Category Archives: Having the Right Heart

The Compulsion to Micromanage

My friends, I’ve been struggling with my compulsion to micromanage everything.  I want tell God what needs to change in the world, in my life, in my friends’ lives.  I want to tell him what I think he needs to do.  I want to tell the people in my life what they can do to make the world better.  I want to fix things.

It’s hard, because  I have this vision of how things ought to be.  I see clearly what’s wrong, and what needs fixing. I don’t have this in every area.  But many times, I see what would help.  I realize that this is just my own perspective.  I don’t know everything.  But having this strong vision makes it hard for me to be quiet and still, instead of implementing steps towards what I see.

But there’s just this thing.  Sometimes my vision is a gift.  It helps me to lead and act in situations, when others dither.  But it’s also a hindrance, because it’s just one perspective, and there’s much more that I’m not seeing. And it can really drag me down, because I get frustrated when things don’t go according to this strong feeling of how they should go.

The main thing is, that I’m not trusting the story.  A lot of times I don’t even see what God is trying to do.  I’m just too wrapped up in my own narrative. And what’s happening around me doesn’t jibe with that narrative.

So I have to trust the story more.  I have to believe that God is working in just the right way, all around me.  He doesn’t need me mucking about trying to “fix” everything.  Sure, he needs me to act righteously and do good deeds.  He needs to work through me, and to love others through me.

But, and this is horrible, I tend to unconsciously think that I need to go around managing the world because it’s not being managed very well.  When the truth is that God does NOT need me to manage the world.

God’s not deficient in the way he runs the world.  He, who created everything, said, “It is good.”  He fashioned the world, and life, just as it is supposed to be, nothing more, nothing less. He has worked through history, through the lives of Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, the Israelites . . . I could go on, and on.  In each of these stories, the individuals had to learn to trust the story, and that it was enough.  All of the troubles of life came about because they didn’t trust, because they thought God wasn’t doing his job well enough, so they needed to get in there and fix things.

Yikes.  I know it’s pride.  I feel like I need to just keep telling myself, over and over, “You don’t know better.”  I feel like I need to see each moment like a blank slate, instead of seeing my vision of how things should go.  I need to watch and see what God is putting on that blank slate, and learn more about him.

Those who have been reading this blog, know that we’ve been looking at the red-letter words of Jesus in the book of John.  Today’s verse is, Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. (John 5:22-23)

Jesus is supposed to make the judgments, not me. Of course, this is referring to the final judgment.  But it highlights how ridiculous it is that I put so much stock in my own opinion.  His opinion is the one that counts.

I said that I would be Jesus’s disciple.  That means that I should be constantly trying to learn from him.  My eyes should be on him, knowing that I don’t know everything, and watching for what he can teach me.

Instead, I’m a disciple of me.

Why would I do that, when no matter how much I manage, and move things around, I can’t save myself. . . or anyone else?

God gave Jesus the power of judgment so that people would honor him.  The whole point was that people wouldn’t look at Jesus like he’s a philosopher, but that they would think, “Uh, oh, this guy’s got power over our eternal destiny, so we’d better pay serious attention to him.”

I have to pay serious attention to Jesus and honor him.

I feel like, in this new year, I need to start all over and figure out what it really means to be a disciple of Jesus.  I need to listen for his voice in every situation, so I follow him, and not my own thinking or vision.  I need to seek input from others who are following him.

I think it will allow me to take a deep breath, and feel free, and find more joy and peace.

I’m eager to start this journey.  Who’s with me?

“Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.” (Prov. 26:12)

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Filed under Having the Right Heart, Humility, John, Red Letter

The Peace of Staying on Track

eye-level-photo-of-train-tracks-surrounded-with-trees-1448899

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing. . . ” John 5:19a

I love this passage!  I tend to run around, full of my own plans, trying to achieve all kinds of things.  At some point I feel like I’m spinning my wheels.  It takes a while, but I finally get it through my head that it’s only going to work if I’m in sync with God, doing his will.

