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!
[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.
Well, merry Christmas to everyone and a happy new year. I have one final encouragement coming your way to wrap this little series up and then it’s time to get this New Year started with a new series that I’m excited about!
I haven’t suffered much. Some of you reading this have walked through places and times that my heart and flesh shudder to imagine. I know that. I know that in the big scheme of things the details of my day seem trivial. I also know that when you’re caught inside fear or insecurity or rejection or abandonment or pain it can sometimes feel like it is the only thing that is real. The people and world around you can become a blurry backdrop to your story rather than individuals with real stories of their own.
One of the most deadly things about suffering is that it can be used to blind us to others around us and even God and herd us into a spiral of self. I believe there is a need for grieving. I believe in acknowledging where you are and what you’re walking through. I believe in experiencing the here and now and not trying to pull yourself up off the floor when you’re falling apart.
But the scandalous call from the bible is to engage suffering as a gift and let it shape and shift your focus to see God and this world more clearly than ever before.
Important distinction: I do not believe ‘God helps those who help themselves’. My experience of the gospel is the opposite. I do not think the Bible teaches that when we are in deep pain we should snap out of it and get over ourselves. When we find ourselves in the bottom of a pit I do not think the call is to begin to look for a way out while we wait for God. God loves the broken. He needs no assistance to deliver His people. And He helps those who CANNOT help themselves. That’s always been His way.
However, I do believe the Bible speaks of something you and I can do (by the grace of God alone) that will result in peace and joy and renewed strength. There’s something that we can do that will encourage us in the face of suffering: live out the mission of God.
This isn’t about taking your mind off your own suffering. It isn’t about looking at those less fortunate so that your suffering seems more trivial.
I think the command of God to care for the least and lost is a balm for the suffering soul because it’s a call to live in our truest identity and in that find an unshakable kingdom. It’s a call to take eyes off of self, and remember who we are and what defines us.
It doesn’t make sense to me, but logic isn’t my authority – the Word of God is. Logically, I do not understand how living on mission will heal me, but He says so. And I trust Him. I trust Him with my eternity, why wouldn’t I trust Him with this?
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? ”
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. (Isaiah 58:6-11 ESV)
Are you tired? Pour out and you’ll be refreshed. Do you feel like the Lord isn’t hearing you? Care for the least of these and ready yourself for the response of God. Are you lost? Alone? Desires unsatisfied? Bones weak? Spend yourself on those who are hungry and afflicted and find peace.
Illogical. But gospel. The great gospel reversal. Want to live? Die. Want to find rest? Take His burden upon you.
Maybe the reason some of us are so tired and lonely and lost is because we’ve stopped living in our identity as ambassadors of Christ in this fractured world. Maybe the reason some of us are so consumed by the details of all that is breaking in our lives is because we have forgotten the call to restore and rebuild.
Here’s the thing: whatever you are walking through is more significant than you know. I am not trying to lessen the very real pain some of you are enduring. Hear me say that an eternal God cares. An infinite and omnipotent being is collecting your tears.
But the person in the car next to you is experiencing suffering too. The person in line behind you in the grocery store is falling apart. And it’s really possible that for them, the suffering they experience in this life is just the tip of the iceberg. The kind of despair that might drive them to death itself is only the beginning. I know you’re tired, but lift your weary head and look around. There are dead people on every side of you and in your mouth you have the words that He speaks to resurrect hearts.
Suffering can be used to distract us. It can keep us from the one thing that might breathe new life into us: living in our true identity. It can be used to keep us from finding our lives in pursuit of losing them in His great mission. If you are a new creation, your greatest peace and joy will be found in living as your creator has intended. If you are in Christ you have been entrusted with this great ministry of reconciliation, not because God needs your help in this mission, but because you need this mission.
Living on mission will not make all the broken circumstances in your life come right. It is not some work we do to earn rewards from God. The promise in Isaiah isn’t a promise that God will remove suffering when you live on mission, instead it’s a promise that you will find more God when you live on mission, and where there is more God there is always more joy, more peace, more hope and more life.
A couple of months ago one of my coworkers was teaching a staff meeting on this topic and he challenged me in a new way. He asked how many of us pray ‘maranatha’. ‘Maranatha’ is the cry ‘Come Lord Jesus’! It’s the plea for the return of Christ. He asked: how many of us beg – maybe even with tears – for Jesus to return?
