Transition from Complexity to Simplicity

not_gonna_happenContinued from here.

When I was an immature Christian, I believed I was in control over my life. I had an infinite number of choices to make: my career, my friends, how to spend my time, etc. As my relationship with God has deepened, I have only one choice: to follow God. As God has “gotten into my business” in every aspect of my life, I only make one choice: obedience. He is the Master, and I am the servant. I go when and where He says go and stay when He says stay. I do what He tells me to do in His Word, no matter how unpopular or counter-cultural that action might be.

Letting go of control over my own life was very difficult for me. I was deeply hurt as a child because the people in authority over me harmed me greatly. I spent decades living with the aftereffects of the evil choices of those in authority over me, so I grew into an adult determined to be in control over my own life and make my own choices. Sadly, because I did not have one healthy emotional bone in my body, making my own choices resulted in walking into one emotional pit after another after another. I was miserable when I was making my own choices for my life.

In March 2013, I finally submitted to God’s authority, which greatly simplified my life. It really did not matter what I thought about a situation because I resolved to do what the Master told me to do, regardless of how I felt about it. This freed up so much mental energy because I no longer invested my time in mulling decisions over in my head to view the possibilities from different angles. Instead, I simply did what God told me to do, which was very simple but also very difficult in my flesh. I had “starve” my flesh by focusing my energy onto doing God’s will, no matter the cost.

It was simple to forgive my abusers: I prayed for them each morning and whenever I had a negative thought about them throughout the day. It was simple to humble myself in my marriage: I deferred my preferences for those of my husband. It was simple to submit to authority: I did what I was told to do, as long as this was not in opposition to God’s Word. None of this was easy, but each choice of obedience was surprisingly simple. I knew exactly what I needed to do.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace frowning and saying, “Not gonna happen.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

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Growing Awareness of Selfishness and Grace

pay_attention_to_meContinued from here.

As my relationship with God has matured, I have become infinitely more aware of my sin and self-centeredness. When my relationship with God was immature, I believed I was an overall “good person,” almost to the point of martyrdom. I was quite the hero in my own head, having survived severe child abuse and broken the cycle for my son. I had done a lot of “good things,” such as serving on the Board of Directors for two nonprofits that provided support for adult survivors of child abuse. I was active in volunteer work and successful in my job. I was leading Bible studies through my church. I thought I was a really “good person” who was making a difference.

As my relationship with God has deepened, I have become painfully aware that my “goodness” and “righteous acts” are just filthy rags motivated by selfishness. Not a drop of goodness exists inside of me apart from God. While from the outside, I might appear to be a good person, my motivation for those “righteous acts” was frequently self-centeredness. For example, I might do something nice for another person, which looked godly from the outside. However, my heart was far from God because I had an agenda. I would make sacrifices for other people as a way to manipulate them into liking me so they wouldn’t leave. I believed I was fundamentally unlovable, but if I did enough “righteous acts” for someone else, perhaps the person would stay in my life despite my brokenness. Ultimately, I would burn myself out, and then the other person would leave as I stopped being useful, which reinforced my belief that I was fundamentally unlovable.

Today, because of my deep relationship with a holy God, I am keenly aware of my tendency toward selfishness, not only in my actions but also in my thoughts. However, I am also much more deeply aware of God’s grace. He loves me despite my natural selfishness. Because of His unfailing love, I choose to let go of my own agenda and, instead, ask what I can do for God and how. This results in God leading me to do righteous acts for others, but the motivation is very different. Instead of doing something kind to manipulate someone into liking me, I am extending kindness out of the overflow of the love that God has poured into me. The reaction of the other person does not matter because the motivation behind the extended kindness is my love for God. I am seeking nothing from the other person. If I receive kindness in return, that’s simply icing on the cake.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace playing cymbals and yelling,” Pay attention to me!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Does a Deepening Relationship with God Become Easier or Harder?

questionSomeone recently asked me this question: “As your relationship with God has deepened, has it become easier or harder?” My response was, “Yes … and it has been completely worth it!”

My relationship with God deepened dramatically since I started tithing the first hour of my day to Him in March 2013. Since then, my walk with God has become both much easier and much harder, and I would not trade the last 4.5 years for anything!

A closer relationship with God is much harder from the perspective of the flesh. Submitting an area of my life to God involves starving the flesh and feeding the spirit, requiring my flesh to “die.” That’s not a fun process. It’s uncomfortable. It requires me to do things differently than how I have always done them. I must make different choices, denying myself things that I have previously allowed. Sometimes this choice affects other people, who don’t understand why I used to be OK with doing something and am now making different choices. I have lost relationships over this. I have experienced much loss as my relationship with God has deepened.

