Thursday, November 7, 2013

Why Works Doesn't Work

I spent many years with a works mentality, never feeling like I'd done enough for God.  Always searching out the next advice on how to "live right", "pray right", "read the Bible right" so that God would be pleased with me and have real relationship with me.  I always thought if I just did more that I'd have the kind of relationship with God that I wanted.  I'd start to see people healed when I prayed, and God would heal my kids, and make my life feel like it's worth something.

So I worked - I led book study groups, I discipled people, I ran a prayer meeting, and I was actively involved in our church leadership committee.  I was on the prayer team at church.  I read my Bible, prayed, fasted, and did everything that I was told I needed to do to get God to be pleased with me, and to earn His blessings.  I went to schools and conferences, hoping that this time will be the time that makes a difference in me, in my life.  Maybe if this prophet speaks over me, or that person lays hands on me, I'll get something that I was sure I did not have.  I was told to chase after God, to pursue Him, to hunger and thirst for Him, and I did - running here and there thinking this time my thirst will be quenched.  This time I'll walk away changed, different than I was before, more pleasing to God, able to be a "super-Christian" like the people who were running the conferences and schools I was attending.  I thought for sure if I just "ran the race well" and "pursued God" then certainly He'd eventually have to give me what I wanted, which was more of Him, more power, more authority.

Then my world was shattered.  I watched someone who I knew wasn't doing everything I was doing, wasn't reading their Bible, wasn't praying on a regular basis, wasn't even trying to chase God beyond attending a few services here and there get wrecked by God at an altar.  Never expecting anything beyond a simple prayer to make them feel better, God met them with His love, and they came out of that service different than they went in.  They got what I had worked so hard to earn, and in my mind they did not deserve it.  Or, at least, didn't I also deserve it?  I mean, I had been a "good" girl and done everything I knew to please God.  This is what I was told to do to get more of God, and yet, going to the same altar, at the same time, I left feeling exactly the same, and they left radically changed.

To be honest, there were a lot of months where this just didn't seem fair.  I wanted more of God so badly!  I had done everything every pastor and every book had told me to do to get more of Him!  I was angry, and my sense of justice was violated.  In my mind, I was the one who deserved more of God!  I had earned it!

After that came thoughts that maybe I'm just not important to God.  Maybe He really doesn't love me as much as other people, or maybe I'm supposed to just raise my family and take care of my husband.  Maybe I don't need more of God because I am going to live an average, dull, boring life.  Maybe all the thoughts in my head of being important to God, having a ministry, being "important" to Him were just pipe dreams.

Depression set in.  Maybe I really am not important.  Maybe I just need to try to be happy cleaning the house, taking care of the kids and husband, and stop pushing to be or have something more.  Maybe this is it for my life until I die.  No one cares what I think, what I know...especially not God.  It was a horrible time in my life, because I was watching my friend who had what I thought I wanted, and knowing that I didn't have it, and couldn't seem to make God give it to me, no matter how many classes or conferences I attended.

For a while I honestly gave up.  I doubted whether God really existed, at least for me, or whether everything I ever thought I'd experienced of Him was all in my mind.  I stopped reading, stopped praying, just lived in depression and hopelessness. I decided that if God did exist, He'd clearly shown me He didn't really care about me, because I'd done what everyone told me to do and was still waiting for something from Him.  Anything, really - any answered prayer to show that He did hear me would have sufficed.

But, instead of encouraging me to think that God had given me anything based on my performance, He led me to read a book on grace.  I had looked at this book on Amazon before, but I was so down, so burned out that I just could not pick up another Christian book.  But Holy Spirit kept highlighting it, kept pushing me to get it and read it, so I did.  And it changed my life.

I realized that all the time I was working to get "more" of God I had unbelief that I actually had Him.  I still thought God was somewhere "out there", and I needed to beg and plead to get Him to show up.  My efforts to get more of Him were worthless, because He'd given me all of Himself when I first believed.  And, in fact, my works were not pleasing to Him, because I was doing them out of unbelief.  Instead of believing what Jesus accomplished for me, I was relying on myself to be able to earn right-standing with God.

This is why I fight so hard that His scandalous grace is so much better than our good behavior and law-keeping.  I almost walked away from God because counting on works doesn't work.  It either leaves you feeling like you have never done enough, or it makes you feel superior to other people because in your mind you have done more.  But it's totally based on what I do, and never considers what Christ did.  The focus is totally on ME.  And, bottom line, I can not be good enough to earn God's love and blessings, either before or after salvation.  But, thank God is have a Savior who was good enough, who gave His perfect life for my imperfect one, who paid the price for ALL our sins (past, present and future) by becoming my sin, so that I could become His Righteousness.

