Archive | April, 2009

The Freestyle Christian Life

29 Apr

As I was spending time in the Word yesterday morning, I came up with a great idea for a blog post: Learning to swim freestyle is like learning to live the Christian life.

Let me explain.

I have been training for my first sprint triathlon for about a month now (only 2.5 more to go!) While I pretty much have the bike and run licked (did my first brick workout today…a bike and run right after one another…they call it a brick because that’s what your legs feel like when you run after biking!), swimming has been and still is a major challenge.

For many more reasons than I care to explain to those of you who may not be acquainted with swimming terms, form and technique, learning to swim the freestyle stroke (a.k.a. the front crawl) is like learning to run on all fours…humans just weren’t designed to do it.

Especially me.

My hips don’t float. Even with fins on. I can’t go longer than 25 yards (one length of the pool) at a time. Every time I get to the end of the pool, I ask myself, “WHAT am I doing wrong?!?!?” I feel like I’m treading water…literally. I’m going that slow.

So what does all that have to do with learning to live the Christian life, you ask? The apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12, “But [Jesus] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamitites. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

When I get frustrated or sorrowful over my sin, it’s not really because of the offense against God. It’s because I messed up again. I couldn’t cut it. I tried to will myself to be loving, to act like Christ, but I failed. Miserably.

Often, I find myself wondering in regards to the Christian life and virtues, “What am I doing wrong?” I’m reading the Bible and seeking to understand the Gospel. I often have very encouraging, nourishing times with God, in which I feel like I have the beginnings of understanding the gospel, yet I can walk away from those encounters and within seconds, be uncontrollably angry at Travis. The Bible says “Be filled with the Spirit.” My mind says, “Yes, but HOW?”

Part of me understands that my being filled with the Spirit is God’s doing. The other part of me wonders when, if and how God plans on doing it.

After reading those verses written by Paul in 2 Cor. 12, I think I have a tiny little insight into the HOW.

Paul writes about being weak. Whether he means physically weak or spiritually weak, it doesn’t matter. Because he also talks about insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. Those are all external realities. There is no spiritual, internal persecution. It comes from other people.

I have internal and external troubles as well…but can’t say that I am content with them. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I try to avoid them at all costs. I get angry when things aren’t moving smoothly, when there are hiccups and bumps in the road. That’s because my 2 biggest idols are: 1) getting my own way and 2) happiness.

My idols are sort of inter-related but not quite the same thing. When I have troubles like Paul is describing (whether they be my own weaknesses and sin or an external situation that I can’t fully control), it interferes with my ability to have things go my way. When my boss at work tells me that something has to be done differently, I get angry because either I don’t want to do it that way or I don’t want to do it over. When Travis wants to talk about money and mortgages and I want to blog instead, I get angry because he is interfering with my personal determination of how I will spend my free time.

The way my idol of happiness ties into getting my way is that deep down, I fear not getting my way because I fear being unhappy. I don’t trust that God has my best interests in mind and that I can trust Him with my everyday circumstances and situations…even those as mundane as Travis wanting to talk AGAIN about what we plan to buy with our tax credit.

Where my idol of happiness is different than that of getting my way is in relation to my sin. When I abruptly get angry at Travis for no reason, I am just as frustrated at my being angry as I am actually angry. When Travis annoys me and I feel like raging on him, I despair and wish that I could go even a day without feeling annoyance toward him.

But the thing is, I don’t want to make my “wrong” emotions go away because I want to glorify God–though that certainly is involved. Rather, I want them to go away because I want my life to be easy. I don’t want to have to deal with those emotions and the situations they bring up. I don’t want to have to feel and stifle my anger, frustration and rage. I would much rather take a hands-off approach, which explains why Travis is always wanting more physical attention than I do–the way I look at it is less physical contact means fewer problems. And I just want to be happy already.

Maybe at this point you’re seeing a slight tie-in to swimming but not really understanding where I’m going with it. Well, with swimming, I have been trying and trying to get better. I have read books, watched videos, talked to friends, done drills, and even practiced in my sleep (that is unfortunately not a joke). In the case of getting my hips to float, I know what I’m doing wrong…but I don’t know how to fix it. In the case of being completely out of breath after one length, I don’t know what I’m doing wrong…but it’s obviously something.

I feel like that a lot with the Christian life. In the case of getting frustrated with my boss and my husband when I’m not getting my way, I know what I’m doing wrong. I can look back on those situations and see what I was feeling, understand why I felt that way and remind myself of truth. In the case of my being annoyed at Travis spontaneously and without discernable cause, I don’t know what I’m doing wrong…but I have the physical evidence that indeed, something is amiss. And yet, in both cases, regardless of whether I know what I’m doing wrong or not, my knowledge doesn’t seem to translate into action. I’m just left out of breath after short stints of trying to live the Christian life, hanging on to the wall and wondering “What am I doing wrong?”