So this verse means a lot to me, because it says that Jesus stayed in sync with God.  To use an analogy, instead of taking his own train, Jesus looked for God’s train, got on board and remained there.  Even if life changed tracks, or took him to another “station,” he kept his eye out for God’s car.

To be like Jesus, we need to keep our eye out for God.   For the last few months, I’ve been keeping a journal of what I see God doing.  I note when someone comes across my path, or visits church, or starts studying the Bible.  I note people who are going through significant transitions.  I write down the names of those who are experiencing challenges or illnesses.  It’s not that I think that God wants them to suffer.  But these can be opportunities for him to work, and shape character.

It really helps me to write these things down, because when I see what God is doing, I see how I can plan my time around that.  I reach out to those who are seeking him.  I visit the sick.  I schedule times with those who need support.  I pray for those in challenging circumstances.

If I don’t keep my eye out for God, I feel off.  I know there are needs around me, but I can’t get away from my agenda.

“He can only do what he sees his Father doing.”  It’s a great challenge for us to be more like Jesus in this.  And it helps us feel “on,” instead of off, when we do so.

But this verse has deeper applications.  How could Jesus stick to doing what he saw the Father doing?  What kept him from doing his own thing?

I really think Jesus only did what he saw the Father doing because he completely trusted who God was and what God did.

Jesus was the answer to the failings of man in the Garden of Eden.  In the story, God had just made the whole universe and it was good, reflecting the innate goodness of the Creator.  But man didn’t trust God’s goodness.  He felt like God was holding out on him.  And so, sin was born.

Jesus was the opposite of this.  He never sinned.  He never stepped outside of what God prescribed, even when he was being put to death, because he trusted in God’s goodness.

Can we do the same?  It’s hard for me to trust when things are going “wrong,” according to my perception.  I’m just so sure I know how it’s supposed to go. I get discouraged.

Reading “Healing of the Wounded Idealist” by Justin and Irene Renton shakes me loose of my faithless funks.  This book helps me to see that I need to be less of an idealist, who, “sets hope on a specific outcome,” and more of a faithful realist, who, “trusts that God knows better than you and that your plans, as visionary as they may be, might not be best.”  The faithful realist realizes, “There may be a better way.”

God always works towards the better way — his “good, pleasing and perfect will.”  (Romans 12:2)  He works towards a better way even when, maybe especially when, life takes us to the bleak places.

Jesus knew this, and that knowledge kept him on track.  I was given a wonderful example today of someone who lived this out, as I read Jeannie Shaw’s just published blog on the recent death of her husband, Wyndham, due to Multiple System Atrophy.

“As much as I hate this disease, God has walked with us through it all, and He has been enough,” she wrote.  “For this I am grateful.  It does me no good to ask why, though truthfully I often have. If I could understand all of God’s ways and how He sees beyond and works for good despite the evil in our fallen world he would not be God, for God is beyond the dimension of human understanding. There is nothing I can do about that except to surrender and trust. He is God and I am not. He remains a good, good God, with a perspective that is beyond my reach.”

Amen.  How could I say more?

Let’s trust more completely in the goodness of God.  Let’s take a deep breath, stop running around like crazy, and, instead, watch for God.  And when we see what he’s doing, let’s hop on board!

Sure, it’s scary.  Sure, it’s not what we thought.

But we can have a peaceful confidence, knowing that we’re on the right track.

(Photo credit Vladislav Vasnetsov )

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Filed under Having the Right Heart, John, Peace, Red Letter, Uncategorized

It’s Not About Us!

Ship

For in this case the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the hard work, and now you have taken up their labor.”  John 7:27-29

Today’s red letter passage makes me think of my own efforts to share my faith.  If I’m not careful, I can make personal work all about me and my efforts. I think I need to find someone to share with.  Then, I need to actually talk to them.  Then, I need to say the right thing.  If they respond, I need to show them I care.  I need to serve them. I need to study the Bible with them in the right way.  And somehow, I need to get them over their obstacles so that they will come to a point of commitment.

Whew! When it’s all about me, it can feel heavy and intimidating.

But Jesus related a different concept in today’s red letter passage.  He told his disciples that others had already done the hard work.  They just needed to reap.  They just needed to pick up where the others left off.