If you are tired of working for God, burned out and feeling like you'll never measure up, never been good enough, and want to learn more about His grace and what Jesus actually accomplished for us, here are some great books that made a huge difference in my life.  Read them and see what God really thinks about you when you are His.

Grace Walk by Steve McVey
Grace On Tap by Eric Dykstra
It's All About Jesus: What They Never Told You In Church by D. R. Silva

Come to know His Grace.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Hard Questions

Things have been difficult lately.  For a while now I've been dissatisfied with my life, but have been living in the idea that because of God there is hope for change, and when things change, then life will be better.  

  • When my husband is saved, then he will spend more time with me and connect with me on a deeper, more intimate level.
  • When the boys with autism are healed, then I'll be able to enjoy my children, then we'll be able to have the life I envisioned we'd have with kids.
  • When I am finally free of food issues which result in being overweight, then I'll be able to do some of the things I miss doing now, like dancing.
  • When all these things are "fixed" by God, then I'll be able to be happy.
But, see, I'd like to actually be happy now.  Having my happiness hinged on whether or not these things change, especially these things which would take a miracle in order to change, sucks.  But the church isn't a help, because I'm supposed to just BE HAPPY, if not because of my life as it is, because someday God will change things.  

I'm tired of just hanging on waiting for things to change.  I'm tired of feeling like my husband doesn't care about my emotions or what I need.  I'm tired of the amount of work it takes to just adequately parent my autistic sons, and I'm tired of hearing other people, other family members, tell me how hard my life is and do NOTHING to help.  I'm tired of just existing through the day, filling my day up with things that mean nothing because they are distracting me from how hard things really are.  And I'm tired of waiting for "someday" to come.

I keep asking God questions, and I keep looking for answers, so maybe I can get that second wind, that enthusiasm that this is all worth it.  And they are hard if I want the boys healed, and God wants the boys healed, why aren't they?  If my husband believing in God hinges on seeing Him intervene with our kids, why isn't that happening?  If God has a great ministry for me after the kids are healed and based on their healing (which has been spoken over me multiple times by well-meaning people), then why are we still waiting?  Why can't I get a breakthrough in any of the areas which are causing the most pain and heartache in my life?  And why, when I give of myself to everyone around me constantly, do they never give back?  

The church would tell me things aren't happening because I don't have enough faith, aren't good enough, aren't doing enough, etc., etc., etc.  If I would just believe more, pray more, do more, then I'd get the "breakthrough" in these areas.  But the problem with that is that there is always more you can do, no matter how much you do.  There have been times when I've bough into this, and was trying to earn God's goodness and blessings, and was actually afraid to have doubts, or fear, or sadness, because I was afraid of God snatching His blessings away from me, from my kids.  Because that's the kicker - if my behavior is what makes God bless me, then bad behavior would cause Him to withhold His blessings from me.  So the fear involved in this is that I could be doing well, "earning" healing for my boys, and with one moment of doubt or sadness or fear completely lose their healing, because I'm supposed to "have faith" and "hold fast" to the promised of God.  

But how much faith is "enough" faith?  Usually, when my kids are working toward earning something, they have a set goal in mind.  They know what they need to accomplish in order to earn the reward, and they know what will cause them to lose the reward as well.  Parameters are set so they know what to work toward, and so if they have a minor slip up they can correct for it and still make progress forward.  But with no parameters set on how much faith we need to have, how much good we need to do, how much prayer we need to pray, all failure can be placed squarely on our shoulders, because we didn't have "enough", based on nothing but the lack of breakthrough.  

It makes no sense.  Jesus came because we could not be "good" enough.  He had to come and do if for us if we were ever going to get back into relationship with the God who loves us.  We had an "earning" system in place before Jesus came, which we couldn't do.  He came and fulfilled the system, becoming our "gold star" on our paper as long as we accepted that He did it in our place, for us.  He's already taken the test and got 100%, and we get His grade.  We don't need to take the test again.  We have passed with flying colors, because His 100% is ours.  

God isn't testing us any more.  He's not waiting to see what grade we get in order to see what prize we deserve.  Jesus aced the test, and the reward is ours

I honestly am coming to the conclusion that the reason our breakthrough seems to be held back is because we think we're earning it in the first place.  

What have you been trying to earn from God?  Is there anything that you've been waiting for God to do that hasn't happened yet?  How do you hold on to the promises of God during the time of waiting?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Guest Posting!

Hi everyone!

I'm guest posting over at Sammy Adebiyi's blog today, so come on over and check me out!

