I’ve posted a new post on my new blog site! Check it out here: fabsharford.com
Well – I mean, my blog is moving. I know that ‘dt1021’ is probably one of the easiest and most obvious web addresses to remember, but I thought fabsharford.com might be a little more accessible.
Plus, I hope you’ll agree with me that it’s just the prettiest little layout you’ve ever seen! (thanks very much folks at standard theme).
For those of you who were subscribed to my old blog, go ahead and re-subscribe via RSS! If you’ve never subscribed before, now is the time. If you’re someone who is wondering if RSS stands for Russian Secret Service then feel free to just subscribe via email!
Can’t wait! I’ll be continuing soon with the ‘Are Women Crazy‘ series. Next post will introduce the concept of “The Emotional Sandbox”!
In my head there are 3 types of people reading this blog. 1) those of you who want to fight the ‘crazy’ in your own heart. 2) those of you who are curious/frustrated/intrigued by the series. 3) those of you who read this thinking ‘i wish so-and-so would read this!’.
Before we go any further, here are the 5 things I’m praying will happen through the previous posts:
1. Become type #1. On the list of potential readers above, my hope and prayer is that you are #1. There is no one who doesn’t have an area of their heart where they can stand to fight insecurity. One of the sneakiest and easiest ways that Satan distracts us from fighting sin is by convincing us to focus on how truth applies to others before we seek the weight of conviction in our own hearts.
2. Believe that you can change. Our culture says this is who we are:
Women are crazy. Men are stupid. That’s just who we are. In Christ Jesus ,we are new creations. Sin does not define us. We are not destined to be ‘crazy’ because of our past or personality or hormones. The Spirit is stronger than that. Our disbelief in our ability to change isn’t a lack of faith in self, but a lack of faith in God.
3. Stop laughing at sin. If I told you that last night I felt so lonely that I got in my car and drove around aimlessly crying and then ate a pint of ice cream you would probably laugh. If I told you that last night I felt so lonely that I came home and watched porn for three hours, you probably wouldn’t be chuckling. If we’re serious about engaging in this battle we have to begin to see that the root of our sin is unbelief. Whether it plays out in watching pornography or eating ice cream, it is equally horrific before God.
4. Start looking for symptoms. We talked through three different ways emotions can be signposts. We can track positive emotions, negative emotions or even our lack of emotions. At this point, I’m not talking about figuring out if your emotions are ‘rational’ or not, just start watching them. What makes you happy? What makes you sad? Where do you not feel emotions at all?
5. Seek the Root. As you look at the things that make you frustrated or happy or apathetic, try to identify if there is a common thread. Insecurity is when we place our worth or value in something other than Christ; something that is not secure. The goal of watching our emotions is to track where we might be putting our security apart from Him.
In the next couple of posts I’m going to try to use my heart as a case study for how we can begin to fight our insecurity…stay tuned!
STEP TWO: Spot the Signs (Missing Emotions)
One of the largest tragedies in my life is that in my attempt to avoid the stereotype of ‘craziness’, I began to despise emotions.
At some point I began to believe the lie that emotions were the root of ‘craziness’ and the source of disobedience in my life. I began to trust in the heretical mantra: ‘just obey, it doesn’t matter how you feel‘. It’s a great victory for the enemy when we begin to see emotions as the problem. Our distorted view leads us to fight our emotions as if they are sin in and of themselves. We begin to see moments when we are ‘unemotional’ as victorious when the reality is, our lack of emotions can be as sinful as our over emotionalism
Emotions are the grace of God. They are the root of obedience. They are part of His glorious design and where emotions are absent, our ability to reflect God’s glory is diminished.
As my man JE says:
“Without holy affection there is no true religion; and not light in the understanding is good which does not produce holy affection in the heart…no eternal fruit is good which does not proceed from such exercises…where there is a kind of light without heat, a head stored with notions and speculations with a cold and unaffected heart, there can be nothing truly divine in that light.”
Bold. Edwards says that where there is knowledge of God without a heart affection there is no true ‘knowing’ of God. The Bible says that our hearts testify to our treasure. If God does not move your heart, it can therefore only be said that He is not your treasure. The mark of a spiritual man vs a natural man is that a spiritual man can ‘appraise’ or value God rightly. The demons know a ton about God. The difference between us and them is that we treasure the things we know about God – they taste good to us. God tastes good to us. He stirs our hearts.
So, what are we to do with our barren hearts? How are they a product of ‘craziness’ or insecurity?
If our hearts are deeply rooted and found in Christ, if we place our security in Him, then it will certainly spill over into our emotions.
A heart that is never moved is a heart that does not care deeply. It is a heart that is locked away.
It may just be that out of pride or a need for security we have locked our hearts away. Maybe you dislike emotions because they make you feel weak or out of control or foolish. Maybe in places that are too deep for you to even recognize you are unwilling to trust God with your whole heart.
Here’s the deal. A lot of us have shut down. Somewhere along the way we began to confuse cynicism with a realistic view of the world. We have become hardened. We have become cynical with the world and cynical with God. We no longer pray with tears. We no longer experience joy like children in His presence because too may people and too many things have failed us. In places we won’t talk about, we have a sense that God has failed us.
We see hope as a symptom of the naive; we see joy as a disease of foolishly optimistic people. A heart that feels things deeply about God is not foolish or naive. It is obedient and faithful.
I’ve been going through 1 Peter (and loving it fyi). He’s talking to a bunch of people who are going through some pretty rough persecution and suffering. his counsel to them is this:
“have…a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”
He doesn’t call them to ignore the evil in others. He says – look at the world in all it’s brokenenss and instead of hardening your heart, keep it soft.
