Spiritually Mature People Defer their Preferences

i_got_thisContinued from here.

Loving your neighbor as yourself requires us to prioritize other people above ourselves, so spiritually mature people repeatedly defer their own preferences in honor of others. Nothing about this process comes naturally because of our selfish sinful nature. The natural state for each of us is to choose the best for ourselves and follow our feelings. Only through spiritual maturity do we learn to humble ourselves as we honor others.

The way I learned this trait most effectively was by becoming a parent. I could not meet my baby’s needs without deferring my own preferences (such as sleep!) repeatedly as I placed my baby’s needs above my own. God gives new parents the grace of bonding through intense love, which helps them overcome their natural selfishness to prioritize the needs of a new baby.

Unfortunately, we don’t get the same feelings when it comes to deferring our preferences for annoying family members … or the people at work who are trying to sabotage us … or those who are bullying our child. When it comes to loving our enemies, obedience happens through a choice to obey God despite what we feel, and that’s hard to do. It takes spiritual maturity to bless those who curse us and pray for those who mistreat us.

My preference was to hate my childhood abusers, nurse my bitterness, and hope they all burn eternally in hell. However, God commanded me to forgive them, which I truly, from the bottom of my heart, did not want to do. God placed a question on my heart: did I love Him more than I hated my enemies? If I loved Him more, then I needed to forgive them, not because they deserved it but because I would obey God out of love. Obeying God by forgiving my enemies through repeated prayer for them was one of my most life-changing experiences. It was through forgiving them that God healed my brokenness.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace saying, “I got this.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Spiritually Mature People Prioritize People over Tasks

im_on_itContinued from here.

Another telltale sign of someone who is spiritually mature is that he or she consistently prioritizes people over tasks. When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus also identified the second greatest:

‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’
Jesus replied: ‘‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.’ And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” ~ Matt. 36-40

 

I, personally, find this commandment to be more difficult than the greatest commandment because I am, by nature, a task-oriented person. I have the spiritual gift of administration; thus, I see the tasks that need to be completed more clearly than most people do. However, the problem is not my awareness of necessary tasks – it’s my spiritual immaturity in regards to loving others.

I believe this is one reason God has placed me in a ministry requiring lots of personal relationship-building. On a daily basis, I am placed in a position of having to decide whether to prioritize a person or a task. My natural inclination is to prioritize the task, but that’s not God’s priority – it is always people. That’s not to say that the tasks are not important. They are! However, people are the priority, not the tasks. As I am obedient to God is following His priorities, He supernaturally provides the time to attend to the tasks. The fact that I must continually remind myself of this is an indicator of my lack of spiritual maturity in this area. As I mature, this will become less challenging for me as my priorities align with God’s.

God loves, and Jesus died for, every single person you interact with. This makes each and every person a higher priority than your to do list for the day. Of course, we need God’s wisdom and discernment for knowing how and when to interact with each person. Sometimes we need to set boundaries in regards to time and energy. However, those boundaries must align with God’s priorities and not our own. This is an area in which I am still growing, so I don’t have as many words of wisdom to offer in this area, only that I am in the trenches with you and that I need God’s help daily (hourly??) to balance prioritizing people with completing the tasks that God has placed before me.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace running with a long to-list and saying, “I’m on it!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Wrap Up of Series on the “Easy” and “Hard” Christian Life

lets_goContinued from here.

As you can tell, I could continue with this topic indefinitely. I hope the sampling I provided drives home the point that deepening your relationship with God is both easier and harder: easier in the spirit but harder in the flesh. Each of us must choose which to feed. Whichever we feed grows stronger while whichever we starve will weaken.

I don’t claim to have it all together – I don’t. The closer I grow to God, the more aware I become of my innate selfishness and how far I am in my flesh from who God wants me to be. My response is to quote Joyce Meyer, who frequently says, “No, I’m not where I need to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be!” Amen to that!

