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 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)

How My Religion Failed Me

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My religion said, “After I was saved, God would turn me into a “good girl.” He would help me if I tried hard enough to keep getting better. And so if I tried, and performed better and better each day, week, year, God would be pleased with me.” And as I grew up in my faith and began to check off the things my religion said I had to do, (things like reading my Bible, praying, going to church, serving him and all the others), I believed that the Holy Spirit working in me promised to make ME more righteous, emphasis on ME. 

When I experienced depression, there was no evidence of any righteousness left in me. So, I had some options as to what was happening to me. 1) Maybe I wasn’t saved; I refused to believe that. 2) I just wasn’t trying hard enough and maybe I needed to do more self-flagellation. 3) Maybe, I needed to feel more remorse and sorrow and force myself to repent more. 4) Maybe, I just wasn’t worthy of the Holy Spirit’s or God the Father’s time to make me better. 5) Or maybe—just maybe—the whole foundation of my spiritual journey was built upon MY righteousness, attempting to make God happier with me, rather than allowing God‘s righteousness through Jesus on my behalf to satisfy all His requirements for righteousness: perfectly sinless behavior. 

You see, when you pull that foundation stone of my religious self-betterment out from the bottom of the pile, the whole tower comes tumbling down. Why? Because the foundation of my spiritual journey was that God’s favor depended on MY righteousness, the things I did, and the things I thought.

Jenga tower collapses

In my understanding, one needed to become more righteous as that was the only way God would be pleased. More importantly, in order to please God, righteous works were the absolute essentials in the whole ideological argument. Earning the pleasure of God always, always, always came from better behavior.

To my despair, I found my religion didn’t leave me any way in my depression to please God. And frankly, I could not believe that God—a good, loving God—would leave me in a place where I could not earn His pleasure.  No, don’t misunderstand me, as I’m not talking about earning my salvation. I’m not even talking about being God’s special prized possession. At this point, I just wanted to know that God wasn’t unhappy with me. 

beauty girl cry

Yes, I felt like a worthless, pathetic Christian, but I was more afraid that God’s un-favor or wrath might rest on me? In my depression, I felt with every worthless thought,  every unhealthy behavior, and every angry outburst, the rest of my world tired of me. I frustrated them. I wasn’t the nicest person or the kindest person that they could have known before depression. I was an entirely different identity whom I believed didn’t deserve compassion nor mercy nor grace because I found myself so revolting, yes, even to me. 

It’s not a huge leap to go from how you believe others see you, and in fact tell you how tired they are of having you act this way, or even worse see you for what they can only believe is simply a bad behavior issue, to leap to the premise that God surely must feel the same way. I didn’t feel that I could please my husband when I was depressed, I didn’t feel like I could please my children, my church, or my friends. In fact, in self-preservation and self defense, my depression kept me from caring what everybody else thought of me. It was the only way to keep myself from drowning in self-hatred and keep my head above water. 

So, when I could, I began to re-evaluate everything that I had learned about God, and everything that I had believed about Him, through Sunday school teachers, through parents, through pastors, through friends, through Christian school teachers—I had a lot of teachers who all tried to help me learn how to live to please God. Everything  I had come to believe hinged on one’s self improvement. It dealt with works and goodness. In my depression, I was unable to do any of these good things because frankly depression steals away the will to control your life in any way.

And yet, though I despaired, part of me had the state of mind to think, “this can’t be. If this goodness was required to please God and so many illnesses allowed the brain to become ill and thus denied them goodness, I couldn’t believe that my God would be so unkind and unfair as to leave the mentally ill condemned with no hope of pleasing Him. I determined that somehow in my childhood, that I had inadvertently inserted some kind of faulty building block that had broken my religion: my Christianity. Evidently, I hadn’t learned about God in a healthy way. I had distorted God.

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In my Christianity, my pleasure to God always seemed to hinge on behavior. The more I felt like I was becoming “just like Jesus,” the more I felt God was up in heaven patting me on my head, and saying, “good Heidi- good Heidi.” To my despair, I hadn’t felt that “good Heidi” pat since my depression began. 