I think the cry of ‘Maranatha’ is more frequently on our lips in suffering. I think we cry out day and night for Jesus to return.
But here’s the thing. We say ‘Maranatha’, but do we live ‘Maranatha’?
Matthew 24 says:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Jesus tells us the ordained actions that will usher in His return. He tells us what it will look like to live maranatha: proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to the whole world as a testimony to all nations. We say we long for His return. We say we understand that we’re strangers and sojourners here. How many of us say maranatha with our mouths but don’t live it?
The mission of God is your peace and happiness and joy. It’s your creator’s design for you. I believe suffering is real and painful and I believe God cares about the details of what you’re walking through – no matter how big or small it seems. I also think that there are eternal things happening all around you. I believe that on the other side of this earth people are being born and living and having birthday parties and getting puppies and having children and dying without ever hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. I believe that in the cubicle next to you is a person who does not know what it is to be reconciled to God.
My suffering isn’t trivial. But it would be tragic if my suffering keeps me distracted from living out maranatha.
I don’t believe you’re obligated to this mission. That’s not what grace is. It’s not a debt to be repaid. it’s a free gift. I do not believe this mission will fall apart without you. That’s not our God. His hand is not too short to save.
I believe you are called to this mission because He is gracious. I believe He has called us out as a chosen people and a royal priesthood and ambassadors because He loves us.
Let your suffering drive you to cry out ‘Come Lord Jesus!’ not just with your lips, but with your life.
Leave family and friends and comfort and power and approval and children and spouses. Leave these things and find yourself in Him. Find pleasures forevermore and His right hand. Child of God – find rest for your weary soul. Find comfort that doesn’t fail. Find a love that never forsakes. Find Him. Find Him.
Once, when the people of God had become careless in their relationship with Him, the Lord rebuked them through the prophet Haggai. “Consider your ways!” (Haggai 1:5) he declared, urging them to reflect on some of the things happening to them, and to evaluate their slipshod spirituality in light of what God had told them.
Even those most faithful to God occasionally need to pause and think about the direction of their lives. It’s so easy to bump along from one busy week to another without ever stopping to ponder where we’re going and where we should be going.
The beginning of a new year is an ideal time to stop, look up, and get our bearings. To that end, here are some questions to ask prayerfully in the presence of God.
1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?
2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?
3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?
4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?
5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?
6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?
7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?
8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?
9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?
10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?
In addition to these ten questions, here are twenty-one more to help you “Consider your ways.” Think on the entire list at one sitting, or answer one question each day for a month.
11. What’s the most important decision you need to make this year?
12. What area of your life most needs simplifying, and what’s one way you could simplify in that area?
13. What’s the most important need you feel burdened to meet this year?
14. What habit would you most like to establish this year?
15. Who do you most want to encourage this year?
16. What is your most important financial goal this year, and what is the most important step you can take toward achieving it?
17. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your work life this year?
18. What’s one new way you could be a blessing to your pastor (or to another who ministers to you) this year?
19. What’s one thing you could do this year to enrich the spiritual legacy you will leave to your children and grandchildren?
20. What book, in addition to the Bible, do you most want to read this year?
21. What one thing do you most regret about last year, and what will you do about it this year?
22. What single blessing from God do you want to seek most earnestly this year?
23. In what area of your life do you most need growth, and what will you do about it this year?
24. What’s the most important trip you want to take this year?
25. What skill do you most want to learn or improve this year?
26. To what need or ministry will you try to give an unprecedented amount this year?
27. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your commute this year?
28. What one biblical doctrine do you most want to understand better this year, and what will you do about it?
29. If those who know you best gave you one piece of advice, what would they say? Would they be right? What will you do about it?
30. What’s the most important new item you want to buy this year?
31. In what area of your life do you most need change, and what will you do about it this year?
The value of many of these questions is not in their profundity, but in the simple fact that they bring an issue or commitment into focus. For example, just by articulating which person you most want to encourage this year is more likely to help you remember to encourage that person than if you hadn’t considered the question.
If you’ve found these questions helpful, you might want to put them someplace—in a day planner, PDA, calendar, bulletin board, etc.—where you can review them more frequently than once a year.
So let’s evaluate our lives, make plans and goals, and live this new year with biblical diligence, remembering that, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage” (Proverbs 21:5). But in all things let’s also remember our dependence on our King who said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).