I think we’re afraid that if we go through this life with a tender heart we are foolish and will be destroyed, but the call from Scripture is that we find ourselves so deeply in Jesus that we are free to be tender with the world without fear. If our security is in Jesus we are free to give to others without expectation. We are free to love those who hate us without fear of being wounded. Our identity is secure. We have nothing to lose – only love to give.
A couple of blog posts ago, a non-believing friend posted a comment that still haunts me with its accuracy. He asked if I even enjoyed being a Christian. He said my portrayal of Christ “comes off like an advertisement for being abjectly miserable, oppressively guilty and constantly confused about your every act and thought”. My first instinct was to delete his comment, or defend myself or justify my heart. But that would have been pretty ironic since the post was about fighting the temptation to do such things. 🙂 sneaky God.
The reality is – my friend is right. So much of the time my life testifies that I believe Jesus is real and true, but not necessarily good; not sweet; not exciting and delightful and a source of unfailing joy.
I am an inaccurate picture of the sweetness of my God. I make Him out to be a burden. May my dear and precious and faithful friend Jesus forgive me. May He redeem my heart so that it can reflect that He is indeed better to me than life. I pray that my hardened heart may be softened. I pray that my inabilities in this area may lead me to worship a God of such sweet grace.
Even now, I imagine the angels gathering around our great God. I imagine the discussion going on as they look down at my heart and my life. I imagine them humbly and curiously asking the Father – Why this one, Lord? Surely this one is too far gone…surely this one can be of no use to you… Surely this one has defamed your name enough!
And I imagine them worshiping God anew as He reveals – through me – just how deep His mercy is and how strong His Spirit and how mighty His grace to redeem even hearts like mine.
STEP TWO: Spot the Signs (positive emotions)
What we affectionately call ‘craziness’ is actually just the symptoms of insecurity rising to the surface. In our culture, insecurity means self-doubt; insecurity is what happens when you don’t have enough self-esteem or you don’t believe in yourself.
I am holding out for a different definition. I want to define insecurity as the state of being not secure. Insecurity is essentially what happens when you put your worth in something that is not secure; it’s finding your value in a place that is not secure. Biblically speaking – if you put worth in any person, place or thing apart from Christ you are not secure; you are insecure.
If we listen to our culture, then we will associate insecurity with negative emotions. We will begin to identify insecurity with a negative view of self – eg. you are insecure when you aren’t confident. But that’s not the definition of insecurity. You could be the most confident positive person in the world and still be placing all your worth in things that are not eternally secure and therefore still be desperately insecure.
Negative emotions flare up when the places we’ve placed our worth reveal that they aren’t secure. Our sources of ‘security’ are shaken or threatened and so we have emotional outburst triggered by fear or panic. If we push past our defensiveness and don’t justify or blame, we can exploit those feelings to discover where we might be placing our worth and value apart from Christ. However, just because we don’t experience the negative emotions, it doesn’t mean that we’re not still putting our worth in things that aren’t secure.
Here’s the thing. Any place outside of Jesus is not secure. Any person or role or place you are putting your security is failing you, whether you can see that or not. They may not appear to be. They may appear to be coming through for you and they may be filling you with joy in every other moment, but one thing I am certain of: they are failing. The joy they offer is fleeting and temporal and shallow. The hope they offer is a lie. The promises they hold that lure you in with whispers of acceptance and value and worth are only deepening the gaping hole of insecurity in the center of your being.
We may have just as lethal an infection of insecurity, that’s deeper and wider than we ever know, that’s killing us, consuming us from the inside out, but the symptoms might never show up in negative emotions.
It’s sneaky. I think, for example, that I’m someone who doesn’t find my worth in my work. I think I’m someone who doesn’t struggle with insecurity in the work place. I don’t think I’ve put my worth or value in my abilities. I’ve convinced myself that I’m secure in Christ because I don’t see those negative symptoms flare up. I don’t see a lot of fear or anxiety or frustration or doubt or visible insecurity when it comes to my work.
But it’s just started to occur to me that it’s possible that might be the case because I get a lot of good results at work. I get a lot of positive affirmation. I don’t get a ton of negative feedback and when I do it’s always bookended with encouragement.
In the same way that negative emotions aren’t universally ‘bad’, positive emotions aren’t universally ‘good’. I feel a lot of positive emotions associated with work. And I don’t think that’s bad or wrong, but I have to acknowledge that it’s possible that I AM finding my worth in my work. It’s just that instead of that revealing negative emotions as my source of security gets starved and shaken, it’s actually producing positive emotions as it gets fed and fattened. If I place my worth in my abilities at work, then by definition I am insecure; I am putting worth in a place that is not secure. And the deadly thing is – if I do well at work – that place may appear to be more and more secure, convincing me to put more and more of the weight of my worth into it, despite the fact that it is ultimately going to fail me.
Sometimes, negative emotions are a greater blessing than positive ones. Negative emotions occur when we are reminded of what’s real: that there is nothing secure outside of Christ. Some of our positive emotions might actually convince us to trust even deeper into the lies that approval or power or earthly love or pleasure can offer us security. There is a very real Enemy who will be pleased to increase and affirm you through the approval of your peers or the deepest love of a spouse if that causes you to put your trust in a place other than the blood of Christ. There will be many who spend this life feeling secure and do not realize their desperate condition until they stand before God.
In the same way that our negative emotions can point us to the places we are placing our trust other than Jesus, our positive emotions can serve us as the same indicators. We can track those emotions to the places of insecurity in our lives. In this season you may not get the gift of negative emotions that offer you evidence of insecurity lurking under the surface. But there are always signs; there are always indicators that will help us discover our sources of insecurity. For some of us in certain seasons, watching our positive emotions will reveal our insecurities.