Who are the hard workers that Jesus was referring to?  It was the prophets of the Old Testament, and also John the Baptist, who prepared hearts by communicating God’s word.

But I have to add that God did the hard work as well.  How much do we see that He’s always active, always arranging things so people will reach out to him, or respond to the gospel?

It’s crazy for me to think of the innumerable ways God worked to bring me to a point of commitment.  He put me in the right place to awaken my faith.  He put my future husband in my life.  When my heart was sad over my mom’s divorce, he drew me to him.  When my husband and I got married, he led us to a church that would change our lives

When I’ve studied the Bible with others, it’s sobering to realize how much of their conversion was not up to me.  One young woman said she was done, but then came to church one more time, and when she did, there was just the right sister visiting who talked to her for hours until she had a breakthrough.  Another woman hit a wall, and I thought it was over, but then she called me out of the blue while I was on vacation, walking on the beach, and said she wanted to be baptized.  Another started studying the Bible, and then disappeared for months.  At some point, one of her friends threw out an invitation for her to come back.  She came, made a commitment, and is still faithful today.

All of this reminds me that it’s NOT all about me and my efforts.  There are some great verses that back this up.

  • I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.  I Cor. 3:6
  • As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.  Isa 55:10-11

I think one of the best illustrations of what we are to do is given in the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000.  One boy provided what he could, five loaves of bread and two fishes.  God made what the boy gave increase exponentially.  In the same way, we are to do what we can for God, and give him our best efforts.  But then we need to realize that he is creating the increase, not us.

And he will create the increase on his time table.

Or he might not create an increase at all.

I think that’s the hardest part for me to understand.   I have this bulldozer type of idealism, where I think, “I’ll just keep pushing forward and doing the good things for God, and he’s going to come through and work in amazing ways.”

But now I’ve realized that is actually telling God what he’s supposed to do.  Instead, I should say, “I’m going to put my efforts out there.  But what happens is up to God.  He may bless my efforts.  He may not.  But he’s always good.  I will trust him no matter what.”

The key is to put our efforts out there.  God wants to use us.  He wants to use the strengths and abilities he put in us.  But we don’t know how exactly he’s going to use us, or where he’s going with our efforts.  We want so badly to direct him, and tell him how to make our ventures successful.  In my case, I’m addicted to productivity, and I’m very motivated to see the fruit of everything I do.

It’s hard to, instead, do what I can, and trust God when things are quiet, and I feel unproductive.  It’s hard to be humble.  It’s hard to not think I am failing.

One verse that I love that helps with this is Ecclesiastes 11:1-2.  “Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return. Put your investments in several places–many places even–because you never know what kind of bad luck you are going to have in this world.” (NIV, GNT) 

We just need to send our ships out.  We just need to invest in several places.  I know my husband and I don’t have all of our money for the future in one pot.  We have savings.  We have a 401K.  We have some money in Vanguard funds.  And even in the 401K, the money is in many different places.  We don’t know when the market might go down, so we diversify.

We need to diversify for God as well.  That’s another way of saying that we need to go about doing good and acting in faith in all sorts of ways.

Because, going back to the first point, our “investments” are just one piece of what’s happening.  God has been working, and continues to do so.  Others are contributing to the softening of hearts.  It’s not up to us.  We just do what we can, and give God something to work with.

One of our ships will return.  Jesus promises that there are people who are ready, and we will find them at some point.

But if we don’t, we keep on going.

We keep investing, using what we’ve been given — our abilities, our time, our knowledge.

We trust.

And we curl up, and find contentment in the Lord.

LORD, I have given up my pride and turned away from my arrogance. I am not concerned with great matters or with subjects too difficult for me. Instead, I am content and at peace. As a child lies quietly in its mother’s arms, so my heart is quiet within me. Israel, trust in the LORD now and forever!  (Ps. 131 GNT)

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Filed under Evangelism, Having the Right Heart, John, Perseverance

Filled, Not Depleted!

