Being Mindful that We Each Have Our Own Challenges

workin_itContinued from here.

People who compare themselves with me will sometimes envy the blessings they see that God has given me without noticing the costs I have paid. For example, one of my greatest blessings is that I do not stay angry with people and have the ability to extend grace, even as I am being hurt. This keeps me joyful even when enduring unfair circumstances – not that I do this perfectly, but my rebound period is fairly quick because I immediately go to God in prayer for those who hurt me. I learned to do this at great cost – I suffered for decades as deeply-ingrained bitterness sucked the life out me and made me a miserable person who cried and complained A LOT. Today, I am quick to forgive because I lived in heavy bondage for most of my life, and I refuse to go back. People seem to assume praying for my enemies and extending grace is easy for me, but it’s not – it’s a discipline I paid a heavy price to learn.

Another example is people envying my ability to sense God’s leading in specific areas of my life. This is something else I have developed over the years after investing much time in seeking God with my whole heart. For me, this involves prioritizing the first hour of my day in quiet time with God, even when I travel, am sick, have struggled with weeks of insomnia, etc. It also involves observing the Sabbath each week, meaning I must cram 7 days’ worth of work into 6 to make this happen, and it comes with a cost: I have little free time to do what I want to do because I’m working most of the 6 days and then spending my time honoring God on the 7th. I am frequently tempted to watch a secular movie on the Sabbath because I simply don’t have time to watch it during the week, but I don’t because I love God more.

When you are tempted to covet someone else’s relationship with God, pay attention to the costs that the other person is paying. Are you engaging in similar spiritual disciplines? Are you putting forth the effort required to get the results you would like to see in your own life? Take your focus off the other person and place it onto your relationship with God. Comparison robs you of joy. The key to joy is God, not having what someone else has.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace running on a treadmill and lifting dumbbells over the words, “Workin’ It.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

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Comparing our Relationships with God

Continued from here.

In his book, Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God Henry Blackaby, along with Richard Blackaby and Claude King, points out that each Christian’s relationship with God is unique. Thus, the way God speaks to me is going to differ from the way He speaks to you. He pointed out that there’s only one burning bush story, only one story of God talking through a donkey, only one wrestling with God story, etc. in the Bible. This is because each of us encounters God in a unique way as we each have a unique relationship with Him.

People sometimes say to me that they wish they had a relationship with God like I do. I always reply that He’s the same God and is just as available to them as He is to me. If people want to compare themselves with me, don’t compare the outcome – compare the spiritual disciplines with the intention of engaging in them as I do … not in HOW I do them but THAT I do them.

As an example, I set aside the first hour of each day for quiet time with God. A friend sets aside the last hour of her day for similar quiet time. She’s not a morning person, and she sleeps better by spending time with God at night. It’s like God “tucks her in” at the end of her day. There’s no need to compare my mornings with her evenings or even what we do during that quiet time. What matters is that we are both engaging in the spiritual discipline of prioritizing time with God.

If we must compare, let’s compare only enough to spur one another on to engage in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, prioritizing time with God, studying the Bible, giving, church attendance and service, praise & worship, and other practices that help us develop a deeper relationship with God. But let’s not compare HOW we do them. God may be calling me to study the Psalms while He is leading you to study Revelation. In both cases, we are engaging in the spiritual discipline of studying God’s Word, which is deepening our relationship with God. God doesn’t want us to be clones – His purposes and plans for you are not the same as His purposes and plans for me, but both are good.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God. Courtesy Amazon. ]

 

Sibling Rivalry among Christians

jellyContinued from here.

Sadly, this tendency to compare oneself to others is not limited to the secular realm regarding what we are being paid by our employers. I even see this dynamic within the church in regards to comparing one person’s relationship with God to another’s. This reminds me of the sibling rivalry that is so common within families. Two or more siblings grow up in the same home with the same parents and make one other miserable by comparing how one is treated versus another.

I used to do this myself. As the older sibling, I was frustrated that I would have to wait to be a particular age to do X, but then my younger sister would be allowed to do the same thing at the same time – or at least at a younger age than I had to be – and it made me angry. The reality is that regardless of when my younger sister was permitted to do something, I still had to wait the same length of time. That timing did not change based upon whenever she got to do X, but I could not see it, and my comparison robbed my joy.

Sadly, many Christians appear to struggle with “sibling rivalry” within the family of God, with me being no exception. As an example, it took me intensely praying day after day, week after week, and month after month for well over a year to forgive my childhood abusers and experience God’s healing. This was after I had been a Christian for decades. I heard the testimony of a new Christian who forgave his abusers within a few weeks and experienced God’s healing rapidly, and that irked me … not that I wasn’t happy that this guy experienced God’s freedom but that I had to work so much harder to reach the same place while it didn’t seem to take much effort from him by comparison. However, whether it took this man 3 days or 3 decades to forgive his abusers had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with how long my process took me, so what was the point is comparing our situations?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace reaching out of a large jar of grape jelly with the label, “So Jelly.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Someone Else’s Situation is None of Your Business

magnifying_glassContinued from here.

Have you ever thought about why do not covet made the “Top Ten List” of the Ten Commandments? I think it’s because envy is destructive. What’s going on in your life is simply none of my business. If you invite me to pray for you, then fulfilling that role becomes my business. Beyond that, the Bible specifically tells us to mind our own business (1 Thes. 4:11). When we obey this command, we are protected from the perils of envy.

Let’s return to the example I gave in my last blog entry about how nothing good comes from knowing how much a fellow employee is paid. Let’s say I learn you are being paid more than I am for doing the same job. That is going to make me angry and envious. I am going to compare my own work product with yours and make judgments about who is doing the work better, assuming that I am, of course. Now let’s say I learn I am being paid more than you are. That makes me vulnerable to becoming prideful, viewing myself as superior to you in particular ways. Even finding out we are paid the same amount can torture me as I note the ways in which I am stronger than you in particular areas of our job. Interestingly, I am unlikely to consider the ways in which you outshine me. So, no matter what I learn in poking my nose into your business, I am going to lose my joy as I engage in the mental exercise of comparing myself with you.