What makes us happiest?
Ask yourself this question and answer honestly. It’s so sneaky because there are so many good and beautiful things in this world around us that offer us so much joy. And we are creatures who are designed to enjoy life and one another and the blessings that we see this side of Heaven.
But the Bible is clear about the difference between the happiness we enjoy in God and the happiness we enjoy in even the sweetest places and people this side of Heaven: they do not compare.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44)
I love that story. That’s what it means to be a Christian. It’s not a calculated exchange – this world for the next. It’s an act of joy; an overflow of a heart that values Jesus beyond any treasure in this world.
It’s good to enjoy your spouse and your family and your job and your community, but Jesus says some absolutely crazy things about the way we should feel for all this in comparison to Him. He says that when we look at the way we feel about the greatest earthly treasure we have, it should look like hate compared to the way we feel about Him.
Jesus says crazy things.
Jonathan Edwards says that to be a Christian is not just to be happier in God than anyone or anything. To be a Christian is to get an entirely new sense of happiness. It’s the incredibly bold and offensive claim that for those who are in Christ there is a joy being experienced that cannot be grasped by those who do not know Him.
Paul speaks of dying as gain because Jesus makes him happiest. He speaks of things in this world as trash in comparison to knowing God. Could you call death gain? Could you say that and mean it? Could you, would you, sell everything you own out of joy of Him? Could you look your family and friends in the face and say with the psalmist: whom have I in Heaven but Jesus? And earth has nothing I desire besides Him?
It’s a simple but tragically revealing question: what makes us happiest?
Of course, none of us are fully there. So, exploit the painful answer to that question to help you find the root of your insecurity.
Please hear this: God designed you to find joy in the love of a spouse and the encouragement of others and the fruit of your labor. The things above are not bad things. But, it’s not generally bad things that convince us to trust in them for security, it’s usually good things; it’s usually things that look pretty stable and safe.
It may be that you really do find your joy in the treasures in your life purely out of an overflow of love for God, but you’ve got to admit – sometimes it’s hard to tell. If we want to know if our joy is truly an overflow of security in Him there are some really helpful indicators. We can just look at our joy and see if it lines up with what the Bible says about those who find their security in Christ.
Does your joy ebb and flow? The Bible is filled with impossible sounding commands; commands like rejoice constantly. In Philippians, Paul says ‘rejoice in the Lord always’. How could that be possible?
A joy that doesn’t ebb and flow is a sign that you are finding your deepest worth in Christ, because Christ doesn’t ebb and flow. A constant rejoicing in your heart is evidence that your joy is in Him. He is your source of security and He is not failing or coming through more based on the day of the week. God’s affection for you is as great today as it will always be. If your hope is truly and deeply in Him, the overflow would be a steadfast joy. (By His grace alone, right?!)
Is your joy circumstantial? While writing that same letter to the Philippians, Paul’s sitting in prison. He’s having a rough time of it but he says that he’s rejoicing and that he will continue to rejoice because he knows that Christ will be honored. He goes on to tell them the key to this rejoicing – put no confidence in the flesh. The kind of joy that Paul speaks of is only possible if we will remove any weight of worth that we are trusting into places that are not secure and trust fully in the security that comes in Christ.
Can a shift in circumstance sabotage your joy? Can a shift in circumstance produce more joy? The joy that we have access to in God is not threatened by circumstance. It’s a joy that rejoices in suffering. It’s a joy that doesn’t abandon you when your marriage falls apart or your dreams collapse. It’s a joy that is sourced so deeply in Christ alone that it will be a safe and secure refuge in all circumstance.
Does your joy revolve around you or around God? Look for the common denominators in your joy. Even if your joy is in good and great and Godly things, does it also include your own exaltation? Does it always include you being made much of?
As Paul writes to the Philippians from prison, he’s watching a bunch of people take over his ministry. Their motives are jacked up. They are literally sharing the gospel out of a heart that wants to take advantage of the fact that Paul’s in prison to get ahead and to hurt him. Paul’ response:
“Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”
How could Paul say that? He could say it because his security was found in Christ alone. Therefore, His joy wasn’t contingent on his own exaltation, but Christ’s. Are you happy when Christ is exalted through another ministry? Another church? Another Christian? When God ordains circumstance that exalts His name at the expense of yours is your joy still as secure?
When I first became a Christian it was so much easier to discern this line. The things that I did in the world were so clearly enjoyed for my sake alone and not for Christ’s sake. But the life of a Christian is a little more confusing. I spend my days working for a church. When I have success at work it’s usually because Christ’s name was lifted higher. How can I tell if the source of my joy is His exaltation or my own?
When I sing worship songs on Sunday I am filled with joy. But how can I tell if the joy I feel is a result of the glory of God that I see rising up in front of me or if it’s a result of seeing my own worth lifted up – being the object of His affection.
In Religious Affections, Edwards quotes this:
“There are such things in [our faith] which, when a carnal, unhallowed mind takes the chair and gets the expounding of them, may seem very delicious to the fleshy appetites of men.”
Gosh. That makes my heart skip a beat. There are great doctrines and truths written in the pages of the Bible that even if I cared nothing for God I might feel my heart quicken at the sound of them. Someone who doesn’t love God at all could be filled with joy at the sound of the wonders of all He has done if they were at the center of those things. I cannot imagine any more devastating realization than the thought that all of my ‘worship’ for God and all of the affections I experience for Him are ultimately worship of self.