“But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a fount of water springing up to eternal life.” John 4:14

spring of water Kemdaejeung

To never thirst again.  Wow.

It reminds me of one of my favorite talks by Doug Jacoby.  He said having the Spirit is like the burning bush that Moses encountered.  It never burned up.  Doug was saying that when we truly rely on the Spirit, we don’t get depleted.  That really stuck in my mind, because, like the woman at the well, I want that.

And I’m still figuring out how to rely on the Spirit and not get depleted.  But I just started reading a book, “Forming: A Work of Grace,” by David Takle, and I think it’s getting me closer.

The jist of the book is that we too often make being a Christian about doing the right things by our own power, and this can burn us out.  Instead, Takle says that we need to learn to empowered by God.  To him, it’s like the difference between rowing a boat and sailing a boat.  “Instead of trying to act righteous by sheer effort, God wants us to learn how to receive from him what we need in order to transform our heart, so that we can live more like Christ by our very nature.”

This is what I really need, to be more like Christ in my very nature, so I’m  doing things out of the overflow of my heart, and not because I think I’m supposed to.  When I row the boat of Christian living all day, it can be satisfying in the short term, because I’m accomplishing things.  But after awhile, it also seems empty, like something is missing.  I feel down and strangely lacking.

How much a difference would it make if I started my day by filling my sails, instead of taking up the oars!

sailboat

How can we receive more from God/the Spirit to fill up our sails?  Here are a few ways.  The ones that became available to us after Christ’s coming and the indwelling of the Spirit are listed in bold type.

  1.  Be thankful always. “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” Ps. 107:1
  2.  Sing.  “Be filled by the Spirit. . .   Sing and make melody in your heart to the Lord.”  Eph 5:18-19
  3.  Be still.  “He says, ‘Be still, and KNOW that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.'”  Ps. 46:10
  4.  Be in nature. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”  Ps 19:1
  5.  Walk in the Spirit.  “Since we live by the Spirit, let us walk in step with the Spirit.” Gal 5:15
  6.  Practice being in his presence. “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5
  7.  Praise him. “Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me.”  Ps 103:2
  8.  Pray with an open heart.  “In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.”  Ps. 5:3
  9.  Ask for guidance.  “Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” Ps 143:8  “The Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to that chariot and stay by it.’” Acts 8:29
  10.  Ask to be taught.  “Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness.” Ps 86:11  “However, when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth.” John 16:12
  11.  Ask for strength.  “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength.”  II Tim 4:17  “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Phil 4:13
  12.  Ask to understand God’s love.  “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is . . that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Eph 3:18-19
  13.  Seek.  “Seek and you will find.” Matt. 7:7
  14.  Pray for God’s will to be done.  “Not my will, but yours be done.”  Luke 22:42
  15.  Meditate. “On His law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water.” Ps 1:2-3

Man, these are wonderful! I keep coming up with more.  Maybe you have some you would add to the list.

Studying this has really helped me lately.  On Friday, my friend and I went for coffee, and we shared with the barrista before we left.  What I loved about this interaction was that this time I didn’t just invite someone to church, and feel like I’d done my duty.  I also told them how much I want them to know the inspiration that comes from being close to God.  Not only do I want to have the right heart, I deeply desire to help others to find it.  And now I’m finding ways to do this.

markya and i

Then, a couple of days later, I started experiencing one of my tangles of emotional thinking.  Usually I would be good and stuck, but this time, I practiced being in the presence of God and receiving from him.  As I did so, my problems receded from my mind. I felt like the increased exposure to God really did change me.

I am so thankful to be getting a better understanding of how to be filled, rather than depleted.

I’m so thankful that Jesus brought the water, so that we can not just do the right thing, but have the heart to do the right thing.

And now, may this water spring up and overflow into the lives of others.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ez 36:26

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Filed under Having the Right Heart, Isaiah, Red Letter

Living Victoriously

taking-the-plunge

he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire.  Isa 4:4b

You know, by the time Isaiah came around, it was clear that the people of God had a problem. They kept messing up.  Over and over again, through the flood, the Exodus, and living under judges and kings, they fell into serious sin.

