only when you say, “God, there is nothing good in me,” will you be able to hear God say, “but I still love you just as you are.” Only when you say, “I am not worth anything,” will you be able to hear Him say, “but you are worth something to Me.”

Only when you say, “I’m not worthy of forgiveness for something I constantly repeat,” will you hear Him say, “what you do is not (and will never be) greater than the complete forgiveness I gave you on the cross and that I continue to grant you every time you fall short of any of My commands.”

Only when you say, “I cannot justify all these things that I feel helpless to repeat and I know in the depths of my heart that they cannot be labeled righteous,” will you hear Him say, “silly child, you’ve always been incapable of meeting My holy standard of righteousness, even when you were well and thought you could please Me with your deeds.”

Only when you live in the feelings of disappointment when you fail to meet the Bible’s or anyone else’s standards or expectations, will you hear God assure you, “I already know your deepest thoughts. I know what you can control and what you can’t. Only I, and I alone, know what I have required of you in this life. You will never fail My expectations because I see your deeds far in advance of when you feel them and do them. Don’t fret. Whatever is not holy will one day get burned away, and the good things you have done for Me will remain. But there is nothing you can do today that I have not seen in eternal perspective. I am present today, yesterday and tomorrow.”

Once you resign yourself to this uncomfortable place, I believe God will meet you there.

He also reminds us, “One day, I will make you new. I will make you as white as snow when you finally shed this earthly body in heaven’s glory. I will make you to be perfect in the future, but I already see you on that day, clothed in the righteousness of the perfect spotless Lamb.”

Only when you embrace the guilt of your inability to be holy will you be surprised by the amazing grace of God delighting to have an intimate relationship with you. Only when you come face to face with the shame you carry for all the deeds you wish you didn’t continue to do, can you bask in the beauty of God’s mercy which takes away the shame and clothes you in His righteousness.

Only when you live in the destitute condition of your soul will you hear God remind you of your position as sons and daughters of the King, adopted into His family. Only then will you enjoy the richness of having God Almighty also be your dear Heavenly Father who only desires good for you.

Though God is both holy and just, He paid a great price to prove to you that both His holiness and His justice have already been satisfied. He longs for you to cling to that as your lifeline. His Son, the Lamb of God, paid the penalty for all your sins, those you meant to commit and those your sinful nature and depression symbiotically caused you to commit.

Only when you realize that had it not been for the salvation of your soul, you might indeed feel the wrath of God. But now, because of your salvation, God is no longer angry at you. His wrath was fully appeased when Jesus hung on the cross and you have now become a friend of God.

Only when you identify with the miserable bondage of being trapped in this mortal body of decay where our sinful nature is living on borrowed time, soon to be eradicated when God returns to take us home, can you sense the hope and joyful expectation that even this, however painful, is temporary. Like a woman in childbirth, the labor will one day be over.

Don’t Miss It

Do you see what you miss when you push through each episode and pretend to live victoriously when you know deep in your heart that you aren’t? You miss God’s sufficiency for your insufficiency! You exchange God’s perfect righteousness for your filthy, sinful nature’s imperfect attempts to be righteous. When you claim to still be righteous in your own goodness, you miss the treasure of God smothering out the power of your sin nature with His perfect righteousness.

You miss God’s extravagant one-directional love and compassion when you cling to your own worth and merit. You miss the incredible sense of gentleness and compassion that is so meaningful when you act as if you don’t need His mercy. You can only find comfort and peace in this place of darkness when you realize that you live and breathe only because of the incredible undeserved mercies of God.

The Church’s Self-Improvement Agenda

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard preachers tell people in the church to ‘push past’ all the misery. They say, “struggle to ‘climb over’ the hurdle. ‘Push past’ the blockade. ‘Go around it’ by denying its power in your life. Just ‘choose to’ live obediently and victoriously. ‘Forget’ the depression and ‘believe’ in this not-yet felt restoration. ‘Deny’ the sadness! Instead, embrace joy! ‘Fight’ for victory!”

They tell you that God is unhappy with you because of your negative feelings, so you should just transform them into good ones. They might even tell you your very depression is sin and that if you simply confess and repent of it, that your mood and outlook will change and you will finally feel freedom. They challenge you to use positive affirmation prayers to soak in the reality of complete healing in this life as if it were a token evidence you give God to prove your wholehearted faith and sincere desire to please Him.

They tell you to claim some verse in the Bible (usually completely out of context) and tell you to use it as God’s personal promise to you. They tell you that if you will simply meditate on good thoughts, it will transform your dreary thoughts into good ones.

They may challenge you to follow in the footsteps of a biblical character. What they conveniently forget to add is that between the identified problem and the resolution of that character’s struggles, there might have been days, months, or even years of struggle. Consider the 40 years Moses spent wandering where God taught him so much about Himself or Noah’s struggle over 100 years to continue to believe God in the face of adversity. You see, the Bible isn’t just a moral rule book; it is a complete story of God’s redeeming grace offered to mankind throughout history.

