The Pleasure after the Pain

smile2.pngContinued from here.

On her television show Enjoying Everyday Life, Joyce Meyer helped me with this concept of the pain and pleasure of following God into deeper levels of holiness. She pointed out that when we choose to follow God, we will first experience pain as we “kill” more of our sinful nature. After we push through the pain, which requires effort, we then step into the pleasure that our spirit experiences as we deepen our relationship with God. Transforming into the image of Christ involves a continual cycle of pain followed by pleasure. We must first allow God to break down our resistance to Him by crucifying more of our flesh, and that hurts. It requires effort, and it frankly does not feel good. However, once we kill that part of our sinful nature, we are able to experience God at a deeper level, which is unbelievably pleasurable to the spirit. That pleasure far exceeds the pain of getting there. It’s well worth the effort and pain to walk into a deeper relationship with God.

Something else Joyce Meyer said on her show resonated with me. She said don’t envy someone else’s relationship with God if you are unwilling to do what they did to get it. I like the metaphor of an Olympic athlete. Yes, winning an Olympic gold medal sounds fantastic, but how many of us are willing to do what is required to win one? There’s so much more to the story than running one race. Olympic athletes train, sacrifice, and, yes, experience pain in their quest to win the gold medal. And when they do, they tell you it was worth it.

Your walk with God is the same way, and unlike with Olympic athletes, an intimate walk with God is attainable for all of us … BUT we must be willing to put forth the effort to attain it. We must be willing to push through the pain to experience the pleasure. We must be willing to because the “Messiah’s misfits”) as we journey toward a deeper, more intimate relationship with the Living God. Developing a close, deep, personal, and intimate relationship with God requires much effort and cost, but it is so worth it!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Advertisements

The Blessings of God’s Best for Us

blessedContinued from here.

Because I am becoming “weirder” (I prefer the term “Messiah’s misfit”) as I conform less and less to the patterns of this world, the pain of experiencing God’s best for me is obvious, such as being mocked or ridiculed for refusing to do things that everyone else, both in the World and even many within the Church, sees absolutely nothing wrong with doing. However, the blessings I experience far outweigh the pain. Yes, the initial steps of purifying myself are painful. For example, walking away from watching secular television was particularly painful for me in the early weeks. However, after the pain comes a deluge of blessings.

For example, I used to be an impatient driver, continually frustrated by the slow drivers interfering with my desire to arrive at my destination 30 seconds earlier. I was also an anxious driver, always looking for policemen with radar guns and making sure I stayed just under what I believed was the magic number for getting pulled over for speeding. Today, I’m a very relaxed driver because I am neither in a hurry nor breaking the law, so there’s nothing to get worked up about. Even as people tailgate me and express their displeasure with my “slow driving” as they whip around me, I’m relaxed as I sing praise and worship songs to God while I drive. I set aside more time to reach my destination, and I arrive not only on time (or early) but also relaxed and refreshed.

Even though I’m still in the early stages of secular television withdrawal, God is showing me the blessings. He recently called me to a deeper level of holiness and pointed out how the characters on the television shows I miss routinely model ungodly behavior. While watching the shows, I was happy to ignore the many ways these characters disobeyed God’s basic principles, such as the wives’ continual disrespect for their husbands. Now that I have stepped away, I’m finding it easier to live in a holier way because those influences are losing their power over me. I’m only allowing God to influence how to behave as I greatly limit my exposure to worldly ways.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding her hands in prayer above the word, “#Blessed.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

The Pain of God’s Best for Us

im_OKContinued from here.

Let’s return to the quote I started this blog series with:

We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” ~ C.S. Lewis

People sometimes ask me whether Christianity becomes easier or harder as I mature in my relationship with God. My response is “yes.” It becomes easier for two primary reasons: (1) Obedience is simple – either I am obeying God in a situation or I am not, so I no longer engage in mental gymnastics to lie to myself about “wrong” being “right” or acceptable just because I want it to be; and (2) I have a long track record to look back upon – God was faithful before, so I more easily trust that He will be faithful again.

