Pleasing God: A Paradigm Shift (Part 5)

This is part 5 of a six-part series, I encourage you to scroll back to here and start at the beginning.

A75238F2-6E44-40EC-B4B6-45928DEA73E9

Pleasing God In Depression???

I’m sure that those of you who know that I suffered with clinical depression for 12 years knew that I would eventually get around to telling you how this whole paradigm shift came to be. God used it to help me live in the desperation of my depression. God used this precious shift to help me embrace His grace and mercy toward me.

I was asked to share my story about surviving depression to a local MOPS group over a year ago but as I started to learn more and more about the struggles of the women in the group, I realized that depression wasn’t the only sense of shame, dysfunction, imperfection and failure that women all over the world are struggling with! But one of the main reasons I was sought out was because I not only survived 12 years of depression but I actually emerged from it more free and more in love with Jesus than when I went into it. 

I have a story to tell, a life-changing beautiful story about Jesus and not about me. You see, the illustrations that I have given in this series were about me. It was my inner struggle I battled for years. I spent many years banging my head into the wall trying to self-achieve. While I thought I could make the “do it myself” (orange side) work before depression, I was actually trapped in an endless loop of defeat! I’d always keep coming back to “imperfect, failure, defeated, loser, unrighteous” and so I’d head right back off to the right again chasing perfection with sheer will power and determination. 

But God, in His kindness, took away my ability to control anything in my life. I could not self-improve. I could not self-achieve. I was not stronger than the illness. I could not will myself to get better. I could not change the undeniable fact that depression left me utterly depraved.

In my depression: 

  • I would spend days feeling lifeless and dead. 
  • I would sob uncontrollably.
  • I would frequently get really angry for no reason.
  • I couldn’t recognize anything as good in my life.
  • Everything that used to mean something to me meant nothing to me.
  • I couldn’t feel the love of family or friends. I couldn’t even feel God.
  • I was miserable.

But worse than all of these was that all my hopes of trying to convince God that I really was a good person came crashing down. Everything I did PROVED I was NOT a good person. I felt I’d never be able to please God again, and that devastated me! When depression came in and stole away the protective barrier that had masked all my imperfections from the world I was left naked and bare for all to see how imperfect I really was. I despaired for my very life!

6F49C9D9-9FE3-4CE6-B532-53ADAD319A6C

(Find this chart in part 4 of this series- you’ll be lost if you don’t start from the beginning.)

To be honest, nobody showed me a chart like this when I was younger and nobody ever taught me how to accept grace for myself. So, as much as I would like to say, I followed the method on the blue side of the chart during my depression, (leaning into my depression, leaning into my sorrow, and leaning into God) I didn’t. I was clearly in Orange camp territory (“I could do it myself”) and stuck in a cycle of defeat! I was a born and bred performer, clearly trying to please God with my good behavior. It wasn’t until the last few years that I discovered the beauty of the blue side of the chart. That’s when I learned about leaning into my imperfection, into my weakness and into my brokenness.

In my depression, I spent the first five years trying to keep clutching the orange side (my own self-control). But finally, I had to come to the end of myself. I said, “I give up. I can’t keep doing this anymore.” Depression is bad enough on its own without the additional self-hatred and self-loathing of my continual defeat for all my well-intentioned attempts. I was left with no other option but to resign myself to my situation. In that resignation, I believed. “I guess I’ll never please God.” 

I thought, “so, this is my new normal, huh? I can either keep beating myself up or I can just accept it.” I wish I could say this was true surrender to God and His purposes but it wasn’t. It was purely self-preservation. I just could NOT live with that burden of guilt and shame and defeat anymore. 

I was what I was. I didn’t like it. I hated my depression. I’m sure no one else liked it, either. But I couldn’t change it. I resigned myself to being the ultimate failure I was destined to become. But as I began to feel more and more pathetic, more and more worthless, more and more of a failure, His Holy Spirit went to work on my heart. That’s when He introduced me to the blue side which showed me His grace bestowed on me in spite of the ugliness of my heart. 