Consider Job in his extreme period of suffering. We see him struggle within the context of his pain and turmoil (and God specifically leaves him there in the struggle to wrestle it out), but then, in the Almighty’s perfect timing, God returns to address Job and reminds him who He is. Job later returns to bless the Lord and thanks Him for the struggle. But don’t miss this point: Job fully acknowledges that only by way of the suffering had he come to know God in a more personal, intimate way, saying,

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:5 NIV

Although we aren’t specifically told this in Scripture, have you ever wondered at the complete contrast of the desperateness in the beginnings of some of David’s Psalms and the glorious endings wherein David remembers God’s continued goodness and faithfulness? I believe a lot of his psalms were started IN the struggle and completed after he had lived for some time in that struggle, especially after he had come face to face with God, and after he had communed with Him. The struggle was where God revealed to him what He wanted David to learn. Only by living IN the tension of a lack of a positive resolution did God become his only hope and salvation.

When today’s preachers forget the importance of the valley, and in essence, tell their people to do whatever they can to escape the struggle and therein find God’s blessing and pleasure, I cringe and my heart is crushed. In my Spirit, I want to jump up and shout, “NOOOOO! Don’t do it!” Why? Because the healing comes from inside the struggle! It doesn’t come from minimizing the situation or hastening the struggle to come to a resolution. For without the struggle, you deprive yourself of the healing.

The healing comes from inside the struggle!

Sure, you might experience some temporary relief if you follow their advice but you’ll be right back there again, feeling lost and abandoned. Why? Because you need to experience that desperate place of brokenness in order for God to show you His heart in the matter. And you can’t put God in a box or give Him a deadline. It might take years of tension in a particular struggle to sense God’s heart about it and experience His peace in it.

The Beauty Is In The Ashes

The truth is that the beauty is truly found in the ashes of your life. You can’t come to own the mercies of God without realizing how much you need His mercy. You can’t come to cherish the love of God until you realize how much you don’t deserve His love. You can’t fully fathom the incredible grace of God until you fully embrace that there is nothing you can do to earn His grace.

You can’t stand confidently in the presence of Holy God until you realize that your guilt should deny you that right but instead God has removed your guilt thus removing any future punishment necessary to make you right with Him. You cannot be satisfied with His righteousness already granted to you until you realize that your own attempts to please God by your own efforts will always fall short and be completely unfulfilling. You will never be satisfied with God’s substitution on your behalf until you realize that all your own deeds, even those you attempt to do in holiness, are filthy rags.

The honest truth is that there is no life in itself that can fully please God. God says that if we fall short in one instance, we fall short of the entirety of His law and commands. By one man’s sin (Adam’s) we all became sinners guilty of all God’s laws, but by one Man’s righteousness (Jesus’), we all can become righteous. You can’t fully saturate your soul with the peace that you are now friends of God until you fully realize how much your sinful nature is at odds with God.

Lay Aside The Facade Of Victory And Live In The Glorious Ruin

You probably recognize Christian rhetoric that says, “I’m a child of the king. I choose not to allow Satan win. I beat my flesh into submission until it pleases God. By faith, I claim victory!” And then … you sin, or you suffer, or you experience sickness and defeat. You just kick yourself when the words you had attempted to utter in faith believing just ‘didn’t work’ like you’d hoped.

Friends, I bow my head with grief, if this is still you and you suffer depression. I implore you to set aside the facade of this victory rhetoric and resign yourself to live in the struggle of what your soul says is true about yourself and what you know to be true of God. Your soul is set free when you refuse to pretend, “I’m fine.” Rather than the defeat you are afraid of, you will find a strange surprising peace. You’ll find yourself longing for someone more than yourself. It is true that you may feel suffocated by the rawness and heaviness of this realization, but only then will you see that the hero of your story isn’t you after all.

Your story needs a Hero! His name is Jesus!

The hero in your story is Jesus. Your life is God’s story of redemption of the human race. He came to redeem you from the curse of the law. And I’m here to tell you, depression and sickness are part of that awful curse that we now experience because Adam initially broke God’s law.

Why settle for the cheapness of your endless striving? You aren’t enough to present yourself faultless before the Father. What your story really needs is the real deal, the perfect One, the propitiation, the settlement of a debt too great for you, and the justification by a Holy God for our pathetic, unholy lives.

Only Jesus is enough to do all that!

So, if you are struggling with what to do when you are brought low in depression, don’t be afraid to live in the struggle for a while. Don’t try to escape it too quickly. Don’t be afraid to wrestle it out. Be willing to wait in the silence. Be willing to live in the tension of the questions. God can handle it; He is waiting to interact with you. Don’t move until God releases you to do so.