While I have grown exceedingly more aware of my innate selfishness, I have also grown more aware of the immensity of God’s grace. He loved me completely even when I made no effort whatsoever to follow Him. No matter how selfish and wretched I was, he loved me and saw something of value in me worth redeeming. So, rather than feeling defeated in my growing awareness of my innate selfishness, I fall more deeply in love with God as I recognize that I cannot “out sin” His grace. No matter how self-centered I am in an area of my life, His grace is more. This motivates me to keep chasing God, even as I repeatedly fall, because nothing compares to knowing Him more deeply.

Don’t be afraid of the difficult road of following God because it gets easier after the difficulty. Each new leg of the journey is painful and challenging because you must kill the flesh in that area of your life. On the other side of that pain and challenge is abundant joy that will make you wonder why you ever resisted in the first place. The more your relationship with God deepens, the more you will grow to trust Him, making it easier to obey, not because the road is easy but because you know the journey is worth the struggle. On the other side is a deeper relationship with God, and that’s worth any loss. Nothing this world has to offer comes anywhere close to what you experience as you fall more and more deeply in love with God.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace running and saying, “Let’s go!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Replacing My Plans with God’s Plans

whereContinued from here.

I am a planner by nature. I like to plan out where I am going before taking the first step so I know exactly what to expect. Living as God’s servant throws all that out the window, which has been extremely difficult in my flesh. My flesh does not want a lamp showing me only the next step: I want the complete directions from beginning to end so I know exactly where I am going and when I can expect to arrive.

In my flesh, I also want a say in what my assignment is. I know what my strengths are, and I want to work in a job and participate in activities in which my strengths are assets. I don’t want to be vulnerable or dependent upon anyone. I want to know that I can do something on my own without any help from anyone.

To follow God, I have had to leave all agendas at the foot of the cross and follow His path, which He illuminates only one step at a time. I have no idea where I am going, so I cannot plan ahead to make the journey easier. When people ask where I see myself in five years, I have no answer because God doesn’t tell me that far in advance. He only lets me know where He wants me today, and the lack of knowing drives my flesh absolutely batty.

However, this aspect of my life has become very simple because I put no energy into planning where I’m going. I have learned to trust that God has a purpose and plan that is good, that He will provide what I need, and that He will fulfill the desires of my heart because I delight in God. Interestingly, the things God brings into my heart are far from what I would have planned for myself.

For example, I recently started a job with a prison ministry that I am passionate and excited about. Anyone who has known me since 2016 or earlier can tell you that neither the word prison nor ministry has been on my radar. If you had asked me a year ago where I thought God was leading me, I can assure you that neither word would have made my list, much less in combination with each other. And yet, God has given me a passion for where He has led me that could only have come from Him. While my flesh balks about not knowing what’s coming, God’s plans are exceedingly good.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up a map and asking, “Where?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Choosing to Extend Grace

no_worriesContinued from here.

In my flesh, I expected the world to extend me lots of grace, and I would become offended when that did not happen. From my perspective, I had suffered greatly from years of child abuse, so was it really asking too much for people to extend me grace when I messed up?

However, in my flesh, I did not extend the same courtesy. After all, that person hasn’t been where I have, so he/she should have things together. Also, while I gave myself all sorts of excuses for bad behavior (it was “justified” because I was simply a victim of my emotions), I judged other people’s behavior from the outside, never considering that they, too, were being driven by their own emotions resulting from their own life experiences that I knew nothing about. It was easy in my flesh to be the victim, where whatever I did had an excuse (after all, I was abused as a child) while any poor behavior from anyone else was inexcusable. In my flesh, it was easy to judge others.

Learning to choose to extend grace was extremely difficult for me. First, God called me to do it in my actions, such as refraining from saying something negative while still thinking it. Later, He led me to extend grace even in my thoughts by praying for the other person rather than thinking negative thoughts about him or her. I had to stop thinking about other people in terms of how their actions affect me but, instead, see them through God’s eyes – as beloved children of God in need of grace and His tender loving care.

Learning to view people through God’s eyes has made my life so much easier! People are drawn to me because I do not judge them. They see compassion in my eyes rather than judgment, which is exactly what people need when they are hurting. That compassion points them to God, especially in situations in which they repeatedly receive grace. Although my flesh balks at extending grace, my spirit soars.

