Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Grieving the Spirit

            “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30)

            There are some questions in my post “250 Questions to Ask God” that you really might not want to ask.  Because you might actually get an answer.  And you might not like what you hear.  Plus if you get an answer, you are then responsible to act on it.  One such question is “Have I ever grieved or quenched the Spirit along the way or refused to obey in something?  If so, what?  And is there anything I can do about it now?”
            I have been experiencing a lot of God’s silence lately.  And I was wondering if I had given God any reason to keep so silent.  Did I do anything out of disobedience or a stubborn heart?  Have I put up a wall between us somewhere?  Did I veer off the path along the way and not even realize it? 
            As I looked through the list of questions one day, this one jumped out at me.  And it seemed like it was time to ask it.  And so one day, I prayed,
            “Lord, have I grieved or quenched the Spirit along the way?  Is there something I failed to obey in or is there an unconfessed sin that I am not aware of?  And what would You like me to do about it now?”
            And I tell ya, God answered.  And yikes, I wish He didn’t. 
            Over the course of the next couple months, the Spirit revealed several things that I needed to make right.  (It’s embarrassing to share these foibles of mine, but I hope we are all human here and can understand.) 

            1.  A couple years ago, I dug up a couple plants from the edge of my neighbor’s property and put them in my yard.  Not any kind of special plant, just one that naturalizes and spreads.  I struggled with the decision at the time, but I reasoned that it was a rental property and the renter never ever went into his yard and it was just a few feet into the back edge of the property and they had lots more.  These plants would never be missed, nor would they ever be appreciated by the renter.  Plus they struggled to get any light under the trees where they were.  I was helping keep them live and I appreciated them.  Wouldn’t they be happier with me? 
            Basically, what it came down to was that I wanted them.  And so I took them. 
            Trust me when I say it would have been no big deal to my renter neighbor who never used the yard.  Nor would the owners have cared.  But the point is, they weren’t mine.  Yet, I took them.  And the whole time, I could feel the Spirit saying, “Don’t do it.  They are not yours.”  I didn’t really “hear” it, but the conviction that I felt and the way I tried to hide what I was doing, looking over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching, were clear indications that it wasn’t right. 
            And now, years later, God reminded me of that sin.  And when it was brought to light in my heart and all the “reasonable” excuses were thrown out, I felt terrible.  Not because I sinned against the neighbor, but because I sinned against the Lord.  My excuses and reasoning might have convinced me, but it didn’t convince Him.  It was still wrong. 
            And now I had to make it right.  And the way to do that was to replace them as soon as I could.  I actually was very anxious to make it right as soon as possible.  I wanted to get out there immediately and dig them up and put them back in the neighbor’s yard, but there was still snow on the ground.  But I made a decision to take care of it as soon as I could, to make things right with the Lord.  And I felt relief!
            2.  As time went on, the Lord revealed that I had a critical spirit of some of His other children.  There are a couple of godly people who are greatly admired for their wisdom and godliness, and I guess I envied their ministry and the fact that others have such great respect for them. 
            And for a while, I didn’t even realize how envious I was, even as I was thinking things like this, “Why them?  What makes them so special?  Why does everyone celebrate their wisdom and godliness, yet I am so overlooked?  I have stuff to offer, too.  But no one wants what I have to offer.  Yet they all celebrate these other believers.  Why do they get to be used by God and to shine so much while I am on the sidelines and completely overlooked and unappreciated?”
            Honestly, it was plain old jealousy.  I wanted to be able to help and encourage people, too.  But no one wanted my help.  And it hurt.  And I was taking it out on those who were celebrated for their godly help and encouragement.  And God revealed this jealousy to me one day when I was being critical of them, thinking something like “They’ve got it all.  Quite the blessed life.” 
            And it dawned on me that I know nothing about the kind of life they lived.  Maybe they had a horrible childhood or terrible tragedies?  Maybe their wisdom and godliness came out of years in the “refining furnace”?  Maybe they have more hurt than I will ever know, and yet here I am envying their ministry?  Maybe they have earned their special ministry by letting God grow them through years of heartache and pain, by walking closely with Him through many trials and learning many lessons?  And here I was, being critical and judgmental! 
            Once I realized my critical attitude, I was able to ask God for forgiveness and to be thankful that we have people like that in our world.  And I reminded myself that their ministry and role says nothing about me.  Just because they are successes doesn’t mean I am a failure.  My role and ministry is different.  And I am not responsible to be like them or have the same influence they do.  I am only responsible to God to do the job He gave me today – to fill the role He gave me today – to the best of my ability, for His glory. 
            It’s not about how much influence I have or if others notice and celebrate what I do; it’s about if I am faithful to do what God gave me to do, even if no one else sees it.  God sees it.  God is honored by our faithful obedience.  And that is what matters.  He will lead each of us where He wants to use us, if we are faithful to follow and obey and work for His glory.