It becomes harder primarily because I am becoming “weirder” (I prefer the term “Messiah’s misfit”) as I conform less and less to the patterns of this world. As a simple example, the Holy Spirit has convicted me to obey the speed limit when I drive, which is something even most Christians fail to do. Whenever I share this simple example with a group of Christians, most will say they are glad that God has not convicted them of this. However, the Bible makes it clear that it’s a sin to break the speed limit:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” ~ Rom. 13:1

I love people where they are, just as God loved me where I was when I routinely disobeyed Him in this area (along with many other areas of my life), so I don’t try to fill the Holy Spirit’s role of convicting them. At the same time, I do not allow the majority’s voice to give me “permission” to sin along with them. Whether or not the Holy Spirit has convicted anyone else, he has convicted me. Thus, I must obey the speed limit when I drive, even as people I love mock me for doing so. That has gotten harder as I continue conforming into Christ’s image.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace wrapped like a mummy on crutches below the words. “I’m OK.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Christianity Requires Effort

treadmillContinued from here.

All relationships require some amount of effort. No two people see everything alike, and so at least one person (and preferable both) in the relationship need to make an effort to align with the other so the two can walk together. A relationship with God is no exception. I fear that far too many Christians assume that because receiving salvation required minimal effort on their part, that’s the way a relationship with God is always supposed to be. Anyone with this mindset clearly has not spent much time in God’s Word because the Bible is filled with stories of the effort required to walk with God. Jesus himself told us that there’s a cost to discipleship. And what is that cost? EVERYTHING!

Now, you might be thinking, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! That’s not what I signed up for. I only want enough of Jesus to avoid going to hell, but I’m unwilling to make changes in my day-to-day life that require effort.” If that’s your mindset, then you are not Jesus’ disciple, and you don’t really believe him. It’s not enough to believe that Jesus is the Son of God: “even the demons believe that—and shudder” (Jas. 2:19). Being a disciple of Christ involves more than simply saying, “Yes, I believe Jesus died for my sins. I receive you as my Savior so I can avoid going to hell. I’ll see you when I get to heaven. Meanwhile, I’m going to live my life however I see fit.” That’s not discipleship.

Discipleship involves radical changes. It involves choosing to love God more than yourself or anyone else in your life. It requires you to be willing to let go of ANYTHING you possess, recognizing that you possess nothing but God … and He is enough – more than enough, actually. Discipleship means that you choose to die to your selfishness day after day, becoming a servant not only to God but to everyone around you. You willingly let go of everything so that you can gain everything, becoming enslaved to Christ to experience the freedom of Christ.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace running in a treadmill. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

The Effort of Being in a Relationship with God

 

barbellI previously shared that I am reading Janet Brooks’ book, Enjoy!: More than Surviving Life’s Transitions. She caught my attention when she quoted my favorite Christian writer, C.S. Lewis, as saying,

We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” ~ C.S. Lewis

I had not heard that quote before reading it in Brooks’ book, and I have been meditating on this concept since reading it in one of the early chapters of her book. I also decided to return to reading another of Lewis’ books (I had taken a break after spending a year in divinity school – needed a break from reading theology books). I recently started reading his book, The Problem of Pain, which I’m sure I’ll be blogging about in future weeks. But I digress…

In her book, Brooks asks why we find it so hard to trust God even though we know how intimately He loves us. She postulates the reason is that we know how much work it’s going to take to transform us into the image of Christ in his perfection. She then weaves in the above quote from C.S. Lewis. I think Brooks has hit the nail on the head – Far too many Christians never grow up because they see how much work is involved and simply don’t want to do it.