So that is why this little verse in Chapter 4 of Isaiah is significant.  Let me break it down, as best I can.

First, it talks about bloodstains.  What are they? I believe the bloodstains represent guilt.  The Israelites are guilty of hurting the needy, instead of helping them.  “Righteousness used to dwell in her—but now murderers  . . . They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them. (Is 1:21b, 23b)  They are guilty of defying the Lord.  “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.” (Isa 1:2)

Next, what is the spirit of judgment?  We certainly know that God exercised judgment all through the Old Testament.  He destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness.  He flooded the earth in the days of Noah because every inclination of man’s heart was evil. (Genesis 6:5) Joshua’s acquisition of Canaan was God’s judgment on those nations. (Genesis 15:16) And much more.

And then, what is the spirit of fire?  When we investigate the Old Testament, we see that God used fire to execute his judgment, most famously, in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah.  “Then the LORD rained down fire and burning sulfur from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah.” (Genesis 19:24)

And God uses the imagery of fire in this passage in Deuteronomy to describe what will happen when people go against him: “The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur–nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. It will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, which the LORD overthrew in fierce anger.  All the nations will ask: “Why has the LORD done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”  And the answer will be: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt.” (Deut 29:23-25)

So we see that God has a fiery wrath against those who show blatant disrespect to him.

And as we read Isaiah, we see that this fiery wrath was to be poured out on the Jewish people once more as a consequence for their guilt.  A complete reading of the Bible tells us how this was fulfilled as they were destroyed by foreign armies.

The application for us today is that we should be a part of this cycle.  We are also guilty of sin and, thus, the targets of the Lord’s wrath. “All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.”  Eph 2:3

And we don’t think of it this way, but Jesus actually came to bring this wrath. He said in Luke 12:49, “I have come to bring fire on the earth,” referring to was the time when he would return, and all mankind would be judged.  “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”  “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows.” (Luke 12:40, 47)

But, of course, Jesus also came to be our savior.  What’s so cool about Isaiah 4 is that it predicts the time that the cycle of wrath and punishment would be broken. God would “cleanse” the bloodstains.  And although on one level, this can be applied to the war that purged the land of the sinful Israelites, it also is a prophesy of Christ and his work of salvation.

This verse sums it all up:  “Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? . . .  Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (I Cor 6:9, 11)

We were set to go to hell, but Jesus made a way for our sins to be washed away.

And the most mind-blowing, encouraging thing is that the wrath is now directed to Satan.  “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.” (John 12:31)  

And the consequence is that Satan loses his control of us.  Jesus told Paul, “I am sending you to (the Gentiles), to turn them from the power of Satan to God.

He loses control of the world. “Then the end will come, when (Jesus) hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.” ( Cor 15:24)

He is condemned. “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”  (Rev 20:10)

We are free!  Free of the cycle of sin and punishment.  Free of the bloodstains of guilt.  Free of the power of Satan over us.

And God wants the knowledge of this to give us incredible strength to persevere and serve him wholeheartedly.  I Corinthians has a monumentally heartening conclusion: “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (I Cor 15:57-58)

To those under the old law, at times, it must have seemed like their efforts were in vain.

But our efforts are not in vain!

And when we get caught up in feelings of defeat, and wondering how the things that need fixing will ever improve, we need to remember that we can live victoriously!!  We have God on our side, and Christ still working on our behalf.

Good will prevail.

Let’s live all out for God today.

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Filed under Having the Right Heart, Isaiah, Strength in God

Balm for the Soul

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”  Mark 8:35-37

Last weekend didn’t go as expected.

It started well. On Friday afternoon,  I went to Chewacla State Park with my friend Marisha, her daughter Makenzie, and our little friend Lexie.  It was a beautiful autumn day, and we had a wonderful time together.

autumn

autumn2

But then everything else I had planned for Friday night and Saturday fell through — two sets of people coming over for dinner and a women’s get together.  My spirits plummeted.  I knew it shouldn’t be a big deal, but I couldn’t help but feel down.

