Tuesday, February 17, 2015

NBA #17,18,19: Stripped!

New Believer Advice #17:  God will upset your “nice, little, comfortable life.”
            The more you grow in the faith, the more you will be rocked by other people’s pain and by injustices, the more compassion you will have for the hurting and weak and needy, and the less comfortable you will be with building up treasures on earth when people around you are in so much need.  You will become more concerned with other people’s souls.  You will seek righteousness more and you will feel more and more convicted when you stray from it.  This is the painful process of being molded to be more like Christ . . . of learning to put His Kingdom, righteousness, and priorities first . . . of learning to build treasures in heaven instead of treasures on earth . . . of dying to self and living for Him.  Your heart will begin to ache for the things that make His heart ache.  And this ache is good.  Let it move you to do His work on earth!  Let God upset your “nice, little, comfortable life.”

New Believer Advice #18:  God will strip you!
            Eventually, you will wrestle with yourself and with God over things that you hold onto that He wants you to let go of.  This is a painful process, as He strips you down of self-sufficiency, pride, self-confidence, assumptions, misconceptions, materialism, hidden sins, wayward priorities, unreasonable expectations, selfishness, self-promotion, self-protection, wayward dreams, idols of the heart, walls around your heart, self-punishment, negative views of self, pat answers, judgmental-ism, the ways you try to manipulate Him, the boxes that you try to keep Him in, etc.  And etc.! 
            This is a process that will happen over your whole life.  It will come in waves, when God knows you are ready to tackle a new one.  Do not run from it.  If you do, you risk “spiritual stagnation.”  Do not try to skip these steps to maturity just because the fire gets too hot.  God walks with you through these “refining fires.”  And there is a purpose for the pain. 
            And you will notice that you have reached one when you are faced with this decision: Hold onto you or let go of you and grab onto God.  Do not be afraid of this process.  It leads to so much growth that you’ll eventually be able to say that it was worth it, even if it hurt for a time.  These trials will become some of the sweetest moments of your journey when you look back on them.  Bittersweet at times, but sweet nonetheless.  Just take life a step at time, as God leads.  And He will help you grow up in the faith and in Him! 
New Believer Advice #19:  One of the hardest things to be stripped of is self-sufficiency!
            Many of us have been hurt in the past.  Or else we have been taught to take care of ourselves and to need no one.  Or we feel like we have to prove our worth to others and to God, to earn our way.  And so we try to live in self-sufficiency, to keep tight control over everything, to operate out of our own wisdom, to make plans for all the possible things the future might throw at us, and to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. 
            But this does not work with God.  And someday, we will have to face the truth that we are not in control and that we can’t do it on our own and that we need Someone to help us.  We will have to face the truth about ourselves that we are weak and that we need to fall on God. 
            For me, for so long, I wouldn’t fall on Him until I fully exhausted my own wisdom and strength and ability to care for myself.  I wouldn’t fall on Him until I couldn’t stand anymore.  I didn’t realize that I should fall on Him in helplessness.  I thought it made me “less Christian.”  Less pleasing to Him.  And then, when I did fall down before Him in helplessness, neediness, and dependency, I would feel terrible about myself.  A failure who couldn’t please God and who couldn’t handle life on my own.  
            But you know what? 
            When we fall on Him in helplessness, He doesn’t say, “Failure!”  He says, “Finally!”
            I think some of the silence we sense from Him during the hard times is because we are still trying to live life in our own power and wisdom.  We are failing to call on Him, to really need Him.  So He lets us do it.  He lets us struggle with our own humanity and frailty.  He lets us fight against ourselves until we get so exhausted that we stop fighting and we cry out to Him and we humbly fall on Him.  And then, He steps in and scoops us up and makes His healing, comforting, capable Presence known. 
            Don’t do what I did.  Don’t fight against needing Him.  Don’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.  It isn’t yours to carry anyway.  He wants us to need Him desperately.  He wants us to rely on Him.  It doesn’t mean that you are a pathetic, weak, failure.  It means you are a humbled child of God who knows where your help comes from.  So get off of His throne and fall at His feet.  Because when you fall at His feet, you fall into His arms.