Realize that there is One greater than you in there with you, constantly washing you clean. Let that give you comfort. He has so much beauty (outside of yourself) that He longs for you to experience and embrace. He is the ‘Great I Am,’ the Savior of your soul. While you are in darkness with nothing good to offer Him, cling to all that Christ has already done to make you right with Him, right here, right now.

Heidi Austel, Author

Here is a song to listen to for reflection. “I need a Hero” by Chris Rice.

Jehovah Shalom, The Lord is My Peace

You know, until the Lord takes you through deep waters, I think most of us remain in that place where Paul described the early believers in I Cor 13, “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.” Until you have had your faith tested and you have been tried by fire, you tend to lean on your own sufficiency.

But in those great periods of suffering come your deepest growth, depth of understanding and surrender are developed and refined, if indeed you learn to choose to surrender to Him. It is my confession that I am still a baby in so many more aspects of my Christian life than I’d care to admit. When life has been easy, I have been a rock. I knew the biblical answers. I had confidence in my God and Lord, so I believed. But when suffering came, I was shaken. I found my faith was only strong when things were going well. But I became distraught when things weren’t going well for me or weren’t under my control. I hope I’m not the only one who can admit to this. God has NOT been my peace, my ability to control the various aspects of my life was my peace.

This year, I believe God has been asking me to make Him my peace. My “Jehovah Shalom.” Things have been so out of control this year. In fact, even for the 12 years prior, when I “knew” clinical depression. Talk about a lack of peace which comes from inside the raging storm of my mind!!!! Then He took that weight from me (it appears) but replaced it with great physical suffering. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.

During my years with depression, I came to see it as God asking me to surrender control of my mind and even my ability to act and think in a holy way (as if any of us are capable of being sinless creatures no matter how hard we try on our own). I was hopelessly under the control of something that I couldn’t beat into submission; I could not squash it down with a power of my will. It became an exercise of humility and surrender under the mighty hand of God, and a new perspective of God’s reminder to me that His ways are not our ways and our thoughts are not His thoughts. He was in this, yes, even in this!

I think I’ve grown in this area of allowing God to be my Jehovah Shalom this year. I’m probably more like a pre-schooler now. I pray I am underestimating it but I know my human heart, my self-reliant, self-sufficient human heart.

This entry is getting long so I’ll begin to bring it to a close. On this journey we’re on, this journey we make in the grace of our Savior, can you relate to my confession? Is your “peace” in how good you feel your life is going right now? Or is it in Jehovah Shalom, the God of Peace?

Just this past year, I was introduced to a new Christian musician who has ministered to my spirit so much. Many of Shannon Wexelberg’s songs speak of worship and surrender and touch me deeply. Meditating on the Word of God for me often comes attached to music; me and King David. Our spirits commune with the Lord through His gift of music. Music is the vehicle that opens up our hardened hearts, brings us to a place where we willingly let down our guard and then delivers us with a contrite spirit right into the presence of God, where He can start whittling away at our character and our self-sufficiency and self-righteousness.


This morning, I was listening to Shannon Wexelberg’s album, “I Have a Song” when one of her songs began (“Jehovah Shalom”) and I found myself in honest reflection, “Is God my Jehovah Shalom?” I know I want Him to be! I know it takes a confidence that flows out of the very heart of God Himself, from His Spirit, but also a surrender of my own weak spirit to His Holy Spirit’s control. Scripture tells us that His Spirit helps us in our weaknesses and He also promises that if we ask anything according to His will, He will do it. Sometimes we don’t know for sure what the will of God is (so we can have the confidence to pray expectantly to receive what we ask for), but I do know this: it IS the will of God that I make my God my Jehovah Shalom and I’m longing to make Him my Jehovah Shalom. My prayer is from the words of this song, “Jehovah Shalom.”

Jehovah Shalom (by Shannon Wexelberg) (watch a lyric video on YouTube)

“Jehovah Shalom, Jehovah Shalom, You are my peace. You are my peace! In the darkness, Your presence wraps around me like a blanket of rest that covers me. When my heart is overwhelmed, You’re my comfort and my help. You are with me…. When the pain of my yesterday is before me, and the fear of the future floods my soul, You are singing over me deliverance and healing. You’ll never let me go. Jehovah Shalom, Jehovah Shalom, You are my peace. You are my peace. Your spirit soothes me, fills and renews me. I am completely in need of You! Jehovah Shalom, Jehovah Shalom, You are my peace. Yes, You are my peace. Jehovah Shalom, Jehovah Shalom, oh You are, You are my peace!”

I say, Selah! And I echo the psalmist’s prayer, “Lord, let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”  Psalm 19:14

 Judges 6:24 “And Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and named it Yahweh-Shalom (which means “The Lord is Peace”).”

You can find Shannon Wexelberg’s music on both Amazon and iTunes. This song is on her “I Have a Song” cd (Amazon link or ITunes link). Another of my favorites is her “Take Heart” cd (Amazon link or iTunes link).