Continued from here.
Far too many Christians seem to want to receive the blessings of God without having to put in any effort beyond warming a pew on Sunday. Warming a pew hardly qualifies as denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Jesus. Look at all Jesus did to follow God – it cost him everything! And then he gained everything.
I put a lot of effort into my relationship with God. I set aside the first hour of every day to spend in quiet time with Him – in prayer, Bible study, and praise & worship. I do this even when I am very sick or traveling. I do it even if I get to bed late and am short on sleep. That hour is sacred and is more important than anything else I do in a day. NOTHING is more important in my day because NOTHING is more important to me than God. He is my top priority.
It takes me an enormous amount of effort to continually defer my preferences to other people. I am very self-centered by nature as well as a recovering “control freak.” In my default setting, I much prefer the world to revolve around me – my needs and desires. Choosing to defer my preferences to others over and over takes a lot of effort because this does not come naturally to me in any way, shape, or form.
Neither do the spiritual disciplines come naturally to me. For example, prayer has always been a challenge for me. I have a difficult time staying focused as I pray, and I am uncomfortable praying aloud with other people listening to what I am saying to God. Nevertheless, in obedience to God, I have disciplined myself to extend my prayer time and have also learned how to extend my focus – not that I do this perfectly, but I have improved. I volunteer as a prayer intercessor at my church, praying for a full hour during a worship service, which is something I never thought I would be able to do. I am amused when people mistakenly believe that my obedience means I have a “gift” of prayer. My prayer life has developed through blood, sweat, and tears and has not come easily to me.
To be continued…
[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace wearing a miner’s and using a pick on a pile of rocks. Courtesy Bitmoji.]
I watched the movie New Life the other day, and one line deeply resonated with me. Early in the movie, Ben and Ava are having challenges with maintaining a long-distance romance. They have a fight about it and decide to take a break from the relationship. When Ben’s friend asks him why he is considering ending the relationship, Ben says that perhaps the relationship is not meant to be because it’s too hard. His friend replies that he really shouldn’t focus on whether it’s too hard. He needs to asks himself whether it’s worth it.
This comment resonated with me because that’s the same dynamic I see with many people, including myself, in their relationship with God. If you are looking for an easy life, then don’t become a Christian. Salvation is the only part of Christianity that’s easy. The rest – the sanctification process as you grow in discipleship – takes an enormous amount of effort. If my focus was only on doing what’s easy, I wouldn’t be a Christian. I’m not looking for easy – I’m looking for value.
Since I committed to being a disciple of Jesus and doing whatever God says to do, no matter what, God has led me to do some very hard things, such as forgiving my childhood abusers, humbling myself in my marriage, and submitting to authority, even when I disagree (such as obeying the speed limit when I drive). None of these changes have been easy for me. In fact, they would have been impossible for me without God’s intervention. However, they have been worth it.
Forgiving my childhood abusers is one of the most difficult things I have ever done, but it freed me from my bitterness. It released me from decades of emotional pain. Was it hard? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely!
Same story with humbling myself in my marriage. Slaying my pride and repeatedly deferring my preferences, especially in areas in which I believed I was “right,” was impossible for me without God’s intervention. Today, there’s no tension in my marriage. We enjoy each other’s company. We smile when we see each other. Was it hard? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely!
To be continued…
[Graphic: Cover of New Life. Courtesy Amazon.]
Continued 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.]