SammyA - 3 lies the church taught me

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What is being led by the Spirit? - Part 1

I've been thinking a lot today about what it means to walk in the Spirit, or be led by the Spirit on a day by day, hour by hour basis.  The big question for me, is whether it's a one time process that happens when I receive the Spirit, or is it ongoing?  And do we have a choice in whether we are led by the Spirit, or is it automatic because the Spirit of Christ lives in us?

Here are some things I know are true - we don't get "more" of God because we are doing good works - the fullness of Christ dwells in us at the moment we receive Him.  There isn't anything I can do to get more of God, because He's become one spirit with me.  So I have the fullness of God living and dwelling with me.

But, we also know that God gave us the free will to be able to make choices.  So, is my one choice to receive Christ all it takes?  Or do I need to choose, moment by moment, to allow Him to be the dominant force instead of ruling out of my own mind, will, and emotions?

If we're talking about getting to Heaven, yes, it's a once and done deal.  I am Heaven bound because at that moment God literally binds His Spirit to my spirit, and God hates divorce.  But as for actually being led by the Spirit, I honestly think that we have a choice.  The choice doesn't effect our end result - we will be in His presence for eternity whether we choose to be Spirit-led or not - but does effect our lives right now.

Now, this is not a works mentality.  It's not a forced behavior, saying I need to act "right" in order to be pleasing to God, or to get God to love me.  I'm not saying that if you want to receive "x" blessing from God, you need to do "y", and if you don't do it well enough then God won't give you "x".  I lived that life for long enough, believing that somehow we were "purchasing" God's blessings by good behavior, and if we didn't get what the Bible said we would get, then we were messing up, somehow.  It turns God into a vending machine, strips away His power, and puts all the power in the hands of the person.

But, obviously, there are a lot of people walking around this world who know God but are walking around living the same life they always did.  The only evidence of God in their lives is that they go to church on Sunday.  And most of them are hurting - pain from years before, pain from their lives now, hurts and betrayals and anger and frustration.  Fear and depression still reign in their lives
What is the answer?  How do we help people walk out of sadness and into joy?  A lot of us have though that if we just pretend to be joyful, to have the "joy of the Lord" around other Christians, God will see our attempts and decide that we actually deserve to experience what we are play-acting.  We put on masks and talk "faith" in God for health, joy, peace, love, and all the other things the Bible says we should have because we are Christians.  We say all the right things, we do all the right things, and eventually we burn out, because saying and doing doesn't actually create what we ultimately desire.  I don't want to act loving - I want to experience love.  I don't want to seem joyful to other people - I want to actually feel joy.  I don't want to say I forgive - I want to have the hurts healed internally so that I can mean what I say.

And that's really what we all want - we just don't seem to know how to get it.

So, I've been posing this question to God - how do we access the reality of being led by the Spirit? How do we experience the exchange our ashes for His beauty, our mourning for His joy?  I don't have a fully-formed answer right now - but stick with me for the next few days and we'll see what He reveals.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Counseled By The Spirit

Today I wanted to share an experience I had yesterday during my time writing in my journal.  For me, my journal is the place where I meet with God, my "secret place", if you will.  It's where I both pour out my heart to Him and hear what He has to say, and it's where I pray whatever is on my heart.

For quite a while now I have been trapped in a cycle of resentment and unforgiveness toward someone from my past.  I've blamed them for things that both happened in the past and for things that effect me now, and I have repeatedly forgiven them, (or at least said I forgave them) because the unforgiveness was eating me up inside, and keeping me in bondage to things I just didn't want in my life.  But no matter how many times I tried to forgive them and move forward, I could not rid myself of the resentment I felt.  And every time I would sit down to write the hurt and anger would pour out of me onto the paper, a constant reminder that I hadn't actually successfully forgiven them.

Yesterday, I sat at my computer and wrote, and again, the hurt poured out from my fingers onto the page.  And in the midst of the pain, I cried out to God.  "Lord, please, I can't seem to really forgive this person!  Please help me - I don't want to hold on to this any more!"  And He answered, and His response surprised me - He told me to break an unhealthy soul tie with that person.

Now, if you are anything like me, you've heard a lot about soul ties in relation to sex outside of marriage.  Breaking soul ties, to me, seemed kind of silly, actually.  It had always seemed like something that was a "formula" created by man to give us something we could do to feel like we were free.  It never seemed like it actually did anything.  But by inspiration of Holy Spirit, I did just what He asked - I renounced the soul tie that had formed and thanked Jesus that it was completely broken.