It was in that despair that I began to study the gospel, the good news, that my righteousness (and the whole world’s, in fact) was so wretchedly unrighteous, that Jesus came to die to pay the punishment for my unrighteousness and credited to me His own righteousness, in spite of anything I did after salvation. I studied living by “grace alone” instead of just being “saved by grace.” Instead of living as a believer with “grace a lot,” I began to believe God was calling me to live by “grace alone.” 

C2B7B30F-D0BF-4CF7-9D57-FC3DA5BEFE98So, after much thought and discussion with my husband, I ripped out that old faulty foundational stone which required my righteousness (my works, my obedience, and my good behavior) to please God. As long as it remained the primary requirement to please God, I was condemned and without hope.  

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Embracing grace, I admitted and accepted that I would never be righteous (“there is none righteous,  no not one.”) Embracing grace, I began to replace that unfortunate delusion with the fact the reason God sent His son was to make me right with God, because the world had been trying for years to become right with God by obeying the Law which couldn’t make anyone righteous. It only proved that nobody could obey the Law in full. Embracing grace, I realized that God sending his son to die for me, a pathetic worthless sinner, was the only way I could be right with God. Embracing grace, I was determined that that old self-righteous, pharisaical way of trying to become righteous through my works needed to be torn down and completely abolished. When I put the right foundational stone in place as the cornerstone of my life in Christ, Jesus’ righteousness,  it’s like my eyes were opened. 

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Every time I looked at my own behavior and the things I said and thought in my depression, and allowed them to condemn me and make me feel like God wasn’t happy with me, I corrected it with the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news that God’s pleasure no longer would be based on my behavior. When I was ugly, I remembered that God had credited me with the righteousness of His son, forever satisfying that condemnation that He might’ve felt for me before He saved me. I realized that when His Word said the work of Jesus on the cross removed His wrath toward me and removed my sins as far as the east is from the west, He was trying to tell me that Christianity should never be about MY works, but HIS. 

This whole paradigm change certainly didn’t make my depression go away and it didn’t necessarily make me feel emotionally better. But I chose to let it feed my mind (Romans 12:1-2) with the truth of the Gospel, renewing my mind with the reality of the mercy that God provided for us when our depravity caused us to live in a sinful condition, and with the reality of His grace which continues to offer us favor that we don’t deserve, because of His work 2000 years ago on the cross bestows on us these titles: friends of God, beloved, and children of God. 

You see, as a Christian, the very greatest insult, shame, accusation, and condemnation that you can give to somebody who’s depressed and experiencing self-hate, because of their depraved condition, is to tell them that the God that came to the rescue their souls, they could no longer please, love or serve. You are in effect telling them they are disqualified even though they had up until this point been trying to love and serve Him with all their strength.

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To tell them that God can’t see past their sick mental health state, that He is forever unhappy with them, and that God has no choice but to turn His back on them, is like a knife in their hearts. You see, for a believer especially, but even for one who is still lost, that is the greatest fear that they can have confirmed by you: That their “good and loving father” and possibly the only Friend that they feel they might have left in the world, is  not able to look past their depression and love and accept them. 

Knowing that this isn’t true still doesn’t cause the depression to go away, but it gives you something that might be worth living for. It offers you hope that though everybody else might turn their backs on you, He never will. When everybody else can’t look past what you say or what you do, and when the world tells you you’re unacceptable, God tells you, “you are accepted because I have accepted the sacrifice of my own Son.”

I don’t remember when I came to the conclusion that my distorted theology wasn’t working in my depression, and frankly, I don’t know how that faulty theology of works justification is supposed to work for anybody. All I know is somewhere in my depression I found peace and I found hope because I found that for everything that I was doing wrong over and over and over and over again (though God never said my deeds were righteous), He still saw me as righteous because He saw the sacrifice of His son which pardoned me forever.