So I was wrestling with this, but then I thought, “Well,  I can have Saturday with my husband.  That will be great!  We haven’t had a Saturday together in awhile.”  I started thinking of how we could ride our bikes and go to coffee.  Then we could run errands and get caught up on some things we need to get done.  Wonderful!

Well, on Saturday morning, my husband dropped the bombshell.  “I want to go door knocking today,” he said adamantly, out of the blue.  I wanted to cry.  I didn’t feel like I had the emotional energy to go up and knock on the doors of strangers.  This was something I needed to pray about days in advance so I could get strength to do it.  I didn’t have to go with him, but then I would have felt like a spiritual slug and a selfish wife if I didn’t.

To make the story short, after awhile, the Spirit helped me get on board with this, and Ken and I went out in the cold grey afternoon for an hour or so and met some great people.  In the end we were very glad we pushed through.

What really got me, though, was what I realized when I was praying through my prayer list the following morning.  The second request on my list is for my husband’s evangelism.  I’ve started praying specific things for my husband that he’s mentioned to me, and that is one area he wants to grow in.

So that means that God was answering my prayer, and I didn’t even see it!  Instead, I wanted to oppose it.  Oh boy.  It makes me laugh and shake my head.

oblivious

Last weekend was a great illustration of the root character weaknesses that God has been revealing in me   — the need to control, and the need for personal affirmation (i.e. glory hogging).  It was so hard for me when things didn’t go according to plan.  And it was hard when I thought I wouldn’t be able to accomplish things, because doing things makes me feel important and valued. It assuages my insecurity.

I’m declaring smackdown on these weaknesses!  Here’s the verse that has been helping so much: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  Matt 10:28

Do you know what brought that verse to my attention?  It was quoted by Max Lucado in response to the Texas shooting. Lucado could have said a lot of things to help us deal with such a horrific event.  But instead, he got to the root of the matter.  We aren’t to fear the evil outside.

texas shooting

We’re to fear what will happen if we don’t deal with the evil inside.

I have a lot of inappropriate fear.  I fear that I will do the wrong thing today.  I fear that I did the wrong thing yesterday.  I fear that things aren’t going as they should. I fear that something bad will happen and mess everything up.

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And what is appropriate fear?  It’s to fear the things that are destroying me on the inside.  And those things are the need for control and the need for affirmation.  Or in Biblical terms, they’re pride and more pride, with a side of unbelief.

So all of this leads up to today’s passage from Mark, and how Jesus said, “Those who want to save their life will lose itbut whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”   My heart is so convicted to realize that my efforts to control, so I can “save my life,” are having the opposite effect.  They’re causing me to lose my life, my soul!  I keep trying to figure out how I can fix what seems to be going wrong.  Doing that is hurting instead of helping!  My way of operating is innately destructive.

Now I’ve started to say, “No” to my deep craving for stability, and instead plunge myself into the goodness that is God.  I’m looking to him, not myself.  I ‘m losing my life a thousand times a day, to save it.

When Jesus said these words, he was dealing with people who didn’t get it.  They were worried about bread.  They told him he shouldn’t suffer.  In this passage, he was trying to key them in on what they really needed — to have a purity of heart and singleness of mind.  To know that the only thing that matters is the soul.

Because it’s the double mindedness that drives us crazy.  James wrote,  “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”  (James 4:8b )   And he explained what this can look like: “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there there is disorder and every kind of evil. .” (James 3:16)

If our desires are for anything else, we end up like I was this weekend, feeling disordered,  emotional, confused and fearful.

Having a singleness of focus will see us through the troubled waters of our days.

troubled4Learning to be single minded has been like balm for me.  I can feel healing in the places I’ve inadvertently been damaging.

Here are some ways I’m working on being constructive, instead of destructive.  Perhaps they will be balm to your soul, as well.

  • Repeating passages over and over to myself that remind me what my inner state should be,  “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, etc.” (Phil 4:8) and, “The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, etc.” (Gal 5:22) 
  • Praising God throughout the day, which is much more appropriate than micromanaging him!
  • Picturing myself, like the elders in Revelation 4:10, laying my crown at the feet of Jesus.
  • Picturing myself going to God and drawing from his well of  goodness, rather than giving into my desires for control and affirmation.