This chart that I have shared in the last blog with you didn’t come to me easily! (go back one step to find the chart I’m talking about) It was brutal. Giving up my ideals of appearing and behaving good any time I wanted to, perfecting my life and proving my righteousness to God literally had to be ripped from my clenched closed fists. It took years… but I finally let go of trying to change my situation. In fact, in time, I came to believe that God wanted me to be content with my imperfect self because I came to believe that instead of becoming ‘better,’ He wanted me to lean into Him for undeserved kindness. 

You see, before depression, I had forgotten that the God of the universe already knew I was imperfect. But He had already accepted me. He already deeply loved me. But I had foolishly believed I could perfect myself so I kept pushing away the free gifts of grace because I had wanted instead to prove that I could do it myself. 

I finally got to the point where I gave up what I most wanted in life and simply accepted where and what I was. In this specific way, I got to be okay with ME just like I was: imperfect and messed up. I refused to let my behavior (my depression) define my worth. Although I didn’t like the depression, I just decided I would show myself kindness. If I had to live my life always worrying about how others felt about me or how I should be feeling in any scenario, I would’ve committed suicide. 

D075A528-5B08-404A-B8FE-B669E439586E

But, you might ask, “How can you just accept all that ugliness in yourself?

“How can you just accept that defeat? That despair? That darkness?”  All I know is that when I embraced that most awful desperate place, that’s when the mercy and grace of God came flooding into my heart.  I thought it was the beginning of the end and all was lost, but it was just the beginning of a whole new relationship with my Savior. 

At first, He offered me just little tidbits of grace to chew on. He’d say, “Just chew on this for a while, this little crumb of truth. Find it in my Word. Find a song that sings this truth.” It was bitter at first because it wasn’t MY OWN righteousness, but in time, I acquired a taste for HIS grace He was offering me.  But week after week, month after month, and year after year, He showed me more and more of His grace, and took me deeper and deeper into the truths of it.

Especially, on the brief days when the darkness temporarily subsided, I dug down deep and studied the gospel of Jesus’ finished work for me and determined, “He no longer condemns me! Wrong or right, whatever depression is, He no longer condemns me! Praise the Lord!” So, it got to be that the only way I could wake up each morning was to think, “God doesn’t condemn me. I won’t condemn me either!”

In time, I determined that if God, the Just, was satisfied to look on Jesus and pardon me, that I was safe to give myself as much grace as God did. God showed me grace and it didn’t make Him unholy. I felt this gave me permission to preach grace to myself, too, and believe that His same grace wouldn’t condemn me either.  

I determined to extend to myself the very same grace that the gospel extended to me, which was this: My sin and my imperfection no longer made me unacceptable to God!!!!! I was reminded that grace is a kindness NOT based on merit but based on someone else’s kindness.

The more I studied His incredible grace towards me, the more I gave up all the ideals that I had previously wished for my life and spent my life trying to achieve — and just embraced the life God had given me right then and there.

  • Without condemnation! For God no longer condemned me.
  • Without self-hate! For God loved me unconditionally!
  • Without guilt! For Jesus had erased my guilt!
  • God knew that I was imperfect (always had been) yet He still genuinely loved me.
  • God knew I still made mistakes, but there were none of them that weren’t fully forgiven.
  • Because I was forgiven, every punishment due to me was already paid by Jesus. 
  • Because I was reconciled to God, I would ALWAYS be acceptable in His sight!
  • Because His wrath was appeased, I no longer angered the God of the universe.
  • In fact, His word said that I now have peace with God and was a friend of God!
  • Because I was always and already acceptable, I no longer had to improve my behavior to be MORE acceptable or MORE pleasing to God.
  • Jesus had already made me fully acceptable to God.

