Motivation for Discipleship is Always Love

love_youContinued from here.

Radical discipleship is not possible without love, which is why it’s so important to invest quality, one-on-one time with God every day. Humbling myself to apologize to the mother of my son’s bullies was not easy for me, and there’s nothing in my natural self that was inclined to do it. I chose to say, “Yes, Lord” because I loved God more than I hated the thought of having that conversation. I don’t know if God will use that conversation to change the mother’s life, but my obedience certainly changed mine.

Each time we say “Yes, Lord” to something we REALLY don’t want to do, we deepen our level of intimacy with God. We get the opportunity to experience Him in ways that most other people do not. God rewards those who earnestly seek Him, and the momentarily pain of obedience is more than compensated for in the long run. Joyce Meyer words it this way: obedience first causes pain to the flesh before it results in pleasure to the spirit.

Radical discipleship is what Jesus called us to. All of his disciples were radical in how they lived their lives and how they interacted with others. Their priorities were not the same as the World’s. They weren’t concerned about saving up for retirement and making sure their kids got into the right college. Their focus was on Kingdom purposes, doing the will of God and sharing their faith with anyone who would listen. They loved God more than their own lives, and they gave up their right to live as they pleased to become slaves of Christ. That’s the same level of radical discipleship that God calls us to as well.

Are you a disciple of Christ? Or are you just going through the motions to avoid going to hell when you die? Do you love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength? Or is going to church simply an activity you do on Sundays that you check off your to-do list each week? God isn’t looking for pew warmers – he’s looking for people who will radically follow Him, loving Him more than they love their own lives. Is that you?

In March 2013, I became a radical disciple of Christ, and my life has been completely transformed. Anyone who knew me before then will testify that this is the case for me. I have made many sacrifices, but I have gained so much more in return. God IS the gift. Chase Him! Cling to Him! He is worth it!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up a sign that says, “Love You.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

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We Cannot Say “No, Lord” and Call Ourselves Disciples of Christ

yuckContinued from here.

Far too many Christians (myself included for many years) believe that saying “No, Lord” is an acceptable response to God’s leading. This confuses free will with discipleship. Yes, we have the option of saying “No” to God through free will, but at the point at which we do this, we cease being Jesus’ disciples. We cannot have it both ways. Either we are voluntarily slaves to Christ, doing the will of God from our hearts, or we are not Jesus’ disciples. We don’t get to enjoy the benefits of discipleship with Christ without first denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and following Jesus.

Following Christ is not always fun. We live in a culture that is fundamentally self-absorbed, and Christlikeness is all about denying ourselves and putting the needs of others above ourselves. That means we aren’t to blend in to society, and that’s hard for many people to do. May Christians (myself included for many years) want to straddle the fence, keeping one foot in the Church to avoid going to hell while keeping the other foot squarely in the world so that other than warming a pew on Sundays, their lives aren’t very different from the lives of their worldly friends. The Bible says that when we do this, we actually become God’s enemy!

God despises lukewarm Christians, so if you are trying to straddle the fence and live a worldly life peppered with just enough church to avoid going to hell, you are fooling yourself. Jesus did not call people to accept just enough of his sacrifice to avoid going to hell. He called disciples, and he defined discipleship as (1) denying yourself; (2) carrying a cross; and (3) following him. You cannot do this and live a self-absorbed life like the world. You are fooling yourself if you are trying to do this.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace gagging under the word, “Yuck.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Believing You are Lavishly Loved

infinityContinued from here.

Because of my childhood abuse, I had intense self-loathing. I have always been “different” and never felt like I fit in anywhere. I lived most of my life feeling unseen, unheard, and unloved. All of this changed when I chose to believe that God loves me. You might know in your head that God loves you, but you need to embrace that love in your heart. You need to know in the marrow of your bones that God deeply, richly, and profoundly loves you. Until you do, you will never accomplish His purpose and plan for your life.

As silly as this may sound, one tool I used to embrace this truth was to look myself in the eye in the mirror and say, “You are loved.” This was very difficult for me to do because I did not believe it. I did not believe I was worth loving, and I did not believe that anyone who actually knew the “real me” could possibly love me … but I was wrong. Nobody knows me better than God does, and yet He loves me more than anyone else does.

God actually UNDERSTANDS me – something I cannot even say about myself! I do things all that time that make no sense, even to myself. While I am baffled by my own behavior and choices, God is not. He knows exactly why I do the things that I do, what broke me to drive me to behave in that way, and the specific steps I need to take to change. I have learned through many years of experience that I am incapable of changing myself. Only God’s love can do that, but I’m not going to tap into that power if I don’t believe that it’s mine to receive.

I challenge you to enter into a season of receiving God’s love. Meditate on Bible verses that talk about His unfailing love. Spend time with Him in which you do nothing but receive His love. Fill up with it. Drink deeply from the well of living water. It will change your life!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace behind an infinity sign, saying, “I love you X infinity.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Channeling God’s Love to Others

love_mostContinued from here.

One of the most profound lessons God taught me in my journey to forgiving others is that He provides the love for those who have wronged me. It took me a long time to forgive some of the people in my life because I had been so deeply wounded. When it was time for me to interact with these people, I feared how I might feel being around them again. I knew I had forgiven them, but I didn’t “feel love” for them. So, I spent hours in prayer, praise, and worship to fill up with God’s love before the interaction. I was blown away by God’s ability to love them through me.

While I had no love in my heart for them, God had ample love for them because Jesus died for them, too. If they only knew how deeply God loved them, they would not have behaved toward me in the way that they did. It felt like God turned on a firehose of love that coursed through me. I didn’t have to contribute any love from my heart – it all came from God. Not only did these people receive God’s lavish love through me, but I also got to experience God’s love in a much richer way because it flowed through me before reaching them. Thus, not only did forgiving those who wronged me bring me healing: it also brought me a deeper sense of love and joy!