However, a closer relationship with God is much easier from the perspective of the spirit because it awakens me to who God created me to be. As I put to death an area of my life that I used to submit to the flesh, I experience life as God intended, which leads to much joy and peace. I release baggage that I did not even realize I was carrying around. My spirit feels “lighter,” and my walk becomes easier. I marvel that I ever valued what has been lost because what I have gained is of far more value.

My life has also become simpler as my relationship with God has deepened. When I was living my life by my sinful nature, I had an infinite number of choices. With God, there is only one: “Follow Me.” I have no agenda other than doing God’s will, so I no longer invest time into weighing out the pros and cons of my many options. God is the master, and I am the servant. Nothing is more simple than doing the one thing God tells me to do … it’s just not easy.

I’ll share some specific examples of ways that my deeper walk with God is both easier and harder. I have been doing this for 4.5 years, and I would not trade my walk with God for anything this world has to offer:

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” ~ Phil. 3:7-9

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of a head shot of Grace with a question mark. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Applying Critical Thinking to your Faith

goalContinued from here.

As I wrap up this series on tough questions, I encourage you not to be afraid to ask God your own tough questions. I did not receive a quick answer to any of these questions that I asked. Some took years of wrestling before I received an answer. At the end of that period, I found more than an answer – I found a deeper relationship with God!

The Bible tells us that we will find God when we seek Him with all our hearts. As we wrestle with the tough questions, search for answers in His Word, and spend time with God in prayer over them, we are seeking so much more than answers – we are seeking God!

I teach a college-level critical thinking class and encourage my students to apply critical thinking to their faith, regardless of whichever faith they have (or none at all). This surprises many students because there’s a pervasive belief that if we apply critical thinking to a religious faith, we’ll see that the religion is a bunch of bunk. So, we must choose between being rational or having faith.

My experience has been just the opposite! During my 11-year period of rejecting God, I applied critical thinking to every aspect of the Christian faith, which is how I arrived at many of the answers I have shared in this series. My belief then – which continues today – is that a faith (or God) that cannot withstand scrutiny is not worth believing in. If God is who He says He is, then my questioning should consistently result in truth – and it has! My faith is very strong today because of that season of questioning and the answers I received.

Don’t take my word for. Experience this for yourself! What are the hard questions that stand in the way of embracing a close, deep, personal, and intimate relationship with God? Ask HIM! Search the Bible for answers. Pray. Meditate on what you find. Consider the questions from different perspectives, including whether you are even asking the right question! Sometimes our questions are, by nature, self-focused, so they need to be redefined to broaden our perspective before those questions can be answered.

If you will do this, then as you seek your answers, you will be seeking God. And God has promised that when you seek Him, you will find Him if you seek Him with your whole heart. So, don’t do this halfway. If you really want the answers, then put forth the effort to seek them, and don’t rest until you have them. At the end of journey, you’ll find more than your answers – you’ll find God!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace kicking a soccer ball into the net: “Goal!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

How Strong Do I Really Need to Be?

workin_itContinued from here.

As I have shared previously, I’ve been through some really tough situations – child abuse, my father’s sudden death when I was 16, infertility, the adoption process, and parenting a child with special needs. To say I have lived a difficult life is an understatement. I have lost count of the number of times people have said to me, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” or “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” My response was always, “How strong do I really need to be?”

It turns out that neither of those quotes are from the Bible. There’s nothing in the Bible indicating that God’s goal in allowing large problems in our lives is to build our strength, nor does the Bible say that God stops the waters once we have reached the point that our strength will give out.

Think about it: Jesus was crucified. David fought Goliath. Daniel spent the night in the lion’s den. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace. These were all situations that went well beyond their strength. None of them got through those situations because they were strong. Instead, they got through them because they had a big God.

I have grown to learn that God isn’t interested in building my strength. Instead, He is interested in building my dependency upon Him. That’s why Jesus said we are the branches that are attached to the vine (Jesus) and can do nothing without him. God doesn’t allow mammoth problems in my life to build my strength. He allows them to build my faith, which is worth more than gold.

I’m still learning to accept trials, and I’ve got a ways to go before I’ll greet trials with joy (pure or otherwise). However, I am learning that dependency on God is the key to surviving the trials. I’ll tell God that I have put all of my eggs in His basket, so either He comes through, or I’ll fall. There is no third option.