I realize that it’s hard to understand this if life is going great for you; if you behave well as a Christian because you have such wonderful self-control and will power, oh, the peace you feel in your soul. To some of you, you probably believe that I even stopped trying to live like a Christian—that I stopped trying to love God. 

But, let me just posit this: there are far too many churches today, who teach works justification from the time a child enters Sunday School. Children are taught that if and when they love Jesus, their behavior will improve; just like a vending machine: in goes good works, out comes righteousness. If it doesn’t, it’s their own fault.

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What is one of the many reasons that so many depressed Christians are taking their life? Why isn’t their faith and their walk enough to keep them wanting to live? One of the many reasons is because their religion told them that Christians don’t get depressed, they don’t act this way, and that there is no grace for misbehavior. It failed to teach that everyone falls short of God’s perfect righteousness, not just the depressed. It failed to teach them to build their foundation on the God Who has already taken care of their “sin issue,” evidenced daily by their behavior issue. It failed to teach them that the wrath and judgement of God have been appeased. It failed to tell them that God made a way through the cross of Jesus Christ to count them as righteous, as if they were righteous (even though none of us are). It failed to teach them that their ONLY hope IS in the overwhelming, undeserved love of God, mercy of God, and grace of God.

We need to understand that God, whose thoughts are so much higher than our thoughts, understands that we, the depressed have a sickness and that our mind doesn’t always work the way we want it to work, and more than anything we might want to sort it out and figure out, “when does God judge my action as sin or symptom?” 

The answer might surprise you. We sin every day. We have very few moments during the day when we aren’t having a prideful thought or a testy attitude or whatever. If we could be found righteous in our works, then, by golly, we wouldn’t need the cross of Christ, would we? But whether we sin big or sin little, we need Jesus Christ’s righteousness placed on us so that God doesn’t have to look at our actions or thoughts or behavior or our good works to make a decision about us, because He has already declared us forgiven for those things, past, present, and future.

You see, when I finally realized that I couldn’t control the thoughts or the behavior in my depression, I embraced a new pattern of thinking that could hold me up every day of my depressed life, whether actively depressed or not. I repaired my grace-less theology and learned to embrace “grace alone” which caused me to look to God’s grace, kindness, mercy and favor earned for me being showered down upon me. Together with that, I learned to reject everything that told me that I owed God for any of His favor, because frankly, if I thought I owed Him even one thing, I would despise myself for not being to give Him the one thing He might have asked of me. 

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My new pattern of thinking rejected good works that were necessary to please God. “No, that’s not right,” you might say.  “God’s Word specifically says that ‘without faith it is impossible to please God’” (Hebrews 11:6). Well, I would have to ask you, “if you were beat down, every day, and every minute of the day like I was, could you hold on to a faith that believed that the cross of Jesus was enough to declare you righteous? Could you believe that Jesus’ righteousness credited to you was enough to give you peace with God and justify you when you couldn’t do anything on your own to earn that? Could you believe that even in your deprave state, that God called you His beloved and His friend. How much faith do you think it takes to hold on to a God-alone, God-powerful, God-sufficient, and God-controlled life? Let me tell you: it takes a LOT of faith! I was recently reminded that sometimes all the faith that is necessary is only as big as a mustard seed. Think about that.

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So I have basically just put this out there for the world to read so that you could ask yourself some hard questions, especially if you have friends and loved ones who are depressed and are looking to you to support them. As for you who are content with your religious upbringing, because you have pretty strong self control, and you think you’re  pretty good already, and you’re pretty proud of yourself, and you think that God is more pleased with you than He is with me, I weep for you. Why? Because one day, most likely, something will happen and you will not be the saint that you have believed you were and that will make you question the love and kindness and mercy and grace of God. Because your hope has been grounded and fulfilled in your improving behavior all these years rather than in a gracious and merciful God. But take comfort even in this, even when your pride fills your heart and you truly believe you’re doing pretty good in God’s economy, He still loves you the same. Your self-righteousness which is something God has always despised is forgiven, too, and He returns to you the same unmerited and unearned favor, as well. 