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Filed under Having the Right Heart, Mark, Self Worth, Things I Am Learning

Fighting Godzilla

fighting godzilla

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”  Mark 7:14-15, 20-23

Recently I had the great idea that I would try to wean myself off my menopause hormone therapy.  Ack!  What was I thinking? I know I’m going to have to come off of it at some point, but doing so was miserable.   I started feeling listless and unmotivated.  I found myself experiencing depression, paranoia, insecurity, low self-esteem, fear and negativity.

It would have been easy to blame all of this on my med change.  And in a way, that’s true.  But what is also true is that the new chemical imbalance was a catalyst to bring out what was already in my heart.

Jesus said something radical in the passage above.  He said it doesn’t matter how good our life looks.  What matters is what is in our heart.  Because if there is bad gunk in there, it will come out at some point or another.  It will affect us and others.

I had this moment of clarity a couple of Sundays ago.  Ken and I were driving to church, and I was picking at my husband.  (Don’t we always struggle with something on a Sunday morning?)  But this time, instead of taking the niggling issue to its conclusion, I stopped and looked at my heart.

If my heart was like a pool of water, I could see that the water was brackish, slimy with bitterness, anger and fear.  I saw that the thing I was talking to my husband about wasn’t really the problem at all.  The problem was my fear.  I was afraid that my husband’s actions would trigger a downward spiral.

And I saw more clearly than ever that this fear is the theme of my life.  I fear so much that one bad thing is going to lead to another.  Chaos will win, and I will be powerless to stop life from going down the drain.  I hate that feeling. (I know,  I’ve blogged about this before.  But I keep grappling with it.)

So my solution is to be like the Dutch boy who keeps his finger in the dike.

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I’ve got to stop every leak to make sure chaos can’t get in.  I work very hard at making sure everything goes right.  I try to be a good wife, mom and Christian.

But keeping my finger in the dike never really gets rid of the fear, the fear that is so huge, so solid, that all my years of Bible study have only chipped away at it, not done away with it.

It’s like a Godzilla Fear!

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It’s like a Terminator Emotion.   Remember those movies and how they kept trying to kill the bad Terminator, but it kept coming back?

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That is what my fear can be like.

Probably a lot of us have Godzilla Terminator Emotions — anger, bitterness, hurt, or insecurities  — feelings that we think we’ve gotten under control, but reemerge in the pressure cooker of life, and then loom so big and real that we act out of them instead of our faith and convictions.

And this is the stuff Jesus says defiles us, that we need to clean out of our inner selves.  But how?  It seems impossible!

Here are a few things I’m learning that are helpful.  (And also, let me be sure and say here that emotions themselves aren’t necessarily bad.  But they can come from sinful thinking, and lead to sin.)

Find the root. I do a lot of yard work. One of the most frustrating parts of it is dealing with the vines and small trees that grow out of my bushes.

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Sure, I can snip at them when I trim the bushes and my yard will look nice for a while, but they’ll be back, fouling my nice landscape!  The only real way to get rid of these “weeds” is to go under the bush, find the root, and pull it out.

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The same thing is true with our heart.  We need to go under the surface, find out what’s really bothering us, and deal with that.   In gardening, pushing through stubborn branches and digging in the dirt is unpleasant.  So is digging through our emotional baggage.   But we’re not going to be able to get rid of it if we don’t see clearly what the problem is.

There are effective tools in helping us with this.  I recommend reading a book like “Spiritual Discovery,” and having someone to talk with (even a professional) to help you process.

Look for the shoots.  In the passage above, Jesus listed a whole number of nasty things that can come out of our heart.  It reminds me that sin doesn’t just sit there passively.  It propagates more sin

There are weeds in my yard that have a root system.  I can pull out one weed, but others still pop up because the weed has sent out shoots into the soil.

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The two sprigs in front are connected weeds.  I’ve tried to get rid of these things a thousand times!