(New Stuff for this post.  From the posts, Hardest Spiritual Lessons #1 and #2.)
Hardest Spiritual Lesson #1:  Let Go or Hold on? 
            At many points in our Christian walk, we come upon a time of decision that is crucial to our spiritual growth where we are forced to choose what to let go of and what to hold onto.  We are forced to choose self-sufficiency or reliance on God . . . trying to maintain control or giving the control over to Him . . . our dreams and goals for ourselves or His plans and paths for us . . . our self-protective, “safe” ways or radical, “irrational” obedience to Him . . . having what we call our “needs” met by others or letting God re-mold those needs and meet them the way He sees fit . . . hiding old wounds and the broken parts of ourselves or handing them over to Him so that He can heal them and make us whole.
            We may be (will be!) asked to face the soul-scarring moments of our pasts and to fully put them in the Lord’s hands so that He can heal them, turn them into something beautiful, and use them for His glory.  We may be (will be!) asked to let go of the negative self-views that keep us stunted and handicapped in our spiritual and earthly relationships.  We may be asked to let go of many hopes and desires and “needs,” to accept “less than” what we always wanted, and to learn to live with God’s “No” when we really wanted (or thought we needed) His “Yes.”        
            As you can probably tell, I have a bit of a problem with how we define “needs.”  I think many of our “needs” are simply great, big wants.  Real, desperate, good wants.  But not needs.  Financial security, appreciation, more friends, a more significant role, fulfillment in earthly things, more influence or power or attention, a spouse who listens better or pampers us more, a better job, health, a bigger home, a fancier phone, freedom to pursue selfish pursuits, etc. 
            The problem is that when we call them “needs,” we turn them into something that we are entitled to, that we passionately pursue, and that we are unfulfilled without.  These needs can become idols.  We are not entitled to any certain blessing; everything we have is a gift from God.  And God should be what we passionately pursue.  He should be where we find our fulfillment.  And we have to get to the point where we can learn to praise Him, be content in Him, and glorify Him, even when those needs are unmet. 
            When I defined my desire to be appreciated at home as a “need,” I was miserable because I wasn’t getting something I thought I had to have to be joyful and content.  But when I redefined it as a “want,” I was able to hold it loosely, to give it over to God so He could do what He wants with it, and to allow God to be enough for me, regardless of if I was appreciated at home or not.
            We have to start calling our “needs” what they are: great, big wants that we need to put into God’s hands if we want to be truly fulfilled in the best way possible. 
            I have a theory.  All of us who decide to passionately pursue God (and not everyone chooses to do this, many just coast in their relationship with Him) will eventually find ourselves in a painful struggle with our deepest fears and “needs.”  We may be struggling with an illness, a wayward child, a difficult or drifting spouse, an unfulfilling role.  Or maybe it’s our fears about being insignificant, unappreciated, unloved, alone, about pain, about loss, about death.        Somewhere along the path to a whole, humble, genuine, trusting relationship with Him, all serious God-seekers will be forced to face and struggle with “our issue” until we make a decision: hold onto the fear/”need”/desire/resentment/difficult situation (etc.) and try to maintain control over it, or place it fully into God’s hands and grab onto Him instead.    
            He will not allow us to hold onto both.  We cannot hold onto control and fear and “our right to have our needs met” and resentment and selfish desires (etc.) and yet still hold onto Him, too.  He knows that it’s not best for us to carry those burdens ourselves.  And we have to decide who gets to carry them, manage them, and make the final decision about them.  Him or us?       
            These “decision times” are usually incredibly hard and painful because they often hit upon the scars and wounds and broken parts of our hearts and souls that we have tried to keep wrapped up, hidden, and safe for so long.  And they often involve learning to be vulnerable and to trust God, whereas we prefer self-preservation and having control. 
            But God is after complete healing and growth and wholeness for us, and so we are asked to eventually face, work through, and let go of the self-reliant, self-protective, self-focused thoughts and behaviors that hinder our relationship with Him, with ourselves, and with others.
            And to correct a common misconception: You don’t have to “be happy about” or to “feel like” being obedient and submissive to God in order to do it.  Even if you are still heart-sick and sad and internally-resistant, you can still humbly submit your life to the Lord and accept His Will for you. 
            Just look at Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane.  He went to the Father in passionate, heart-broken prayer, pleading with Him to change the plans if possible.  And He had to do this three times with tears and crying and sweating blood before He could get to the point of saying, “Not My Will, but Yours be done.”  He didn’t want to go to the cross.  He wasn’t happy about it.  But He did it anyway. 
            Humble submission is an act of the will, not of emotions.  And it’s normal to go through times of extreme heart-ache and crying and internal struggle before you are able to hand your concern fully over to God, to put your will aside, and to say, “Your Will be done.”  You might not feel like it at first, but as you submit to and trust the Lord, your feelings will eventually get in line.  But usually, obedience and humble submission come first, before the acceptance, peace, joy, and contentment (even though there may still be a lot of pain).       
            When you find yourself in a time of decision (hint: it’s usually when you’ve got internal struggles that hit you deeply, and you may not quite know what’s bothering you or why), ask God what it is that He is trying to tell you.  And take the time to listen.  Explore the Word for guidance about what He wants you to let go of and what He wants you to grab on to.  If you choose rightly, you will find wholeness and healing in Him and greater spiritual growth.  If you choose wrongly, you will find yourself in confusion, internal restlessness, and eventually facing the same issues again.  

            Psalm 4:4:  “. . . when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.” 

            Psalm 139:23-24:  “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.”

            Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

            Proverbs 16:9:  “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

            Philippians 2:13:  “. . . for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

            2 Cor. 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

            Matthew 6:33:  “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

            Phil. 4:19:  “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

Hardest Spiritual Lesson #2:  Being Pruned So That We Can Bring God Glory
            This isn’t all that much different from #1.  But throughout our lives, we will find ourselves being pruned over and over again as God continues to weed out anything that doesn’t bring Him glory and that isn’t for our best.  And this isn’t always easy.  We like things to be our way.  We like holding onto certain ungodly or selfish things.  We want certain freedoms and pleasures.  But in order to grow in righteousness as Christians, to reach wholeness, and to get to the point where everything is about God’s glory, we need to be pruned . . . 
            - of selfish motives and goals
            - of envy and bitterness
            - of unreasonable expectations of ourselves, other people, and the Lord
            - of “idols of the heart” 
            - of the walls that keep God from fully entering our hearts and minds and lives
            - of pride and self-inflating behaviors and attitudes
            - of our phony, polished, “I’m such a great Christian” facade so that we can reach humility and true brokenness before the Lord
            - of “good enough” so that we can strive for “best”
            - of habits and pursuits and behaviors that are morally-questionable or out-right ungodly
            - of misconceptions that we have about faith, ourselves, life, and God
            - of lazy spiritual disciplines and the comfortable-ness that keeps us parked on the side of the road in our spiritual growth
            - of our pursuit for fulfillment in anything outside of God
            - of our “need” for earthly success, approval, and appreciation so that we can get to the point where we are content with knowing that God alone sees and cares and values us and will reward us in the end
            - of so many more things not listed here.
            Sometimes pruning comes through gentle guidance and insight.  Sometimes it comes through the times when God has to discipline us.  Sometimes it comes when times are sweet and when we desire growth.  Sometimes it comes through the struggles and when we are fighting, kicking, and digging in our heels the whole way.  Sometimes we never even see it coming.  And sometimes He has to prune off things simply because it’s not the right timing.  But there is always a reason for every cut God makes.
            A couple years ago, I thought it might be time to find a “ministry” at church, maybe a one-on-one discipleship thing or maybe helping again with counseling.  I attended the informational “discipleship” meeting and contacted one of the pastors about the counseling.  As it turned out, although both ministries expressed interest in the help (one of them even saying they would call me soon about getting started), neither one of them really pursued it again.
            At first, I was a little perplexed.  Did they want the help or not?  Should I pursue them or not?  However, I have learned that God sometimes closes these perfectly good doors for reasons we don’t know.  And so I decided to take it as a supernatural blockade, and I didn’t pursue.  I decided instead to focus again on the job that He has given me for the past many years: raising and homeschooling my kids.
            Looking back now, a couple years later, I can see the incredible, merciful wisdom of God in blocking those godly, yet not-the-right-season-for-me-yet doors.  Because it was during these past few years that I had to struggle deeply with my sense of failure as a homeschooling mom, to develop a workable plan for homeschooling through high school, to learn to be content with so many “no” answers and with deep loneliness, and to find my strength and peace and joy in Him when so many other things were stripped from me. 
            I barely had the energy and strength to get through those internal, spiritual struggles, those many months of depression.  What a mess I would have been had I also taken on the burden of having to be there for others in a ministering role.  God knew that I needed those years to seek His help and to let Him minister to me, that I needed to work on building my firm foundation in Him before I could be on any use to others, that my family needed to be my main “mission field” for now, and that I couldn’t handle more than my job at home.  And I thank Him now for closing those doors, for pruning off perfectly good opportunities so that I could focus on the job and the battle at hand, bringing Him as much glory as possible within this specific season of life.
            There are so many seasons of life.  And every season of life prunes us and grows us in different ways, bringing its own challenges and spiritual priorities, goals, and lessons.  And we need to fully, deliberately live within the season God places us in, letting Him prune off whatever doesn’t fit for the time being.  We need to focus on the tasks at hand, learn the lesson of the moment, let go of the things He takes away, grab onto the things He asks us to, say “no” when it’s required, accept His “no” in patient trust, wait on the Lord when necessary, and glorify Him wherever we are.    
            Being pruned – of things that don’t bring Him glory and that don’t fit with the season of life we are in - will happen all during our spiritual lives.  (And if you think you are doing “good enough” in your Christian life – that there is no area you need to grow in and nothing else God needs to prune off - ask Him to reveal to you the next step for you in your spiritual growth.  You might be surprised.) 
            Growing in our faith and maturing as a Christian is a life-long process, full of many painful lessons, challenges, and prunings.  But the end goal of all of this is to become more Christ-like, more whole, more healed, more humble, more firmly rooted in Him, to help us have more impact for God’s Kingdom, and to bring Him more glory.  Because everything that doesn’t bring Him glory and that isn’t about His Kingdom and His righteousness will burn up in the end.  He is more concerned with developing eternity than He is with the temporary.  Are we?        

            1 Cor. 3:10, 13-15:  “But each one should be careful how he builds . . . his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.  It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.  If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.  If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”

            John 15:5:  “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” 

            1 Cor. 10:31:  “ . . . whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”