But all this is assuming that I have to find the power inside myself to change the situation. That I have to be self-sufficient. That I have to make myself float instead of allowing the water around and under me to lift me up.

I don’t have to do any of those things.

If I never struggled, if I did indeed have everything under control, I would have no need for Christ. I wouldn’t need to rely or call upon God for strength and peace. 

Too often, instead of taking Paul’s attitude to troubles, I let my trials derail me and turn me from God. In those moments of struggle and inner turmoil, I think to myself, “How could God help me with this?” or “Yeah, I know I’m being moody and sinful right now, but truth just doesn’t feel relevant to me in this situation” or “I’m too tired to try and change my attitude.”

But these verses in 2 Corinthians 12 reveal that I don’t have to be more patient, more loving, more peaceful, gentler in myself–I only have to find those things in Christ and let them live in me. I don’t have to dig deep down inside myself to find real honesty, real love, real peace, real joy–or lament when I can find none–because I can borrow Christ’s. His is real all the time.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean I just become a better version of myself. It doesn’t mean I just have to get rid of all my vices and failures and develop all the virtues. It means that I actually become a version of Christ–it is His Spirit living in me after all. And His Spirit is what changes me. It’s not me forcing, willing myself to be different, to change. It’s God working in me to enable me to do things I couldn’t or wouldn’t have done otherwise.

My analogy between swimming and the Christian life kind of breaks down here…there is no spirit of swimming that will enable me to magically master the front crawl (though I so wish there were!!)

But what an amazing reassurance it is to know that I don’t have to be sufficient in and of myself when it comes to being Christ-like. Because if it’s all up to me, I will be constantly treading water, out of breath, and barely keeping myself afloat. When I don’t have patience, I can borrow Christ’s. When I don’t have joy, I can borrow Christ’s. When I don’t feel like I have the strength to keep on, I can borrow Christ’s.

Just a few verses to summarize/legitimize what I just wrote:

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy & beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…” Colossians 3:12

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

“…the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10

The gospel according to Pretty Woman

25 Apr

I just watched Pretty Woman with my friend Charlotte. That’s a great feel-good movie. As I was driving home, feeling happy and upbeat like I usually do after a particularly good movie, I found myself thanking God for this world He has created.

But I couldn’t get past the fact that Julia Roberts’ character in the movie is a prostitute. Her lifestyle (and the fact that it is a reality for millions of women in this world) grieves me. No woman should have to live like that.

And yet, look around us. So many young women treat their bodies the same way. But they’re not selling their services; they’re giving them away for a reputation, for a good time, for empowerment and control, for a broken heart.

I know because I was one of them. I didn’t think twice about hooking up with a guy before I was a Christian. My ability to allure guys was actually part of my identity, part of what I thought made me valuable.

But then Christ rescued me, like Richard Gere rescued Julia Roberts. Christ looked past my ratty clothing, bad hair (Julia Roberts does not look good with platinum blonde hair), and indecent ways. He invited me into a relationship with Him, gave me new clothes (robe of righteousness!), and promised to teach me good manners (His ways).

And when Satan reminds me of who I really am (like Jason Alexander’s character reminds Julia Roberts), Jesus destroys him and kicks him out.

Obviously there are parts of the movie that don’t fit with the gospel but there is no denying that the storyline is compelling. And why? Why do human beings like movies like that–the whore who is redeemed by a rich guy when they fall in love?

Because every human heart is yearning for the gospel. We ALL want to be redeemed from what we have made our lives on our own. I didn’t like my life before I was a Christian. I was trapped in a web of lies, emptiness, and fear. I knew I wanted things to change but had no idea what I wanted them to change to…until I met Jesus.

I got a letter from my mom in the mail with an article by a lady who is training for her first triathlon. In the letter, my mom wrote, “I am really proud of you, who you are and all that you’ve accomplished and all that you are striving for. I feel so honored and blessed to be your Mom. I love you!”

Hearing my mom say that is one of the best things ever. And I honestly feel like Christ is the only reason why she can say that in honesty. Because before I knew Him, I wasn’t even proud of myself. I was ashamed and lost. But I’ve been found. And I’ve been redeemed by the Ultimate Savior.

That is so much better than Pretty Woman.

Faithful with the small things

18 Apr

Just a few weeks ago, I was sitting in bed accusing God of being silent about my life and what He wanted from me. The verse that crumbled my anger that night was 1 Thessalonians 5:24, “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

He is faithful indeed.

Since that night, when I realized I had been measuring my life by what I do for God rather than by what He has done for me, I have felt like every message, discussion, song, and verse has been tailored for me, meeting me right where I am and giving me the exact encouragement I need in that moment.