This isn’t designed to make you panic, it’s just designed to make you test your heart. There is only one person I know who finds their security fully in the greatness of God. And the great news is that His righteousness is wrapped around me. He is my refuge in the moments when the darkness of my heart causes me to tremble.
The goal of tracing our joy back to its source isn’t to make us feel bad about ourselves. And if it results in that kind of discouragement it’s probable that we’re finding our confidence in the flesh. The goal of pressing into these things is so that we can fight to put our worth and value in Christ alone. The heart that is found in Him experiences more joy than the heart that runs after any offer of temporal security tossed its way.
Make no mistake – God made you to feel joy. It’s not the shallow joy that creation offers, but the infinite joy only a creator can hold out. Clive Staples says it better:
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
The life of a Christian is a life of unspeakable and unshakeable joy. It’s joy that is fixed in Christ and therefore doesn’t ebb and flow, it’s not circumstantial and it isn’t centered on us. If we watch the peaks of our joy sometimes it will help us see the root of the things that provide us solace from insecurity.
[DISCLAIMER: I hate this ‘step’ thing. I’m going to stick with it because I’m hoping it’s helpful, but keep in mind: the process of sanctification is not a ‘step’ process. The process of repentance is not a ‘step’ process. It’s a work of God through His Spirit alone. okay. That’s all. Stepping down off my soap box.]
One of the most practical ways that I have been challenged to engage this fight with my insecurity is to keep a close eye on the emotions that come out of my heart. These things serve as symptoms that let me know something else is going on inside of me.
Emotions are an awesome tool to discover the true source of your trust. If you want to know where your treasure is, follow your heart. Keep an eye on the things that are coming out of your heart and there you will find what you truly value.
I want to be someone who is emotional; I just want my emotions to be a reflection of true things about God, not lies. We were made to be emotional creatures so that our emotions could reflect who He is. So, the question is – do my emotions reflect who He is?
Insecurity hijacks our emotions. Emotions that were made to be glorious indicators of the greatness of God get arrested and are forced into serving our own obsession with self.
Our ‘negative’ emotions have been hijacked. We were given feelings like fear to reflect the holiness of God and our awestruck response to His majesty, but now we experience fear when our idols are threatened.
Our positive emotions have been hijacked. Joy was made to overflow out of an exaltation of Christ, but now we usually experience it now when we are made much of.
Or we experience a lack of emotions; an apathy or hardness in our hearts. Our hearts were made to overflow with emotions at the sound of God’s character, but now they remain tragically unaffected by anything – even the deep things of God.
One of the helpful things about the way I’m made is that I really do seem to engage with a wide spectrum of symptoms. Some of us struggle with negative emotions, and some don’t. Some experience zero emotions and some are happy all of the time. All of us though, have room to examine our positive, negative emotions or our lack of emotions and dig in and see what they’re testifying about our source of security. I’m uniquely wired so that I experience most symptoms at one time or another. The great benefit of that is that I make for an excellent case study. 🙂
Today we’re going to dig into ‘negative’ emotions. Negative emotions don’t necessarily equal ‘bad’ emotions; they’re just the emotions that we generally associate with a feeling of unpleasantness. This includes things like fear, anxiety, insecurity, panic, anger, irritation, frustration, hurt, despair, jealousy, covetousness, discontentment, melt-downs, sorrow, fear of failure, shame…you fill in the blank.
This step is about spotting a negative emotion as a symptom of our insecurity or unbelief. Our tendency when we see these things is to diagnose the wrong disease. We see our negative emotion and instead of seeing it as a symptom of our insecurity or sin, we see the root in the failures of others and so we waste the opportunity the emotion presents to fight our sin.
We can totally miss the opportunity that our emotions provide if we don’t push through defensiveness or if we allow our emotion to drive us to justify or blame.
As you invite people to speak into this process of engaging and battling your sin, or even as you begin to examine your heart yourself, you might begin to see defensiveness arise.
I have great friends who love me enough to challenge me and ask me great questions that allow me to exploit my ungodly emotions to identify roots of insecurity and unbelief in my heart. In the moments when I’m challenged by them, or by the Word of God or by the Holy Spirit, I often feel defensiveness rise up before I can even process what’s happening.
I feel threatened. I feel that same panic that some of you may feel anytime someone asks gentle questions that illuminate your sin, or when someone wants to process your weaknesses, or when someone says you’re not doing something as well as you think you are in your head.
I read this Spurgeon quote a couple of years ago, and it has helped me tremendously.
Brother, if any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be. If he charges you falsely on some point, yet be satisfied, for if he knew you better he might change the accusation, and you would be no gainer by the correction. If you have your moral portrait painted, and it is ugly, be satisfied; for it only needs a few blacker touches, and it would be still nearer the truth.
There is no feedback that we could hear that would paint us in too harsh a light. We have more weaknesses than we see. The great news of being found in Christ is that we are able to see our failures without it effecting our worth or value. When you feel defensiveness rise in you, when you feel the urge to defend or protest that the charges against you are wrong or too harsh, remind yourself that there is more darkness in you than you know, but Jesus is a greater light than you have yet dreamed.
Another big tendency that can hijack this process is something that you might be doing already as you read this blog. It’s the tendency to explain why and how the ‘negative’ emotion we’re feeling is justified. We are justified in our anger, in our frustration, in our hurt. In fact, as believers we can justify to the point that we convince ourselves that our negative emotion is fully godly.
Example: I have a tendency to get angry when someone doesn’t extend grace to the people who I believe should get grace. I have a fairly easy time extending grace to people who fall in the category of big screw ups. When I hear people withhold grace from someone who has failed in a visible and culturally unacceptable way I get furious. And I can justify my anger. After all – isn’t this a glorious reflection of the gospel in me? Isn’t my anger a beautiful reflection of the heart of God?