The more annoying someone’s behavior, the more they need God. I pray that God will reveal the height, depth, width, and breadth of His love for them. After all, if they truly understood how deeply God loves them, they would not behave selfishly. That’s how God changed me – not that I do it perfectly, but I have laid down my gavel and stopped judging others, choosing to see them as beloved children of God.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of smiling, holding out her hand, and saying, “No worries.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Choosing a Good Attitude

arghContinued from here.

I used to believe that I had no control over my own attitude. I felt what I felt and reacted to those feelings. Unfortunately, because of my painful childhood, I carried around a lot of pain that could be “triggered” by many external influences. So, I did my best to avoid as many “triggers” as I could. When I was unsuccessful in avoiding a trigger, I allowed my emotions to drive my behavior, making me an unpleasant person to be around, particularly for those who lived with me.

Learning to choose a good attitude when powerful emotions were triggered was extremely difficult for me to do. It was much easier for me in my flesh to allow my emotions to drive my behavior. If I felt angry, it was natural for me to be rude to others. If I felt sad, it was natural for me to focus on my pain and ignore the feelings of those around me. It was comfortable to expect the world around me to bend to the will of my emotions. After all, I was abused as a child, so the world owed me … or so I believed.

Nothing was more unnatural for me than to take responsibility for my reactions to powerful emotions. In the early stages, having to do this made me angry because I believed I experienced more negative emotions than other people because I had experienced more pain that they had. Thus, they owed it to me to put up with my bad attitude. Choosing to obey God by not allowing my emotions to drive my behavior was extremely difficult for me and took much practice to improve.

Today, I have a very different reaction to strong emotions. I recognize that whatever I am feeling in the moment – whether “good” or “bad” – will pass because all emotions are transient. Joy transcends whatever I am feeling, and I can always choose joy. Thus, I can experience joy even as I sob over my son having major back surgery or being in physical pain. I pour my emotions out to God – not other people – and ask Him to help me. I also thank Him that His mercies are new every morning, so it is OK that I am feeling lousy right now. Joy will come again, and I trust that God will carry me through until it does.

Pouring my emotions out to God rather than people has made my relationships much easier because I am no longer expecting fallible people to do what only God can do. Being in a relationship with me is less burdensome because I have no expectation for others to bear the brunt of my emotions. Instead, I choose a good attitude, no matter how I feel, which has removed much conflict that used to exist in my relationships.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace throwing her hands up in the air and saying, “ARGH!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Choosing Discomfort

life_is_hardContinued from here.

Part of the human condition is a strong disposition toward being comfortable, and I am no exception. In my flesh, I will always choose what is most comfortable for myself, and then once I find it, I don’t want to leave. In my flesh, I would be perfectly happy to spend the rest of my life lying in a hammock on a beach, savoring my own comfort and ignoring the pain of other people.

Since I made the choice to follow God no matter what, comfort has become a thing of the past. Someone called into the Christian radio station KLOVE with the following quote:

There’s no growth in a comfort zone … and no comfort in a growth zone.

My flesh’s inclination toward comfort lulls me to sleep to God’s ways and priorities and keeps me self-focused. God is always moving as He reaches out to the lost, but I won’t be a part of His activity if I’m enjoying the comfort of my beachside hammock. So, since my relationship with God has deepened, I have entered into a life of discomfort, which has been hard for my flesh. Whenever I break eye contact with God, I’m tempted to feel sorry for myself because my flesh screams that it deserves comfort.

However, my continual discomfort leads to growth, which feeds my spirit, making my life so much easier as I participate in God’s activity around me. My spirit is empowered each time I defer my preferences for someone who is being unpleasant. I have repeated opportunities to grow my patience and perseverance. Then, when I’m with a group that is being inconvenienced, I’m the one who is relaxed and “going with the flow” while others are expressing outrage in their misery. It’s not that I am a “better person” – I’m not. Instead, because I have grown through much experience of discomfort, I have learned how to tap into God’s joy and peace in those situations so that they don’t bother me like they used to. This makes me more pleasant to be around and causes people to ask how I could remain joyful in an uncomfortable situation, which invites a conversation about God.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lying on a coach with her hand on her, dramatically saying, “Life is hard.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]