54827304-82F6-43BB-B4F9-AD8072CE5003

I could not make myself MORE righteous to God because my nature kept me from that standard of perfect righteousness, just like I could not become less depressed and more characteristically “BETTER” behaved because the nature of depression kept me from attaining that standard. In both spiritual and physical realms, I realized my helplessness to simply choose to change my nature! I was trapped in a scenario I didn’t like but which was true nevertheless.

When I challenge fellow depression sufferers that the most loving and kind thing they can do for themselves is to simply accept it, most initially reject my counsel.  You see, people feel like if they reject it, it gives them MORE control over it. They tell me, “but I don’t like it! I want to change it!” What they don’t understand is that depression cannot be beat! The illness is so pervasive that control is nearly impossible. What they are really saying is, “I’d rather keep beating my head against this wall.” The truth is that the only true freedom one can find in the miserable life of depression, as unthinkable as it sounds, is to lean into it. Own it; it’s an illness that God has allowed in your life. I didn’t like it! I hated it! But that didn’t mean fighting for the impossible of control was more admirable. It was just dumb. 

Is it right or good to be okay with yourself?

Embracing the reality of my condition (leaning into my depression) doesn’t mean that everything I did in depression was right or good. Being okay with myself didn’t mean I felt justified for anything I was doing; it didn’t make anything that was wrong right! And grace does NOT justify anything you are doing; it is a kindness shown to you IN SPITE of what you are doing! Accepting the grace of God doesn’t mean you think He justifies your sin; it means He justifies you in spite of your sin. 

You see, some of us learned when we were little that we could only be loved unconditionally when we were good, behaved good, did good things or otherwise had earned the privileges from being good. So this goes against everything that we had learned. But GOD’S GRACE loves us unconditionally when there is STILL nothing good in us! Being okay with myself was my way of showing myself kindness I didn’t have to earn because I was imitating God’s grace towards me. It didn’t make the endless sadness happy. It didn’t take away the depression. But it gave me courage and hope to survive it. It gave me peace in the midst of the storm. “God is ok with me. God is ok with me. God is ok with me,” I whispered to myself.

It changed EVERYTHING for me! I finally experienced freedom in my depression because through the darkest hours, I believed God hadn’t let go of me. He hadn’t turned His back on me. He hadn’t abandoned me! He still loved me. He was still pursuing me. He had the power to hold on to me when I was delirious in my dark disease. And I believe now that my faith that God could love and accept me in spite of the darkness of my heart, in fact, pleased Him. I believe that He rejoiced when He got to remind me of His grace when my heart tried to object because depression didn’t look godly. It didn’t look spiritual. It reeked of the depravity of the human condition! But He pleased HIMSELF, He glorified HIMSELF, when He showed me grace because I gave up my right to be perfect and let Him be perfect. 

How do I know that is the heart of the Lord? Remember Ezekiel 20:44? 

“But you will know that I am the Lord, when I have honored MY name by treating you mercifully in spite of your wickedness”

Here’s an important concept to grasp: God’s grace wasn’t as much of a big deal to me before my depression because I was doing pretty ok without Him. I didn’t need His pity! I considered His mercy and grace pity for the weak and the broken. So, I denied the grace and mercy of God from touching me, the very attributes He Himself was longing to bestow, because I felt no desperation of need for it!

But after my depression, I can’t fathom a life without relying on His grace and mercy. You see, they became MUCH to me! They were the only way I could get up in the morning and take a breath. They were the only way I could face life and a future.

God became the only Person whose opinion mattered to me. For a person like me, who felt like she had never been and would never be “ENOUGH,” that’s a big deal. I had spent my whole life trying to live up to somebody or other’s expectations of me, not the least of them being my own, but pretty much, God’s acceptance of me became paramount. More important than anything else I wanted Him to be pleased with me!

What do we as women want more than anything? We want to be fully accepted, yes, even our true self that we don’t like to uncover. We want to be loved unconditionally, yes, even the unlovable self that we try to hide. We want to experience intimacy with someone. We want to know that we will never be alone. We want to know that there isn’t anything we can do that will make us lose the affection we so desperately long for. And while I didn’t have those things from everyone in my life, I had those things from the only One who mattered to me. “God the Just” justified me forever and always. He is the only One who could say, “there isn’t anything you could do to make me think less of you and there isn’t anything that YOU could do to make me love or accept you more.” My God was the One who knew every corner of my imperfect self and STILL chose to see the righteousness of His son in me!