Here’s the thing: there may be a thread of my anger that is honestly a reflection of the heart of God. But most of it is rooted insecurity. I have no trouble giving grace to people in the ‘failure’ category because I’m someone who has in my testimony ‘big’ failure. I’ve screwed up in the big ways. I love that God has written my story in such a way that I am someone who is able to give grace to the visible sinner. But the painful reality is, my anger is more rooted in insecurity than I would like to admit. I get angry at people who don’t give grace to people like me because in deep places in my heart that I can’t even see, I am terrified and desperately insecure that maybe my sin really is worse than everyone else’s. I have a deep fear that maybe I should be disqualified because of my failure and in an attempt to drown out that fear I speak loudly against any implication that resonates with my insecurity.
And the only reason I can see that is because I have great friends who challenge me to fight the temptation to justify my anger. I try to push past it and see the root. The reality is, it is unlikely that any emotion I experience is 100% entirely rooted in godliness.
How can you tell if you’re experiencing an emotion that’s sin or not? Just ask yourself this simple question: is it rooted in faith? Is it an emotion that is testifying to your belief in something real? Is it an overflow of faith? Jesus was angry. He expressed emotions that looked like frustration, hurt, irritation, despair. Yet, in all these things He never sinned, and what that means is that each of these was an expression of faith. He was angry because God was being used. He was frustrated when God’s name was proclaimed falsely.
If my anger was from faith then it wouldn’t be tinged with judgment or disgust. If it was really a product of a gracious gospel-centered world view then I probably wouldn’t have a hard time giving grace to the people who fail to meet my standard of giving grace.
Look for your negative tendencies and refuse the temptation to justify them away. Ask your friends to push back on your justification.
Another way I work my way around my negative emotions is to blame.
When I’m sad – is it someone else’s fault? When I’m anxious, is it because of my employer? My coworker? My staff? When I’m lonely – is it because my spouse doesn’t love me rightly? Is it because my community isn’t living up to the call of God on their lives? Is it because my church is too big, too small, a failure?
It might be that the ‘design’ of a husband is to love his wife flawlessly. It might be that the ‘design’ of your employer is to advocate and protect you from becoming too overworked. It might be that ‘design’ of community and the church is to meet you in your lonely moments. But we can so easily do the math wrong in our heads and end up thinking that just because God’s revealed will is for these things to be, it means we’re ‘entitled’ to these things.
God’s ‘design’ was for me to be holy and pure and never put my trust in anyone but Him. But guess what? That’s not the reality I experience today. So what happened? Did I screw up God’s design? Did He hold out on me? Aren’t I owed all the things that He says are good?
Or could it be that even in my failure, or my spouse’s failure, or my church’s failure, God is at work to help me identify all the places I am placing my trust instead of Him. Could it be that He is at work through my weakness, through the failure of others, to display that He alone is a safe refuge, that He alone can meet my needs?
When we see our lives through a biblical lens, our situations and our circumstances are no longer a cause for anger or frustration or anxiety, but now we are free to see them as opportunities to shift our hearts more fully to hope in Him alone.
When you see the symptoms of negative emotions in your heart, fight to avoid the tendency to defend, justify or blame. Look for ways that you are explaining your feelings away or looking to someone else to change their behavior to fix the issue.
Today – invite and encourage your friends or spouse or family to challenge you in your moments of negative emotions to avoid the tendencies to defend, justify or blame. Don’t short circuit the process by explaining your negative emotions away.
If you’re someone who experiences negative emotions, my prayer is that you would see them as an opportunity to seek hope in a Savior who does not disappoint. The next couple of blogs will press into the symptoms presented when we experience positive emotions or a lack of emotion, so stay tuned!
The only way you’re ever going to fight your sin is if you believe you need to fight.
Most of us want to be secure and healthy individuals. Some of us convince ourselves we already are. We ignore the flare up symptoms of panic or anger or apathy that testify to our deep insecurity, and instead we compare ourselves to the women on the Bachelor & conclude that we’re doing relatively well.
Some of us acknowledge that we haven’t arrived in this area. We acknowledge that we may not be the perfect and flawless woman of God that we want to be. We want Him to change us and make us better, but when someone implies that we are somehow ‘responsible’ for our insecurity (as opposed to victims of a mysterious disease), we get outraged.
In order to fight our sin we have to acknowledge that our insecurity and our ungodly emotions are actually sin.
We have to acknowledge that when our desperate demand for our husband’s love consumes us – it is sin. We have to acknowledge that when we have a meltdown at work or at home because someone doesn’t seem to value what we do, the primary issue is in our heart ,not theirs. We have to acknowledge that our inability to forgive the person who comes to us broken and repentant is actually our failing. We have to acknowledge that the fear that consumes us – even though we don’t pursue it or recruit it – is sin.
Somewhere along the way we began to believe a couple of lies about sin:
Here’s what the bible says about sin: it’s not defined by an action – it can be a thought or a feeling. And it isn’t defined simply as doing or thinking something bad.
Sin is anything that doesn’t spring from an act of faith. That’s crazy. Paul says in Romans that everything that is not rooted in faith is sin. That means you could do everything right on the outside and still be in sin. You could be positive, happy and engaging and be in sin. You could be compassionate, kind and always in control of your emotions and be in sin. You could have no ‘bad’ emotions, but be lacking the ‘right’ emotions and be in sin.