When you face circumstances that are beyond your strength, remember that the key to surviving them is dependency upon God. Lean on Him, and trust that He will get you through this. God will work even this situation for good. Focus on loving God and doing His will. He will take care of the rest.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace running on a treadmill while holding dumbbells over the words, “Workin’ it.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

How Do You Know that God Will Show Up?

im_waitingContinued from here.

One of the more challenging aspects of God’s character for me is His tendency to show up at what I perceive as the 11th hour. My preference is for Him to show up early so I can rest assured that He is going to take care of my problem. However, God wants me to grow my faith, trusting that He is going to show up despite seeing no evidence of Him doing so beyond His promise to work all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. I know that I love Him, and I actively seek to fulfill His purpose by doing His will, so I know that He will work even this (whatever “this” is) for good.

Oftentimes, I find myself in a position of submitting to God’s authority but still having to wait … and wait … and wait for Him to show up. This passage from the Psalms is the one I lean on when I am in a holding pattern and waiting on God:

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. ~ Ps. 91:4

Because God has been faithful before, I find it easier to believe that He will be faithful again. Whenever I am tempted to doubt that God will show up, I remind myself that the story is not over yet. If we ended the story on Friday, Jesus would still be in the tomb. We had to get to Sunday before God showed up. We are often tempted to give up on God on Friday or Saturday, ending the story in defeat. We must hold on to the hope the God WILL show up and not give up until He does.

The bottom line is that you either trust God or you don’t. You either believe that He loves you and will take care of you, or you don’t. Beth Moore hit me right between the eyes at one of her Living Proof Live events when she said that dread is advertising God’s unfaithfulness. In other words, when I tell people that I fear God won’t show up, my life becomes a billboard advertising God’s unfaithfulness. However, when I trust and truly BELIEVE that God will show up and work EVEN THIS for good, I advertise the faithfulness of God.

Of course, we have to do our part as well. There’s no promise for God to work all situations for good for those who do not love Him or those who are willfully disobedient to Him. As long as you love God and are intentionally trying to live out His will, He will show up. If He hasn’t, that means your story isn’t over yet.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with her hand on her hip, standing next to an hourglass and saying, “I’m waiting.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

How Do You Know That God Exists?

i_dont_knowContinued from here.

After my father died unexpectedly when I was 16 years old, I walked away from my faith for 11 years. I questioned my faith to its very core, including how I could even know that God exists. After all, I cannot see Him or touch Him, so how could I be sure that He even exists?

My answer to that question today is simple: I have no other explanation for the amazing transformation that has taken place in me … a transformation that has been so profound that numerous people in my life have noticed and commented upon it. Let me give you a snapshot of the “before” and “after:”

Before After
Intense self-loathing Self-acceptance, even of my many quirks
Binge eating disorder Healthy diet and exercise with a steady, healthy weight
Judgmental with a potty mouth Compassionate and accepting of people exactly where they are & absence of profanity
Control freak Patient and much more comfortable in dealing with change and the unknown
Extremely self-absorbed Progressively more focused on deferring my own preferences to others
Constant complainer who was driven by intense emotions in the aftermath of child abuse Progressively choosing gratitude over grumbling by choosing to focus on the blessings rather than the problems
Very bitter and unforgiving I have fully forgiven everyone who has ever wronged me, including my childhood abusers.
People pleaser who avoided confrontation at all costs Assertive person who truly does not care what other people think of me, as long as God loves me.
Rebellious, manipulative, and distrusting of authority Trust that God is in control, and I submit to authority out of love for God.

People with my history of child abuse and aftereffects of suicidal urges, self-injury, eating disorder, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic attacks, insomnia, etc. don’t experience the level of transformation that has happened to me, even after years of therapy. I was told in therapy to be realistic about my therapy goals, and the changes I have undergone would not have been “realistic” … and yet they happened. I have no other explanation other than that there is, in fact, a God who is more powerful than my brokenness was.

I can relate to the man who Jesus healed of blindness in his conversation with the Pharisees:

A second time they [the Pharisees] summoned the man who had been blind. ‘Give glory to God by telling the truth,’ they said. ‘We know this man [Jesus] is a sinner.’
He replied, ‘Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!’ ~ John 9:24-24

You ask how I know there is a God. My response is simple: “One thing I do know. I was broken, but now I’m healed.”

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace scratching her head and saying,  “I don’t know.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]