40F5AC04-4CE0-4169-A124-2CBBCBE16B33

How could I be okay with me?

Some of you have a hard time even accepting God’s grace because you have been trained that it can only be received via your merit. Because, you see, grace isn’t fair. It doesn’t satisfy justice. It’s in spite of it. But once you can accept the grace of God in spite of your imperfection, then you too can abandon the chains that say, “I’m not okay.” If Christ can accept you as okay, then you can accept yourself as okay. You see, we only want to allow ourselves to be ok IF we deserve it. So, when God offers us grace, we often push it aside because we don’t think we deserve it. 

I learned that I could be okay with me because I finally understood that He would forever be okay with me. Every objection I could come up with had been satisfied. Every objection you could come up with has been satisfied. Every contingency is covered. It was like God stood on his throne and as fast as I could spit out my “But what about…..?” He’d say, “Covered! Paid for! Forgiven! Pardoned! 

If we turn everything on its head and start with God’s view of us:

The ultimate justice and righteous one, and if HE treats me with kindness (extends me grace) even when I don’t deserve it, then it gives me permission to do as God does and accept grace in my own life. And while it seems counterintuitive, the truth of the matter is that grace received breeds mercy in me, which gives me permission to treat others kindly even when they don’t deserve it either.

Here is the thing I want you to consider: 

While some may think it is more weak to accept imperfection (or even depression), I’m here to tell you that it takes more resolve and more confidence and a firm belief in the biblical gospel of grace to rest in God’s completed work of Jesus Christ to make you complete in Him (okay with Him), than it takes for you to work your fanny off trying to achieve some other type of perfection on your own merit. 

(To be continued) 

Pleasing God: A Paradigm Shift (Part 4)

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

1E8942CC-95AD-4B5A-89D6-B14DABB66096

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.” 

C0D368FC-F551-48E1-96A2-647DD930FC9B

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.”

208B4A8B-8CB6-4407-828C-03D01C437E60

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?

AB1C5858-DED4-4258-AC56-03C026AC26CB

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?

2294A984-4D34-49B7-AC20-BEA29D209397

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

C0F657DF-42CE-408A-8227-E0C1A2D44F3E

Do you know what a paradigm shift is? It is a change in the way you see something or the method you have become accustomed to doing something. People don’t like paradigm shifts because they cause us to release our death grip on something we’ve always believed was true and consider an alternative viewpoint. What I will ask you to do is to at least consider a paradigm shift in how we’ve all learned to think we can MAKE our lives please God.

Let’s try this illustration:

Imagine that I am a person who loves God and wants to please Him (I am by the way). In my mind, there is only one way to please God. The way I’ve always learned was the only way. Performance! (Good behavior, good thoughts, outward righteousness). The only way to please God is to do a righteous deed. So, determined to please God, I head through that door but this time it is locked. Panicked, I keep throwing myself against it. “The only way to pleasing God is through this door,” I think.

You see, we have been taught that in order to please God, we MUST perform THIS way. Ironically, the very way that we are told to please God, our good behavior, isn’t what will please God. God is looking at our hearts. So often, in our very efforts to be righteous and please God, we actually sin, without even realizing it, because we are sinful beings. Scripture says that even our righteousness is like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6 (NIV84): All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.)

Let me ask you some probing questions:

How often in our desire to please God is it more about how much I am doing for Him rather than how much more He’s done for me?

How good do I feel about MY efforts to please Him?

How often do we expect that He will be impressed with MY love and sacrifice for Him?

Maybe He’ll look down and clap his hands at how much I’ve improved myself today?

For sure, we believe, He’ll look at our devotion and surely that will impress Him.