This is a crazy way to define sin. And most of you are thinking – that can’t be right, because if that definition is right than a whole lot of my life is sin. The Bible must be wrong, or my understanding of it must be wrong, because otherwise I’m saying that you and I are far worse than we ever imagined.
Oh wait. Blast. I think that’s biblical.
With this definition of sin, I’m not sure any of us fall in the camp where the call to fight insecurity or emotional sin doesn’t apply to us. Can any of us say with confidence that we feel great about where we are with insecurity and emotions. Are your emotions always an overflow of faith? Do you always feel the joy that you should in the presence of the Lord? Do your emotions display He is trustworthy, true, kind, good, for you? Does your life reflect that you are constantly found in Him? Do you think thoughts and feel things and spend your time on things out of an absolute overflow of finding your security and worth in Him alone?
Or is it possible that your heart is a little darker than you might like to concede. Is it possible that the glorious emotions that God has put in you to reflect His value most often reflect the value you place on created things or reflect the value you place on self instead? Is it possible that a lot of your thoughts, a lot of your feelings and a lot of what you do is designed to fill an aching need to prove your own worth – and not an overflow of realizing you have that your worth is secure in Christ?
Is that possible? If so – the call from the Bible is to fight. The challenging thing about insecurity is that it produces thoughts or feelings that seem unbelievably natural and feel ridiculously ‘right’ to us. The thought of fighting them seems…overwhelming.
This fight seems so outside our control, and I think that’s actually one of the most encouraging things about this whole thing. When I teach on this, I frequently have students raise their hands in my classes and say ‘Fabs, this is so discouraging!’ When I ask them why, they explain: ‘because it’s impossible!’
That response always makes me so happy. Because I think when we get to the point where we’re throwing our hands in the air and declaring something impossible, we’re in a great spot. To look at the call of obedience in our lives and feel like it’s impossible for us is where we’re supposed to be. The disciples had this same reaction when Jesus told them what it would look like to enter into the kingdom of God. And his encouragement wasn’t: guys! You can totally do this! Don’t be so negative! No. He told them – you’re right. It is impossible. With man it is impossible, but with God it is possible.
That’s a big ‘but’. Don’t be discouraged if you feel like the call to have emotions that glorify God or the call to be secure in Christ is impossible. In your own strength it is absolutely impossible, but our hope of sanctification is not found in self. It’s found in a loving Father and a powerful Spirit and a redeeming Savior who has already purchased for us a new heart and a promise of sanctification.
None of the practical aspects I’m going to walk through in the next couple of posts even matter if you have not settled it in your heart that this is sin in your life that you want to fight. The great news is – even in this, you can’t do it alone. A heart that wants to fight is a gift of grace possible through His power alone. So spend some time praying for a heart like that. Beg God to give you a fresh perspective. Beg Him to reveal to you how deep your sin goes.
The glorious thing about being found in Christ is that we don’t have to be afraid to look at our failure. Pressing into our sin does not produce in us self loathing; it doesn’t threaten our worth or value. If looking at our sin makes us feel shaky or despairing, it’s probably a great time to stop and ask ourselves: are we really finding our security in Christ’s life and death alone?
Being a sinner does not disqualify us from the grace of God. Quite the contrary, knowing we’re sinners is what prepares us to receive the grace of God. My prayer for you is that you would be granted faith to believe that every flash of insecurity is a testimony of unbelief in the perfect promises of our Father; the shadows of fear and anxiety that darken your heart are evidence of idolatry.
I believe that the deeper you grasp this the deeper you will worship God. Yahweh. The God of our fathers. The God of Abraham and Issac and Jacob.
Our God made man: Jesus. The God who came for sinners, who came to give us freedom from defensiveness over sin, who came to give us the freedom to name our sin and acknowledge it’s evil without any fear of condemnation.
Confess your sin to Him. No one will bring a charge against you. Not because there is a shortage of evidence, but because the penalty has been paid in full. Thanks be to God through Christ our Lord.
The first time I met my friend Theresa was when she interviewed at our church some years back. In the first five minutes of the interview I already had a girl crush on her. About 20 minutes in – much to the horror of my male colleagues I could no longer contain myself. I began to gush (in an Anne Shirley/Diana Berry-kind-of-way) that I felt certain that if she moved to Austin we would be best friends.
It was a unique interviewing experience for me. Because from the minute Theresa sat down she was just different. She wasn’t trying to win our approval. She wasn’t veiling her gifts in false humility, or trying to make her weakness sound like strengths. After she left the room we all turned to one another and remarked on how different she seemed from most of the women we encounter, and one of the guys commented that she was a ‘secure’ woman; a rare breed.
He was right. Theresa is secure. She’s secure in her strengths and she’s’ secure in her failures.
Over the past year, Theresa and I have become co-laborers in ministry. I’ve never really experienced the kind of unity and joy that I’m experiencing working alongside her. I don’t know if I’ve ever met someone who is as disarming to my defensiveness or so easily able to slip around my external appearance and address the darkness in my heart while making me feel encouraged and excited about being changed.
Through Theresa, the Lord has changed the way I view women. She has a ridiculously unique perspective. She believes that every woman can be content, secure and emotionally stable.
I’ve met people before who denied that women were crazy, but their perspective was rooted in naivety. They wanted me to think better of women. Theresa is different. She’s not naive. She sees the very real hold that emotions can have on women. She sees all of our sin and she doesn’t think more highly of women than I do – she thinks more highly of God than I do. She doesn’t ask me to think better of women – she asks me to think better of God. She challenges me to believe that His Spirit is stronger than hormones.