Here’s a fact, nothing I do will ever be counted as righteous. There just isn’t any good works that are perfectly sinless and 100% righteous (sorry to burst your bubble). Obviously, bad works are always bad. But it isn’t the things I do for God that earn me God’s pleasure. He is never pleased with my half-baked, partial righteousness. My partial righteousnesses will never meet the standard that actually pleases God—the things I do for God, my works, the thoughts that I have tried to bring under control, my acts of service, are all acts of love. They do not earn me anything. 

God says that man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. And the  commandment that He Himself says is most important to Him is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. There is a point when you realize that as much as you want to do the things that show your love to God, (your intentions and your desires), you will never be able to do as much as you want to do or that would be required of you to earn a righteous standing. You will not ever be able to be completely righteous nor completely committed.

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So aren’t you glad (I know I am), that God is pleased with those who believe in Him, trusting that that He knows the intentions and desires of our hearts? Aren’t you glad that He said that the cross has set us free from the curse of sin and the Law (our guilt), and that we have been reconciled to God forever? Aren’t you glad that your righteousness/unrighteousness has been overwritten by His perfect righteousness? Aren’t you glad that no matter how bad you feel you are, how many times you have failed, and how much you feel your life disappoints the God of the universe, His righteousness has made you perfect in His eyes! Aren’t you glad that the good news of the gospel is that He sees you now as flawless? Boy! I sure am! 

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Pleasing God: A Paradigm Shift (Part 6)

This is part 6 of a six-part series, I encourage you to scroll back to here and start at the beginning.

In this final blog of this series, I’d like to illustrate a point: 

  • I would like you to put your hands out in front of you and make two fists. 
  • I want you to now imagine all the dreams you have grown up having for your life, all the ideals you have in your mind about becoming a perfect wife, a perfect mom, a perfect housekeeper, a perfect friend who is loved by everyone, even becoming a perfect Christian. 
  • Grip tightly to all those ways you are trying to perfect your own life by changing all your imperfection into perfection, changing all your unacceptability into acceptability, and changing all your unlovability into being lovable.
  • Keep clenching those fists as tightly as you can!
  • If it would help you concentrate, feel free to close your eyes until you start to feel the weariness and fatigue that that continual clenching is having on you. 
  • Aren’t your wrists starting to ache from the tension of your tight grip? 
  • Are all those perfect ideals you are desperately trying to achieve in your life bringing you freedom? 
  • Keep on clenching your fists and keep reading!

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In trying to achieve your most desperate desires, is that making you MORE dependent on YOU and YOUR ability to control your life or is that making you MORE dependent on GOD’S already granted acceptance of you right now? Do your desires make you more God-reliant or do they make you more self reliant? If you are right now relying on yourself to achieve them, do you realize that you have chosen the only door that God has said He would oppose: the pride of self-reliance.

Women, do you want to experience freedom?  Do you want to feel relief? You can only find freedom in one way that God promises He will meet you in. The humble, authentic, honest, desperate cry for God, a contrite heart that makes MUCH of His mercy and grace to cover our imperfection. That’s where God says He will meet you. TOTAL God reliance.

And here’s a biggie! 

Do you want to please God more than you want to be pleased with your own life? Do you want to please God more than you want the approval of others in your life? Do you have the COURAGE to believe God for HIS acceptance and love and grace and mercy, in spite of your own insufficiency? In spite of NOT achieving any of your idealistic goals in life? In spite of the difficult times that will come in your life?

As you consider all these things I have challenged you with today, do you have the courage to release that death grip on the way YOU want your life to turn out and how YOU want it to look? Do you have the courage to tell God you’d rather choose HIS acceptance of you rather than gain any self confidence in your own achievements. Paul says in Philippians 3:7-9 (NLT):

“I once thought THESE things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with Himself depends on faith.”