Of course, I’ll wonder if He thinks better of me today than yesterday when I didn’t do so great?

In the show, Friends, Phoebe is challenged to do a selfless good deed. And she becomes quite frustrated as she realizes that every good deed she attempts has a measure of self-gratification to it (that is, made HER feel good), thus she couldn’t claim it to be truly selfless. What she was discovering is that it is quite difficult to do a good deed without that air of self-righteousness to sneak in—that temptation to pat ourselves on the back. Because even our righteousness are like filthy rags in comparison to God’s righteousness.

So, should we stop trying to please God? No! 2 Cor 5 says, “whether we are here in this body or away from the body, our goal is to please Him.” So, yes, we should all want and try to do the “right thing” but ONLY because we love Him NOT because it has any righteous value to it. Neither does it increase our acceptance before God. And specifically, it is simply the heart of pride that insists I can do better and be righteous with my strength, self-will and self-control.

But, I do want to challenge you to consider whether… what God really intended for us was to please Him differently. As an example, the Pharisees in the Bible took a good concept, trying to figure God out and trying to figure out how to please Him, then created a set of rules by which they could feel good that they were indeed pleasing to God. The irony was that by following those very strict set of rules, Jesus expressed how much their supposed righteousness disgusted him. Ultimately, what’s more important? Whether our actions have the appearance of pleasing God or whether our heart pleases God?

As a way of introduction, let’s all go back and remember our childhood. All of the dreams and aspirations that were planted in our hearts as children (to be the best person, wife, mother, friend, citizen, whatever), were taught alongside learning to be a “good girl,” a good Christian, an acceptable person, and a person whom society would admire. Unfortunately, we were taught that becoming the best we could be was achieved through good behavior. So, as a child, when you followed rules, you were called a “good girl.” If you followed your parent’s rules, you were a “good girl.” It made your parents happy. If you followed your teacher’s rules, you were a “good girl.” It made your teachers happy.

And if you followed God’s rules, doing all the right things, then you were a “good girl” (that is, a good Christian). Because people in our lives were happier with us when we were a “good girl” (parents, teachers, friends), we learned that when we behaved well, it made people happy. So, we came to believe that it must make God happy with us, too, if and when we followed His rule book and when we were successful at it. To be clear, we came to believe that what we DID dictated how happy God was with us.

Where did all these unrealistic expectations of making God happy and everyone else in our lives come from?

94BA7BB0-A600-46ED-9775-C697F6784337

In essence, we learned we could become good at anything we put our minds to:

• if we studied hard, we could be successful at whatever we attempted if we tried hard enough,

• we could win at anything we tried hard enough to achieve when we tried harder than anyone else,

• we could have the cleanest home with just a little more organization,

• we could have a successful, happy marriage by making the right choice and learned compromise and conflict resolution skills,

• we could raise the best kids by just teaching them the right principles,

• we could get along with anyone as long as we were nice,

• we could be healthy as long as we took care of our bodies,

• and we could be financially secure simply by being wise with our money.

We pretty much spent the first 18-21 years of our lives figuring out how to live the life of our dreams and building the confidence, fortitude and self-control to do it, and then…. Well, raise your hands if your life didn’t end up as easy as you hoped or dreamed. Real life didn’t turn out how we’d been led to believe it could have turned out if we simply “tried harder or better” than all the rest.

In all these things, being “good at what we DID” was what defined us as being a “good girl,” that is, who we were. What we DID gave us a feeling of value and self-worth because it made people happy when we behaved correctly. And we were happy when they were happy with us. (As a child, we were dependent on someone else’s view of us). If we were a “good girl,” we were rewarded with praise. If we were a “bad girl,” we were punished with feeling ashamed for what we’d done. Unfortunately, when we grew up and didn’t achieve all our wonderful ideals, we somehow came to believe it was because we must have been a “bad girl,” a disappointment, a failure, because only bad things are supposed to happen to bad people. We were easily ashamed of ourselves. We felt bad. We felt others must be disappointed in us.