Theresa believes I can be different. She doesn’t think I’m supposed to just resign myself to the emotional meltdowns that I can sometimes fall victim to, and not because she thinks I’m better than I am, but because she believes Christ is better. She believes Him when He says He offers freedom, renewal and restoration.
While the rest of us sit around and laugh about our emotional craziness, Theresa is the one who will pull me aside and challenge the perspective that emotional sin is funny. Theresa is the one who will ask me hard questions that reveal that I believe that women are destined to be needy and irrational; that’s just how they are. She forces me to defend my cynical resignation with Scripture and, even with my incredible ability to manipulate the Word of God – I can’t find any evidence that God wants us to concede that women are just made crazy.
She has used her influence in my life to shift my entire worldview. Now, when I look around my heart and the Church I am amazed.
Because I don’t understand how it happened. I don’t understand how Satan convinced our churches that men should fight lust like it’s dragging them to hell, and women should laugh about their sinful emotional outbursts. It seems like somehow in the beautiful movement to challenge men to lead more, we accidentally began to avoid the insecurity in women in the name of ‘grace’. We began to blame men for women’s craziness. We began tiptoeing around truth out of fear of creating drama.
I wonder to myself what would look different in the Church today if women fought insecurity the way they expect others to fight pornography or adultery. I wonder what would be different if women would stop laughing at the way they get irrationally angry or sad and instead acknowledge that there are some emotions that are an offense against a Holy God.
God made women beautifully and fearfully. And one of the best things about them is that they experience deep emotions. The call to fight emotional sin is a call not to remove emotions, but to redeem them. God designed us to have emotions that reflect His worth. An emotionless life is just as sinful as a life filled with ungodly emotions.
And it’s okay to acknowledge that our insecurity is deep and dreadful in the sight of God, because our worth is not defined by our success or failure. It’s not discouraging or devastating because we are not destined to be slaves to our weaknesses. All of our sins – from adultery to anxiety are remnants of another life; but they no longer define us. They linger, like scars left from chains that were wrapped around our skin for too many years.
I think for so long, we’ve all, myself included, just believed the lie that this is who we are. Sure, I’m crazy – but all women are. It’s just how we are.
I’ve been studying 1st Peter and I just love the reminder that springs up from the pages that we are made to live differently. We may still have scars, but our lives should reflect that we are no longer in chains.
It’s not that we act differently so that we can be saved, it’s that we can act differently because we have been saved. We have been purchased out of “the futile ways” by nothing less than the blood of Jesus. Peter says that we should behave differently because we can. Our new behavior testifies to the power of Christ. When we don’t believe we can be changed we testify that His blood is not precious enough to purchase us out of slavery.
I want to be different for a lot of messed up motives. I want to be different so that I can be proud that I am a ‘secure’ woman like Theresa; so that people admire me or respect me. I want to be different so that my co-workers enjoy working with me or so that people want to marry me.
But I hope that somewhere in my heart are more glorifying and less selfish motives.
I hope that I want to be different so that people will see in my life the power of God to change people. I hope that I want to be different so that all of the world and all the angels and demons will see the great worth of Christ’s blood. His life and death are gloriously sufficient to purchase a sinful slave like me, break my chains and renew my flesh till there are no scars left. Let the angels worship because they see evidence in me that our God is mighty to save, restore and renew. I want to fight my emotional outbursts because I want my life to display that I believe the Spirit is stronger than the flesh, and this same Spirit lives in me.
Over the next couple of blogs I’m going to walk through what this fight is beginning to look like in my life. I’ll walk through the practical ‘steps’ of identifying the symptoms, addressing the issues and trusting the truth. Let me know if any of it is helpful!
A few years back I had the great privilege of working with the talented and crazy team at The Austin Film Festival. I love those guys. Because they’re funny, and humble and kind in ways that teach me the glory of common grace. And they love stories. They taught me how to love stories. They taught me what happens when someone tells a story and lets the words wind around the audience so that a whole world is created without ever leaving your seat.
They taught me how to annoy my friends by being unsatisfied with cookie cutter, carbon copy, pathetic scripts designed to stir my emotions. They taught me to despise those ‘writers’ who use stories; who think about a plot or a character as nothing more than a tool to make an audience laugh or cry. They taught me that for a true storyteller, seeing the audience light up is a by-product of telling a great story, but it’s not the point. Great writers don’t decide what their characters will do based on what will provoke a response in you and I. Great writers follow their characters into the story. Great writers write because there are stories that must be told.
I hate movies that are designed to make me cry. Tell me a good story, and you’ll move my heart. You’ll get my tears easily enough; I don’t have a hard time letting them fall (just ask my boss). But if you set out to make me cry you lose me at the opening credits; you lose me at the preview. I can tell when a writer has written dialogue purely to provoke a response. I can tell when a plot twist is written simply to make me gasp. And I hate it.
And it gets a little bit more disturbing when you put Jesus in the mix.
I remember what it felt like when the sun shone the right way and the Spirit moved in me and in a moment I knew that I wanted to lift high the name of Jesus, and so I would write. I didn’t write so that you would praise me and I didn’t write so that you would cry. I didn’t manipulate language to change lives; I fought for the best word for each moment so that I could paint Him more clearly. I wrestled with syntax and punctuation because I wanted you to see Him as He is. I wanted Him to be seen.
But I work for a ‘successful’ church, and I teach women who let compliments flow freely, and I have encouraging friends and these things are great, but I am terrified – absolutely terrified – that somewhere along the way things got shuffled around in my heart. I know there was a time when I just wanted to be used to make His name great, but what if now I just use Jesus to make my name great?
It’s painful to type these words. May God be merciful to sinners like me.