However, if I stay out of your business and only focus on what I am being paid, I am protected from the temptation of coveting how you are being treated. Whether you are being treated “better,” “worse,” or the same as I am is irrelevant to the experience of how I am being treated. What matters is whether my boss and I agree that I am being paid fairly. What someone else’s experience is with that boss has no bearing on me.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking through a magnifying glass. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

thiefPresident Theodore Roosevelt once said that “comparison is the thief of joy.” While I am sure he was referring to a different context, I have been mulling over the implications of this quote as regards the Christian walk and how it illuminates the reason that one of the Ten Commandments is not to covet. That commandment specifically tells us not to covet other people’s houses, spouses, servants, animals, or anything else belonging to them. In this day and age, there’s so much falling under “anything else,” from career to bank account to social status. Heck, I’ve seen people covet other people’s relationship with God!

I have found that everything God tells us to do (or not to do) in the Bible has good reason behind it. Often, we cannot (or do not) see the reason until we violate God’s ways. That violation might seem to have no consequences at first and may even feel great. However, in time, the reason for God’s ways seeps to the surface as we find ourselves in bondage. I believe that President Roosevelt hit the nail on the head with this quote because comparison does indeed steal our joy. It takes our focus off our blessings and instead leads us to meditate upon what we don’t have rather than what we do. The more we engage in comparing ourselves with others, the more miserable we become.

I worked for a man who did not believe in keeping personnel files locked up, although he had to in order to comply with company policy. His belief was that if one employee chose to read another employee’s personnel file and learned what the other person was earning in comparison to himself, this knowledge would torture him and provide all the punishment needed. He said that nothing good comes out of comparing your salary and benefits to another person whereas only focusing on your own situation protects you from the tentacles of envy. What someone else is earning is irrelevant to your own situation.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace stealing a big bag of money. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Developing the Fear of the Lord

love_mostContinued from here.

People love sermons on the many blessings that God wants to shower on those who love Him, but most fail to recognize their part in that equation – they must first love God! If we are chasing God’s blessings rather than chasing God, then we will selfishly squander those blessings if God gives them to us prematurely. Thus, God must withhold those blessings until we are spiritually mature enough to handle them. For example, someone who is chasing the blessing of prosperity is likely to spend that money selfishly if God gives it prematurely. However, someone who truly loves God – even as they struggle financially – will be much more likely to generously sharing financial blessings with those in need, and Jesus taught us to do. Only those who truly love God and pursue Him for HIM – not the spiritual vending machine – walk in the fear of the Lord.

The fear of the Lord is not “being afraid” of God. It’s about being committed to God NO MATTER WHAT. It involves a decision to trust, obey, and thank God, even during the dark night of the soul. It’s being 100% committed to God, even when God appears to have left you, which He promises He will never do. However, God will withdraw the sense of His presence to test you and see what is in your heart. If you are truly chasing God, you will continue to chase Him – to trust, obey, and thank Him – even when you can see no rational reason for continuing to do so. However, if you are really chasing what God can do for you, you will stop trusting, obeying, and thanking Him once you are no longer getting what you want out of Him. The only way for both you and God to truly know what’s in your heart is to remove the benefits of being in a relationship with God – the dark night of the soul – and see how you respond. If you really love God, even the dark night of the soul will not stop you from pursuing Him. As I frequently say, this isn’t easy, but it really is that simple.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with the words, “Love You the Most” coming out of her chest. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Do You Want God or His Gifts?

presentsContinued from here.

If God was a spiritual vending machine, not only would we remain as selfish as the world, but we would seek God for His gifts rather than for Him. When you hear a child talk about Santa Claus, it’s all about the child: “**I** want Santa to bring **me** X for Christmas.” There’s no focus on the man (who is, admittedly, fictitious) – on why he chooses to spend his time giving generously to children all over the world. God, however, is a real Person who is seeking a real relationship with you. He wants you to seek a relationship with HIM, not for what He can do for you.

I believe this is one reason that spiritually mature people report having undergone a season (or even multiple seasons) of the dark night of the soul. The way I would describe the dark night of the soul is when you are engaging in the same spiritual disciplines that have worked before but nothing resonates with you. Your prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling. Your praise and worship times feel empty. Your attempts at Sabbath rest are not restful. You study the Bible, and you experience no epiphanies, no matter which passages of text you read. You keep looking for God, but He seems nowhere to be found. Why does God do this?

Just as one cannot develop patience without waiting, I believe the fear of the Lord cannot be fully developed without a dark night of the soul. It’s easy to keep following God when that relationship is accompanied by “spiritual highs.” However, will I continue to seek Him when all of the blessings are removed … when I fail to sense His presence … when I see no harvest after sowing all of the seeds … after I have made all the sacrifices and see no positive results? When the spiritual vending machine dispenses absolutely nothing, will I still pursue Him? Will I continue pursuing a relationship with God – one in which He is completely silent – even when I see absolutely nothing in it for me? Will I continue to trust, obey, and thank Him when I receive absolutely nothing in return?

I believe the dark night of the soul is the ultimate test of whether we are seeking God for what He can do for us (spiritual vending machine) or whether we sincerely want HIM. Once we prove that HE – and not His gifts – are the desire of our hearts, only then are we able to truly walk in the fear of the Lord, leading us to the spiritual maturity to handle the many blessings God wants to shower upon those who truly love Him.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace carrying a large pile of presents. Courtesy Bitmoji.]