So, we came to believe that to be acceptable to God and to others in our lives, we’d have to always be a “good girl” and stay a “good girl,” we’d have to be successful in all of our endeavors, our relationships would always have to be successful and happy, our homes would have to be immaculate and always in order, we would always have enough money to live comfortably, we would always have healthy, fit bodies, and we’d have learned, in time, to overcome our sinful natures and stop doing bad things, by digging in our heels, applying good self control and determination. In fact, without realizing it, we probably came to believe that all those “good girl” things were actually possible to attain if we just tried hard enough! Unfortunately, we were wrong!!!!!

Self-Achievement and Self-Fulfillment is a Learned Behavior

7E477DF7-E107-4225-BFC5-4BBDD69D5F40

Is it possible that all those self-achievement skills we were taught, that good behavior makes a good person, actually inadvertently anchored our childhood hopes and dreams and aspirations in our OWN self-achievement and self-fulfillment. Did our training not reinforce to us that WE are truly capable to be in control of our own destiny? While that might be good for society as a general rule (that is, all actions have consequences), I think it misleads us in terms of what pleases God.

You see, we were taught how to be a “good girl” in the same teaching moments as we were learning other life skills. Our parents were trying to show us patterns for successful living. But attached to those beneficial life skills lessons, we were also establishing our value and our identity. So, as moms, we continue to unknowingly teach our children to be good alongside self-achievement by telling them, “You can do anything you put your mind to.” And… good kids try to emulate what they are told. But they are now attaching value to their behavior.

 

However, as a general rule, no one told us that weakness and brokenness were ok. Weakness was NOT ok! Brokenness was NOT ok! Winning was better! Succeeding was better! Being victorious was better! Achieving was better! Winners and overcomers and those that avoided negative situations were praised. Losers, incompetence, difficulty and weakness were shamed. Unfortunately, we were also taught that given enough will power, we could perfect our life, our circumstances, our relationships, our health, our homes, our finances, and we could indeed become more and more righteous.

For those of us who grew up in Christian homes, we learned this didn’t only make our parents happy, but when our parents were happy, then we were taught it made God happy. So, we learned that GOOD BEHAVIOR will make God happy. In fact, we were taught that He even EXPECTS us to become more and more righteous (let’s just say, “we believe He wants us to become more perfect”).

Even today, impressionable children are still being told to do everything they can so that they can be be “just like Jesus!” But those poor kids will never be JUST LIKE JESUS! There is no one like Him. He is perfect.

Here’s the Fallacy (the first lie we came to believe)

Is it even possible to become “more righteous?” If you aren’t 100% righteous, then aren’t you unrighteous? Given that standard, is it even possible to become “more righteous?” But don’t we keep trying to become “more righteous?” Don’t we keep hammering our kids with “be more righteous?” Don’t we keep trying to become MORE perfect? Better this? Better that? More, more, more? In fact, have we even considered that God might not even want us to achieve (fill in the blank with whatever your greatest dream or accomplishment is)? Is it even His will that we achieve this “good thing” or that high ideal? Finally, what does God want from us then in terms of doing right, then? I’m going to address that next.

B8C92958-8220-4E8A-AF99-544333655132

Here’s the second LIE that we have come to believe.

This is where it all got distorted. The lie is that our WORTH (our VALUE) comes from behaving or achieving, whether achieving something that someone else wants from me or something I’m determined in my own heart to achieve or what I believe God wants me to achieve. But nothing we do or achieve in our behavior can ever determine our value. Our value is determined by the value God placed on us when He made us in His image (as far back as in our mother’s womb) and on the value Christ won for us on the cross.

But, to be clear, we will NEVER be able to give Him what can ultimately make Him happy or satisfied with OUR behavior. Perfect righteousness is the only thing that can make a holy God happy OR He’d be diminishing His own holiness, His perfectness. That’s why our awesome God came up with a plan, THE CROSS! Oh the glorious rescue from a performance driven life to embrace the significance of the cross! (To be continued)