John 17: 22-23 (The Message, my emphasis)
I’m praying not only for them
But also for those who will believe in me
Because of them and their witness about me.
The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I gave them,
So they’ll be as unified and together as we are—
I in them and you in me.
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me.
Last Sunday our co-pastor encouraged us to stop letting our circumstances determine our path and start looking to God instead, recognizing His Power to provide, comfort, give hope and protect us in the midst of any earthly situations we face. He told us that he’d seen so many fellow believers depart from their faith because they allowed their circumstances to drive them away from God instead of into God. And he told us how much of an encouragement the former elder of the church, who passed away on Thursday from cancer, had been with his wife because in the depths of their suffering and pain the Presence of God was palpable, as they chose to draw near to God, rather than push Him away.
He also showed us how Bible verses encourage us to actively choose to trust in the goodness of God by praising Him in the midst of suffering (Psalm 100, 1 Thessalonians 5: 16, Matthew 6: 34, Philippians 4). And then compared it to the worldly encouragement to look on the bright side of life. He pointed out that the difference was that the world looked to earthly circumstances to determine this happiness, whereas God calls us to look to Him. Essentially this means that He is calling us to hold onto the truth of His Word and Love, even in the most excruciating of circumstances. Does that mean He wants us not to get angry, cry, show our frustrations? No. King David and even Jesus show us this is not the case: even they needed to get angry, weep and were driven to the brink of death by the suffering they carried. Yet, the difference is that they let this drive them into the arms of their Heavenly Father.
Matthew 26: 37 – 39 (NIV)
And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
They communicated their emotions to God, allowing God to console, comfort, hold, carry and direct them on the path set out for them.
I’ve been reflecting on this a lot and also on what I’ve been reading in Healing from Damaged Emotions by David Seamands. In this book, the author, a Methodist Minister, reflects on the failure of many Christians to fully live in the grace they have been called into because they allow their past experiences and sometimes their at birth formed mindsets to determine their identity. He explains that instead of living in grace, they preach it and yet choose to hate themselves, calling it humility, rather than the low self-esteem it is. They choose to ignore part of the second commandment: to love others AS MUCH AS they love themselves.
As I read this, I recognized myself in it and also the reason why I fled from the Lord as a child. I am only slowly departing from this mindset of not being worthy of God’s Love, as I let His Word begin to shape my identity, rather than the experiences I have had.
The author points out that in hating or berating ourselves either internally or in front of others, we are effectively doing the same to God. And yet God commands us to LOVE Him with all that we are.
Mark 12: 30 – 31 (NIV)
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
To love Him then means to praise Him for who He has created us to be and to trust Him when He says our debt of sins has been fully paid, even when our earthly experiences try to tell us otherwise.
Ephesians 2: 8 – 9 (NIV)
For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
All too often I am looking for proof that God does not love me. So, if I am hurt, rejected, facing loss, I naturally lean towards thinking: “See, I am not worthy of Your Love, God, am I?” And yet, as I have plucked up the courage to direct that fear of rejection to Him, He has repeatedly shown me that it is a lie, giving me proof after proof of His Presence and Love in my life, as you will see in several of my earlier posts.
My experience-shaped mindset directly challenges the first and second commandment and in so doing prevents me from fully accepting and receiving the great Love God holds out to me. If I let this old identity tell me that my circumstances prove God does not love me, I am allowing it to stop me from feeling and seeing His Mighty Presence and Love in my life, especially now in my grief. And yet Jesus explicitly says: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5: 4). Blessed means exceedingly happy. And yet to become exceedingly happy I am called to “mourn”, so that I can be “comforted”. So, in the Beatitudes, God is calling us not to negate, but to fully acknowledge our circumstances, but in those (often horrendous) circumstances to direct our whole selves to the One who is more than able to turn our mourning into dancing.
If I allow the lies rooted in my old identity to shape me, I effectively allow them to blind me from the grace upon grace upon grace that is being poured out within and around me. The more I allow God’s Word to break the lies that speak to me of hate, rejection and unworthiness, the more my new identity in Christ can take shape and cause my old identity to whither and die.
Ephesians 4: 22 – 24 (NIV)
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
John 15: 5 – 7 (The Message)
“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon.
And the more Christ takes root within me, the more rooted in His Love I will become.
John 15: 9 – 10 (The Message)
“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.
So, I need to stop thinking that I need to prove my worthiness. That if I sacrifice more and do more for others, God will love me more. Actually, I can only fully love others, if I am capable of fully receiving love. And I can only fully receive love, if I allow Christ to determine my identity.
Where I hold onto anger, bitterness or hurt, I am choosing to collect a debt from others that Christ has already paid. But I am led to collect this debt because I allow others’ words, body language and actions to determine my self-worth. In so doing I am negating the sacrifice Jesus made at the Cross: I am telling Him He is not enough. The service at church opened my eyes to this as we sang songs focused on the great suffering Jesus endured to set us free. I stood there as tears streamed down my face, being moved by the LOVE that drove Him to the cross to suffer in the most excruciating way possible.
2 Corinthians 12: 9-10
My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Yes, LORD You ARE enough, MORE than enough. Dying to myself and taking up my cross means that I am to step into the hurt, rejection, fear and grief in my life, fully trusting in You, LORD, to console, shield, comfort and fill me with Your Hope-Giving Life. It means letting the hurt, rejection, fear and grief NOT determine who I am, but letting You determine that. It means turning to You with my knees shaking, my heart hurting, my anger boiling, the tears streaming and expectantly waiting upon You to pour Your Love out upon me as Your Daughter, a Daughter of the King. It means letting out what resides deep within me, so that you can wash it away in Your Mighty Love and replace it with Yourself: with Abundant, Beautiful, Freeing Life. It means daily filling my mind with the Truth of Your Word and repeatedly capturing thoughts that are not of You, lies that tell me I need to prove my worth to You and that Your Love is dependent on what I do or don’t do, and making them obedient to You. It means living in the true grace of the Gospel: Your Love.