Think about it. Becoming a Christian requires nothing of us other than belief. While this can be a blow to our pride, there’s not much to do. I say, “Jesus, please forgive me for my sins and come into my life,” and just like that, I’m a Christian. This requires very little effort on my part because Jesus did all the work. The reason I can say a simple prayer and be reconciled to God is because Jesus did everything else. Effort was certainly required to reconcile me to God, but Jesus expended 99.9% of that effort. He allowed himself to be tortured, killed, and temporarily separated from God so that minimal effort would be required on my part – simply believing – for me to be reconciled to God. However, that’s not the end of a relationship with God. It’s only the beginning.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lifting a barbell. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

What to Do (and NOT Do) during Seasons of Uncertainty

what_the_heckContinued from here.

Are you in a season of uncertainty that appears to have no resolution on the horizon? If so, here’s a list of do’s and don’t’s to help get you through it:

DO pray for God to provide the solution to the problem. One reason a solution might not come is because you didn’t go to God and ask Him for it. Whenever you face an impossible situation, God is the first person you should talk with about it, not the last.

DO consider your motives in asking for a solution. Another reason a solution might not come is because you are asking for the wrong reasons. Make sure your heart is truly seeking to accomplish God’s will, not to feed your own selfish desires.

DO thank God for this opportunity to trust Him more. As Janet Brooks tells us in her book Enjoy!: More than Surviving Life’s Transitions, view this situation as “the graciousness of uncertainty.” Look for the grace in this situation. God is inviting you into a deeper level of trust with Him. Don’t squander the opportunity.

DO praise and worship God throughout this season. As we perceive that God isn’t showing up, our tendency is to withdraw from Him. Don’t give in to that temptation. Continue to praise and worship Him because He is worthy of it, regardless of the situation you are in.

DO take a trip down memory lane and recall the many times that God has moved in impossible situations in the past. He was faithful before. He will be faithful again. This impossible situation is not the exception that is bigger than God. If God could raise Jesus from the dead and break the power of death over all of us, He can handle your circumstance and work it for good.

Now for a list of don’t’s: DON’T complain about the situation. Each time you are tempted to complain, offer praise and thanks to God instead. DON’T gossip about the situation. Gossip is broadcasting God’s unfaithfulness to other people. DON’T doubt whether God can or will intervene. If you have invited Him into the situation, He is already working behind the scenes and will appear to “show up” in due time. DON’T put God in a box. His solution may be quite different from what you envision. Believe me – His way is always better. Finally, DON’T give up. God can work ANYTHING for good. I am living proof of that. If God can work good out of child sex-trafficking, He can work good out of ANYTHING

Your God is bigger. Trust Him! You will be delighted with His solution if you will persevere.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace throwing up her hand to ask what to do. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Experiencing Peace in the Uncertainty

peace_be_with_youContinued from here.

In two of the situations of ambiguity I am experiencing as part of a group, I am surrounded by people who are impatiently awaiting God’s response because both situations seem hopeless without His intervention. In both cases, these are groups of Christians who are seeking to do His will but have encountered an obstacle far greater than our capacity to collectively resolve. Now, I am not saying that everyone in each group is being impatient – some have learned through the trenches, as I have, that we need to wait patiently and trust that God will provide an answer. However, others in both groups are so uncomfortable with the uncertainty and ambiguity that they give in to the temptation to complain and gossip about the situation as they analyze the obstacle from numerous perspectives and see no way out.

In her book Enjoy!: More than Surviving Life’s Transitions, Janet Brooks identifies some of the reasons why we struggle with embracing the uncertainty, such as our tendency to question whether God is really working when we so no direct evidence that He is. When people say this to me, I point out that when we plant seeds, we don’t see any evidence that a plant is growing beneath the ground for long time. The farmer plants the seeds and trusts that a crop will emerge at a future time. All we can do is plant and trust – the rest is up to God.

Brooks also points out that when we take our eyes off Jesus, we stumble and “become entangled by our weaknesses and doubts.” This is because we can only focus on one thing at a time – either the size of our problem or the size of our God. Whatever we choose to focus on becomes larger in our perspective, dwarfing whatever we don’t focus on. When we choose to maintain eye contact with Jesus, our perspective of our God grows bigger, and we learn in the ambiguity that our God is so much bigger than our problem.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling under the words, “Peace be with you.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]