            3.  God reminded me that I took something that wasn’t mine to take.  (Not like "I took a shirt from the store," but more like "I took an idea.")  And while it might seem like a small, harmless thing, it was still a sin against Him.  And the way to make it right was to do the thing I should have done in the beginning.  Credit where credit is due.  And I feel much better now.  Whatever you might gain by doing the wrong thing isn’t worth what it will cost you: distance from the Lord.  Do the right thing to start with!  Always do the right thing!  
            4.  (Okay, Lord, I get the picture!  Do You need to keep revealing things?)  I have “yard envy.”  I don’t feel the least bit of envy when I see that someone has a bigger house.  In fact, the bigger the house, the less impressed I am.  And I guess I have always been kinda smug about that.  But God revealed to me that I do have “yard envy.”  If I see that someone has a bigger yard, I feel a twinge of jealousy.  I think, “I always wanted the big yard.  I could do so much with it and I would make such good use of a blessing like that.  Why do they get the bigger yard?  They just leave it all empty.  Why waste blessings on someone who won’t appreciate it the way I would?”
            When God showed me this “heart idol” of mine, there was nothing to do but admit it as sin and ask forgiveness and thank God for the blessings He gave me.  Counting someone else’s blessings can only lead to envy and discontentment.  But counting your own leads to contentment and a thankful heart.  Thank You, Lord, for all the blessings You have given me that I do not deserve!  You have been so good to me!
            5.  (Oh yeah, once I asked the question, the answers just kept coming) God reminded me of a lie that I told decades ago, when I was a teen or in my very early 20’s.  A lie that basically involved the words, “I swear to God.”  And yet after saying that, I still said a little, white lie.  (Is there really anything such as a “little, white lie”?) 
            I was reminded of this as I sat in the movie theater watching Do You Believe?  (Great movie!  Watch it!)  And it punched me in the gut.  Seriously, my stomach dropped and I felt sick at the idea that I “swore to God” and yet lied.  Through part of that movie, I struggled with the internal pain I felt at having done that to God.  I honestly felt myself spiraling into a near-panic that I had done something so horrible and that I couldn’t go back and make it right by telling the truth to the people I lied to.  How could I make it up to the Lord? 
            Lord, what can I do?  I feel terrible.  I want to make this right.  Please, forgive me.  I am so sorry.  I can’t believe I did that to You when You have been so very good to me.  I am scum!    
            Well, of course, God forgives us.  But I still struggled with feeling terrible about myself.  Guilty!  Dirty!  And I feared that I might always feel that way.  But God must have known what He was doing when He revealed this to me during that movie, decades after I lied.  Because minutes after I remembered it - while I was struggling with the guilty, dirty feelings - there was a line in the movie that spoke to me, as though God Himself was saying it to me.
            One character was comforting another character who struggled with the way they had lived.  And he said, “God has a soft spot for sinners.”
            And I knew that it was what I needed to hear, too.  I sinned against God and sin separates us from God.  But humbly coming to Him and admitting our sin pulls Him closer to us than anything because He has a soft spot for sinners.  He has such a soft spot that Jesus died for us on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins so that we could once again have a relationship with Him.  The issue isn’t if we sin (because we all will), but if we admit it to Him and let Him love us and forgive us.  
            We can be a lot harder on ourselves than God is, by living in perpetual guilt or self-condemnation.  But this will keep us from knowing and embracing the free (and freeing) gifts of forgiveness and love and grace and mercy that God has already made available to us. 
            On the other hand, we can be a lot easier on ourselves than He is, by not being convicted about our sins at all and by living like our “little, white sins” are okay.  But God doesn’t have a soft-spot for the self-righteous, self-sufficient, and overly-confident.  He has a soft spot for the humble, needy, sinners who admit that they are broken and incomplete and need Him desperately.
            When I heard that line in the movie, I smiled and breathed a deep sigh of relief.  I was okay with God because He has a soft spot for me!

            For now, God hasn’t brought anything else up.  (Thank God!)  But after I asked the question, I am now sensitive to any answer that might come up.  And I guess that’s what it’s all about.  Do we have “ears to hear”?  Do we do the hard work of examining our hearts?  Or do we live life with our ears covered, whistling a happy tune and going about our business, never taking the time to search our hearts and minds? 
            Do not grieve the Spirit!  It is possible to shut Him up and block His power from flowing through us, by unconfessed sin or building walls around our hearts or running after idols or whatever.  But if we want the kind of vibrant, full, abundant, unchained life that is possible for a Christian, we need to search (and let the Spirit search) our hearts and minds for anything that may be grieving Him. 
            Go ahead . . . ask the question!  And while the answers may hurt, making things right with the Lord is so freeing and healing and worth it!  And remember, God has a soft spot for sinners!

             “. . . when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.”  (Psalm 4:4)
             “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  (Psalm 139:23-24)

            “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  (1 John 1:9)
             “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”  (2 Chronicles 7:14-15)

Have you ever been convicted of “grieving the Spirit”?  How did it affect you and what did you do to make it right?