Literally, in an instant, the hurt and anger and resentment that I had held against this person for years was gone.  Just, GONE.  I again forgave this person for the past, and instead of just saying I forgave them, I actually felt forgiveness rise up in me.  I started the prayer one way, feeling like I was never going to be able to let the hurt and anger go, and at the end, was completely free of it all.  Not only was I not holding things from the past against them, I was able to examine the things that had happened and see them with new eyes.  See that those thing which were hurtful had nothing to do with me, or my value.  My worth in God's eyes had nothing to do with this person's treatment of me in the past.

But the funny thing is that I would never have prayed to break a soul tie on my own - it was only though surrendering my own efforts in fixing this situation that I was able to hear what God needed to tell me.  He knew what was needed for me to be free - I did not.  And that makes me wonder, how many situations are we in that Holy Spirit wants to help us out of, but we're too busy trying to fix it ourselves to listen?  I had done what books, pastors and friends had told me to do.  I had forgiven this person, multiple times.  But I did not have the capacity to forgive because of the unnatural bond that had been created years ago, and Holy Spirit knew that once that was dealt with, everything else would fall into place.  But I had to get to the point where I stopped doing what other people told me would fix the situation and instead hear what God was saying.

So, what if we all stop trying to follow the "method" for a moment and really pay attention to what God is telling us to do?  Instead of reading a book that tells me how someone else got their breakthrough, maybe I should ask Holy Spirit to show me what I need to do to get MY breakthrough.  I am really starting to believe that He does know what is best for us, after all. 

Father, I pray today that we have open ears to hear what You are speaking.  I ask that everyone reading be able to hear and respond to what You are telling them to do about every situation in their lives.  I thank you Father, that we can find exactly what we need when we hear Your voice and stop listening to the many voices around us vying for our attention.  I pray for open ears and open hearts for Your people, God.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Individual Gifts and Talents

Today I've been thinking about the charismatic church experience, which is what I'm most familiar with, and something has been highlighted to me by Holy Spirit which I never quite saw this way before.  Here's the scripture that got me started down this road:

"Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly." -Romans 12:4-8

We are each part of the body of Christ.  We each have special gifts and talents, and we each need to be equipped to fulfill our particular role.  We are not supposed to fulfill the same role many times over, we are each called to be something different from anyone else around us.  We say we understand this, and yet how much of the time are we comparing ourselves to each other?  We see someone touched at the altar and think that they have something that we don't have because they fell down under the anointing of the Spirit and we didn't.  Or they gave a word in tongues and interpreted during a church service and we've never done that, so we think they are some how better than we are, more loved by God, more anointed, etc.  We think that in order to be more valuable in the Kingdom of God we need to do what someone we look up to is doing.

And yet, in this passage of scripture, some of the gifts listed don't seem that impressive.  Prophesy, yes, that's something we all want and go after.  But serving others?  Like, offering to clean the church, or working in the kitchen, or watching the babies while their parents are in the main church service?  Encouraging others?  Giving? Showing kindness?  How are these important gifts? We don't see them as having value in the Kingdom of God because they seem too easy.  Out of the list of 7, we only think there is true honor in 3 of them: prophesy, teaching, and leadership, and somehow we think we have to fit ourselves into one of these 3 or we're not being effective for the Kingdom of God.  We all think in order to really do something for God we need to be a leader in some way.  We need to fall into one of the 5-fold ministry positions.  Usually the first thing someone who's on fire for God wants to do is go into full-time ministry.

Where did this idea come from?  Certainly not from God, because here equal value is placed on all the gifts, even those gifts that we think are easy, like encouraging others, or giving.  We have equated being effective for God as standing up in front of people.  You've "made it" if you've got a pulpit from which to speak.  But I don't need a pulpit to be a giver.  I don't need to pulpit to encourage others.  I don't need a pulpit to be kind to the people around me.  And apparently, to God, those gifts are just as vitally important as being a leader or a prophet.

So the question then is, when are we going to start valuing each other for what gifts and talents we are bringing to the Body of Christ?  And when are we going to see the value in ourselves?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

*Not a Real Post

This isn't a real blog post.  Today has been fairly busy - I had mentoring class this morning and then when I got home this afternoon my kids have been at each other (summer boredom comes around fast!), so I haven't had much time to gather my thoughts.  I figured I'd just get on and tell you about what I'm pondering about with God today, because that is as organized as it's going to get.

  1. What does it really look like to stand in faith?
  2. What does spiritual maturity really look like?
  3. How do we maintain our connection with God even when things get chaotic in our lives?
  4. How do we continue to support one another when prayers go unanswered?
I'm hoping that perhaps tomorrow I'll have something to say about at least one of these topics, because right now my thoughts are too muddled!