There’s something dreadful and devastating about that shift in my heart. There’s something deadly in it.
I long for Jesus to show up in my classroom. I want Him to move through my words whether it be on this page or in curriculum or in a conversation in my office. But what if the motivation is because I know that when Jesus moves, when He shows up, I get glory?
There are so many things I want to write about. I want to write about the point of the world, and I want to write about what I’m learning in 1st Peter, and I want to write about work and roommates and puppies and everything in between and I think – I really do think – that I want to want to write about Him.
But life is muddled and dark and motives are hard to discern. And in less than 2 minutes I’ll begin editing this so that it moves you more or hits you just write and there are moments when it all just feels like manipulation.
And I don’t want to manipulate you. Not with this content. Not with the name of Jesus.
In John 7 a weird thing happens. Jesus’ brothers want him to go to a feast so that He can show off His skills and John tells us their motives. The brothers wanted this because they didn’t believe in Jesus. Jesus’ brothers wanted Jesus to reveal His power and John says that they did this because they didn’t have saving faith in Jesus. Weird.
Wanting God to be glorified isn’t necessarily evidence that we love Him. There is a way to want the name of Jesus to be seen as great and glorious and not believe in Him at all. Jesus’ brothers wanted people to see how great Jesus was so that they could get praise. They wanted Him to show off so that they could be ‘proud’ He was their brother. If we use God’s glory to get us glory – we testify that we don’t trust or know Him at all.
I could write a blog for years about the greatness of God and all the time just be using Jesus to get praise for myself.
What does it look like for Jesus to be the end and not the means? I honestly don’t know. I know that it looks like putting my name under His. I know it looks like wanting Him to be glorified even at the cost of me being humiliated. I know that because Jesus taught me that. He was willing to be thought a fool for God to be glorified.
Am I willing to be humiliated for His name to be lifted high? Am I willing to be forgotten, unknown, unwanted, alone and rejected if that’s what it takes to bring Him glory?
I don’t know what God is going to use me for this side of Heaven. I know that my gifts are His and therefore they will never be ‘wasted’. He’s not interested in giving people gifts and then refusing to use them. But I know that visible gifts aren’t more valuable than the ones that keep you hidden in the corner, far from the praise of men. And I know that He gets glory whether I get glory or not.
Reading Exodus this morning, it seems like God intentionally uses screw ups cause He’s really interested in being seen and He doesn’t want anything to get in the way of that. And that includes my sin. Even my twisted motives will be put to work to display His character. He is so magnificent that even when I think I’m using Him for some other end, He is going to be the end.
I’m a wreck. I’m not great and I’m not good, but He is. And if He waited for a saint with perfect motives before He revealed His glory, He’d be waiting for the second coming. So He’ll use me. Not in spite of my weakness,but because of it. Because in my weakness you can see him all the more clearly.
I may be threading these words together in an attempt to make you feel something – or to make me feel something. But they’re still true. And somewhere in my heart – I think – I pray I really mean them:
I hope that in my weakness you see God more clearly. I pray that in this blog today you see our God – who will use someone who is as selfish and self-centered as me – because He’s filled with mercy and made of grace. He’s not waiting for better people, He’s willing to teach through a girl who is busted and broken and deeply and darkly sinful in places that are too hideous to see.
The story of the Gospel does make me cry. But it wasn’t written to make me cry. It was written to make Him known. And I don’t have words to make that story more beautiful. I don’t have words to make Him more beautiful.
Oh my Father. Be known.
She washed her hands carefully; casually, to the outside observer. She wound them around one another watching the water flood through her fingers. Life was pressing in from all around. She could feel it pushing her, prodding her, promising to pull her from this moment. Another person entered into her sphere to dip their hands into the same sink and snatch away from her some of the precious water falling down.
Her heart was full and empty. Alone and surrounded. The water on her hands felt so real. The sink seemed so solid. Everything that she could see felt tangible and final. But she had to believe that at any moment it would collapse like a movie set to reveal a world so much deeper and fuller and wrapped in more vibrant colors than she’d even imagined.
She squeezed her eyes shut, willing that world to appear around her; willing herself to believe that this wasn’t all there was, willing the sink in front of her to dissolve into a deep fountain of water that would find these hand finally washed clean.
She heard the person beside her move away. She heard the door swing open. She heard it close and then silence blanketed the room. She cracked her eyes, barely a millimeter, and for a moment she caught her breath. There it was. There was that new world caught in the slit of light that was distorted by eyelashes blurring all the shapes and turning the water itself into something fantastical, threaded with light as it flooded the sink.
Opening her eyes more fully she moved one hand slowly out of the water to reach for the faucet leaving the other alone and naked in the flow. She pushed down gradually on the handle watching the rush of water stem and then slow and finally trickle to a stop.
She examined her hands, and again was confronted with two realities. They looked clean. Memories of junior high science class filled her mind and held them up to the light, willing her eyes to see the millions of germs that would be crawling all over them again before she could even make it back to her desk.
This thought spurred a smile to tug at the corner of her mouth. Maybe everything felt like a spiritual metaphor because everything WAS a spiritual metaphor. She laughed softly to herself, and then raised one of the hands to her mouth to muffle the sound. She wasn’t sure if it had become audible or remained inside, and then it didn’t matter because in a flash of faith she could see and all was well. She reached for the door, unafraid of what the day might do to her newly washed hands. In this place, they would never be clean. Tap water doesn’t have that kind of staying power. But, at least for this moment, this world had collapsed around her and it seemed foolish to be afraid. There was nothing to lose. At least for this moment, only eternal things seemed eternal, and she could believe that the temporary was temporary. Everything that mattered was real.