In my life, I see how my root of fear leads to other sins popping up – faithlessness, self-hatred, and the big one, PRIDE.  Pride shows up when I think I have to fix the world to keep the chaos out.  It’s up to ME.

So trying to get rid of sin can be like nightmare weeding!  Is there hope?  I have found that what is most effective is to not only seek to take out the sin, but to replace the sin with something good.  In my yard, Ken and I took out this huge oleander plant that was getting out of control.  Once it was gone, the other nice plants in my landscaping thrived, and I put a knockout rose in the empty space that also took off.  (Okay, the rose bush is kind of obscured in the picture.)

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So here is what we can put in our heart that will really help us:

A more total dependence on God!

I recently read this great book, “No Place to Hide.

It was written by W. Lee Warren, a neurosurgeon and admitted control freak who was a military doctor in the Gulf War.  He talked about a pivotal moment in his life when he was out in the open and bombs began to rain down:  “During that attack, huddled against a concrete wall in nothing but a running outfit, it became laughingly obvious to me that even my own survival was utterly out of my control.“

It was then that Warren finally let go of control, finally let go of fear.  When he did, he said, “The mental clarity that resulted was stunning to me, and the list of things I could not control played across my mind like movie credits rolling up the screen. . . And then, at the end of the list of all the things I couldn’t do, I finally understood the one thing I could do:  have faith that whatever God intended to do would be best for me and for my kids.”

In the end, what we really need is the Big Guy with the Big Guns.  We need to give EVERYTHING to him, every bit of control, every worry, every insecurity, every failing, every hurt.  Ultimately, the most effective thing we CAN do is have faith.

“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”  John 6:29

Having faith takes work.

Last week I watched a Ted Talk that was utterly compelling.  It was given by a Colombian woman, Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped by rebels and held captive in the jungle for six years.

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She talked about how much faith helped her get through this terrible time.   She said, “Faith isn’t rational or emotional. Faith is an exercise of the will. It’s the discipline of the will. It’s what allows us to transform everything that we are — our weaknesses, our frailties, into strength, into power. It’s truly a transformation. It’s what gives us the strength to stand up in the face of fear look above it, and see beyond it.”

Wow.  I want that kind of faith.  But, as Betancourt said, I’m going to have to exercise my will to build it.

So that is what I’ve been doing, having “faith workouts.”  Every time the emotions start to rise, I start doing “reps,” telling myself over and over what I believe.   Here are a few of the truths I repeat:

  1. God loves me incredibly.  Romans 5:8, Matt. 18:12-14
  2. God is merciful and compassionate.  Lam. 3:22-23, Titus 3:5
  3. God is a provider.  Phil. 4:19, Gen. 22:14
  4. God is good.  I Chron 16:34, Ex 33:19
  5. God is perfect in all of his ways. Ps 18:30
  6. God is my father.  Matt. 6:9
  7. God is faithful.  II Thes 3:3, I Cor. 1:9
  8. God will fight for me.  Ex 14:14
  9. God will mature me.  Phil. 1:6
  10. God wants to give me good gifts, and all things.  Luke 11:13, Rom. 8:32
  11. That I can approach the throne with confidence.  Heb 4:16
  12. That my name is written in heaven. Luke 10:20, Heb 12:23, Phil 4:3
  13. That there is hope. Rom 5:5
  14. That Jesus is willing.  Matt. 8:3
  15. That my prayers will be answered.  Mark 11:24

This is just a starting point.  Let’s all think of many more truth exercises.

I’m still fighting my Godzilla Terminator Emotions.  But I have to tell myself that the good thing about this is that they reveal what is in my heart.  They help me see the “roots” and the “shoots.”  I am beginning to see, too, the dysfunctional patterns they cause in me, like my efforts to control everything.

All of this brings me on my knees before God, and that is the best place to be. More than ever, I know that I need to keep putting things into HIS hands, doing this a thousand times a day with every concern and upsetting feeling.  My efforts have to be put into having faith, not control.

And faith feels good.  It is purifying and healing my heart.  And that is the goal.

 

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Filed under Faith, Having the Right Heart, Mark