This dynamic is particularly true in marriage. No matter how broken your marriage is, God can fill you with His love for your spouse. You don’t have to bring an ounce of love to the table. Perhaps your marriage has been dead for years. God can breathe life into the dry bones of your marriage. What resurrects a dead marriage is love – God’s love – because God loves your spouse enough to sacrifice Jesus for him or her. If your spouse truly understood the height, depth, width, and breadth of God’s love for him or her, the behavior that killed your marriage would change.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of love flowing out of Grace’s chest with the words, “Love you the most.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Remembering God’s Faithfulness amidst the Pity Party

cry_me_a_riverContinued from here.

As I begin the process of walking away from the pity party, I expand my thanks beyond my own personal comforts by remembering God’s past faithfulness. In the process, I remind myself that God was enough before, and He is enough now. It goes something like this:

  • If you had only provided me salvation so I could avoid hell and go to heaven, it would have been enough.
  • If you had only healed the eating disorder, it would have been enough.
  • If you had only stopped the nightmares, it would have been enough.
  • If you had only stopped the self-injury, it would have been enough.
  • If you had only healed the panic attacks, it would have been enough.
  • If you had only brought me my son after years of infertility, it would have been enough.
  • If you had only healed my son after major back surgery, it would have been enough.
  • If you had only healed my marriage, it would have been enough.

As I go through this process, I gradually remove myself as the center of my focus and return it back where it belongs – onto God. He is more than enough. He is faithful. He is good. Nothing good comes from engaging in a pity party, but much good comes from remembering the God who has always been faithful.

The final step is to go be a blessing to someone else. I know I am vulnerable to the siren song of self-pity, so I need to get my mind off my own pain. An effective way to do this is to stop thinking about myself at all and, instead, replace those thoughts with how I can bless someone else. I can invite a lonely friend/acquaintance to lunch, donate items to a charity, send a card to someone who is in physical or emotional pain, look up a Bible verse that meets someone else’s needs, or choose from a myriad of other ways to be a blessing to someone else. As I shift my focus to being a blessing to others, I am empowered to walk away from the lure to participate in a pity party, which brings glory to God.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace crying as her tears reach nose-level. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

How to Avoid Pity Parties

cryContinued from here.

I remain vulnerable to engaging in pity parties, particularly when I don’t feel well physically, and thus must intentionally choose to take steps to avoid their lure. One step I take is choosing forgiveness at the moment that someone wounds me. I have already decided that I will forgive anyone for anything they do to harm me, and I waste no time in beginning to pray for them, even as I am reeling from what they have done. As an example, on the morning that I had to drive my son to a children’s hospital an hour away for major back surgery, we discovered that someone had vandalized my husband’s truck by breaking the windshield with a baseball bat. I was already vulnerable because of my son’s pending surgery, so I could have easily spent that hour’s drive feeling sorry for myself. Instead, I chose to spend that hour in prayer – both praying for my son’s surgery and praying for the vandals. While I did not feel like praying for the vandals, I chose to do so ensure bitterness would not take root in my heart.

Another step I take is to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thes. 5:16-18). No matter how uncomfortable I am (such as when I have the flu or a stomach virus), I am always, always, ALWAYS thankful for my bathroom. I am thankful that I can use a toilet instead of having to walk out into the heat, cold, rain, or snow to use a smelly outhouse. I am thankful for running water, hot showers, and toilet paper. No matter how miserable, unfair, or uncomfortable my circumstances are, I can always sincerely give thanks for my bathroom, which is a great starting point.

Once I begin the process of thanking God for my bathroom, I have greased the wheels toward other things I am thankful for: my house, my cozy bed, that I can afford a house, that I have the ability to walk myself over to the bathroom, etc. Note how everything I have mentioned thus far centers around my own comfort. When I am feeling lured into a pity party, I am gradually being lured into self-absorption, so I find that things I can be thankful for that revolve around myself are the most effective in beginning the redirection process.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace crying next to a crying emoticon. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Why Pity Parties are So Destructive

pity_party_catContinued from here.

God created us to worship Him, so if anything other than God is the primary focus of our lives, we are going to be miserable. By nature, pity parties place ourselves at the center of our lives, which the Bible calls pride.

I had a difficult time applying the label of “pride” to myself because I had such low self-esteem. I saw prideful people as those who were overly proud of themselves – as in believing they were better than everyone else whereas I saw myself as more pathetic than everyone else. I was shocked to learn that these extremes were two sides of the same coin. Just as someone who is beautiful can be prideful by always thinking of ways she is better than everyone else, I was prideful in thinking of ways that I was worse off than everyone else. In both cases, the self is the center of one’s focus rather than God, which is pride.

An even more difficult label for me to accept was “idolatry.” I believed that idolatry was one of the Ten Commandments that I did not need to worry about. After all, I never bowed down to a golden or wooden image of Baal or other “god.” However, idolatry is anything that we bow down to instead of God, and I repeatedly “bowed down” to my emotional pain, which I saw as bigger than God. When the Bible said that God would give me “beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Is. 61:3), I didn’t believe it because I had not experienced it.

I wanted God to do all the work of healing my emotional pain without my having to do my part of forgiving my abusers, and that’s not the way it works. I cannot pray a pumpkin patch into existence without first planting pumpkin seeds. While God can do anything, he requires the farmer to plant the pumpkin seeds first. Then, He does His part to grow those seeds into pumpkins. The same concept applies to experiencing healing from your emotional pain. Until you plant the seeds of forgiveness and gratitude, the healing God promises in the Bible will elude you – not because God is not capable of healing you but because God is waiting for you to do your part before He will do His.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace crying with a cat. Courtesy Bitmoji.]