Do you have the faith and courage to surrender your imperfect life to Him? 

Do you have the courage and faith in God’s finished work to lean into your need of Him and welcome God into your goals and plans and ideals? If you’re longing for freedom in life, THIS is how you find it. He says in His word, that if you want to find your life, you HAVE to lose it. But he who loses their life for His name sake will find it.

So, I’m challenging you to make an offering of all your imperfection and all your brokenness:

Lean into that imperfection and then tell God, “I’m giving you back my life. The only life I want to live now is the one You give me to live. If it’s weakness, let me be weak so that I can see Your power. If it’s brokenness, let me be content with Your grace which loves and accepts me anyway. If it’s a messy past, let me be content with Your sovereignty that orchestrated my life to have landed me right where I am right now. If it’s sickness, help me to lean into Your presence to keep me from feeling alone and the courage to keep trusting You. If it’s an unhappy marriage, help me lean into You to fulfill me with Your intimacy. If it’s poverty, help me to lean into You to fulfill me in that poverty. If it is sorrow, help me to lean into Your tender compassionate embrace.

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Surrender Your Dreams Of Perfection Back To Him!

  • Surrender whatever it is that is keeping you from experiencing being okay with the life God has given you right here and right now (true freedom),
  • I want you to visualize all those dreams of perfection that you are clenching in your fists,
  • then slowly open up your fists, palms up, and give them back to the Lord.
  • Demonstrate to Him a posture where you choose to give back all those impossible ideals to Him.
  • As you feel your hands open, can you just feel the shackles falling off? 
  • Are you starting to feel the relief of not having to face tomorrow by trying and failing again to live up to all those impossible ideals?
  • Don’t worry, He’ll join you in this place with grace and mercy and
  • He’ll begin to show you the journey He wants to take you on.
  • Let Him lead! You just follow.

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Right now, if you have followed my instructions, having opened up your hands and lifted them up to the Lord, you are the most vulnerable you will ever be. As you consider a future that no longer tries to earn acceptance through your own achievements, you’ll be tempted to close your hands back up and take back parts of what you just offered to Him. You’ll be tempted to want to do part of your life on your own terms, but that is not where you will find Him. That is not where you will find grace and mercy. Remember, you’ll find Him in your greatest need (in the broken, messy, imperfect areas of your life). 

But right now, you need to embrace these truths. If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, you are right now accepted by God. You are loved. You are cherished. God is bending down to you right now and asking you to grab a hold of His grace and mercy freely offered to you! Now in THIS most desperate place is when God’s mercy and grace is MOST available to you! Reach out and touch it! Reach out and embrace it!  Swim in and immerse yourself in Jesus’ mercy and His grace for THIS moment right now! Doesn’t the freedom of HIS mercy and grace for what you didn’t achieve on your own feel so much better than that merry go round of trying and failing to perfect yourself? Don’t let Satan tempt you to take it back. Push thru until you have surrendered every last ounce of self-perfection and until you have nothing left but your desperate cry for mercy and grace. You WILL find Jesus there. I promise! And Jesus will not disappoint! 

Your Chance To Interact With The God Of The Universe

I am going to close with a song which I believe is the posture that God is asking us to take as we embrace the life of an imperfect believer. Its Chris Tomlin’s song, “Lord, I need you.” Sing it as a prayer to the Lord telling Jesus how much you need Him. 

This is where I challenge you to remain, from this day forward! This is where Jesus will find you and deliver you from your own self-righteousness and self-perfection and help you learn to be wholly dependent on Jesus. This is what pleases God? How can it not? This surrender of your life to Him is what He has been waiting for!

 

 

 

Pleasing God: A Paradigm Shift (Part 5)

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

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Pleasing God In Depression???

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

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

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

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

In my depression: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is it right or good to be okay with yourself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How could I be okay with me?

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

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

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

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

Here is the thing I want you to consider: 

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

(To be continued) 

Pleasing God: A Paradigm Shift (Part 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)

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).