Like last week, our care group discussion was about how Christians can make a radical difference in very “un-radical” circumstances. How do we live so that others notice we are different than the world? Very interesting conversation indeed.

My study of Romans has shown me that God had a purpose for my life even before the foundation of the world.

The book I’m reading, You Matter More Than You Think: What Every Woman Needs to Know About the Difference She Makes by Dr. Leslie Parrott, has reinforced what I have been learning about what makes life significant and meaningful.

And then Greg’s message last Wednesday during chapel was about how to continuously improve, not just in our spiritual lives but in our everyday lives.

Since all of these sources have impacted the thoughts running around in my head lately, this post may seem a jumbled mess of ah-ha moments. I will try to communicate as logically as my brain thinks (that’s a joke…)

In the post following my aforementioned revelation, I typed out a conversation I had had with God that morning. As a person who is usually skeptical of anything super-spiritual like hearing God actually speak, I have wondered if those words were contrived out of my own mind or if it was really God. While it did sound like me talking to myself in my head, the answers were immediate and formed like a response to my question. So I have to assume that the Holy Spirit was at least involved.

Because I like the conversation so much, I’m going to cut and paste it again here:

“But God, I still want my life to matter,” I said.

“My child, it already matters. I was willing to send my only Son to die for you and your life,” God replied.

“But I still want to do big things for you.”

“I know, Kathy, I know you do. Just be patient. I’ll open the doors for you.”

“So what do I do in the meantime?”

“Live your life for me and for others.”

“What does that look like?”

“Draw close to me and you’ll see.”

That little line “Live your life for me and others” is the key to a meaningful life, I believe. I think back over all the things I’ve struggled with over the past year or so…being convicted that I don’t share my faith enough, being self-conscious and lonely living in a new state, feeling lazy and self-centered in my hobbies and free time, wanting to see a tangible way that I am making a difference. All are solved by living a life of love for God and for others.

In her book, Leslie Parrott writes, “One of the fundamental truths I’ve learned about making a difference on this planet is that the road less traveled is not actually found in Calcutta or on the mean streets with the down and out. The road less traveled is ultimately found in the heart. It’s found in the heart of every woman who wants her life to make a difference and realizes that the difference is found, quite simply, in love. You walk the road less traveled whenever and wherever you bring more grace, compassion, understanding, patience, and empathy. More love. Why? Because a life of love is rare” (22-23).

Women, by nature, are designed to be relational and nurturing. We are designed to be intimate, intuitive, and loving. We are detail-oriented so that we can notice changes in a friend’s mood, sense a child’s hurt spirit, or remember our husband’s favorite dessert. We are multi-taskers so that we can run households full of children, dirty laundry, piles of dishes, and meals to cook.

But women can also feel incredibly under-appreciated. Though my husband does a wonderful job of thanking me for cleaning and cooking, I still have those moments when he does something inconsiderate (in my eyes) without his being aware of it. I have discovered the truth in Leslie Parrott’s words, “A woman’s pain either makes her bitter or makes her better.” And how do we women use pain or suffering to make us better instead of bitter? Gratitude.

A few more phrases from Leslie’s book: “…The more gratitude I cultivate for the suffering I endure, the less tethered I am to its weight…Gratitude unlocks a loving heart…The more gratitude you cultivate, the more grace you have for others…Grace and humility are two key components of gratitude and essential ingredients of love.”

[Good stuff, no?]

So the way I bring the most glory to God is by loving the people in my life, the people I come in contact with every day. These principles about gratitude, grace, humility, and love are biblical: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 John 4:7 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”

I would be tempted to think “Ok, so now I know that I should be loving people. But who? And how?”

That was the question answered by Greg on Wednesday. In essence, the part of his  message that was most poignant to me was this: “Make the most of now. Be faithful with your slice of the kingdom pie, which is what God has called you to do right now. You may not be called to whatever you’re doing for the rest of your life, but it’s what you’re called to do now. We miss out on God’s future vision for us because we don’t make the best of our current situation. Be faithful now and God will open up other doors down the road.”

Amen, brother. This puts into words what God has put on my soul for the past several months. And reassures me that I am where I am for a reason. Right now, I am living God’s purpose for me. God has given me today. He has asked me to be faithful with this day. To strive with every fiber of my being to live a life of love in order to bring glory and honor to the name of Jesus.

Greg also talked about pain, like Leslie Parrott does in her book. She writes, “Ultimately, the pain we carry in our hearts [or experience in our days] is the grinding stone that shapes us to love. It sharpens our capacity to be tender with another’s wounds and to empathize without judgment.” Greg said, “Pain is spiritual protein for us. It develops our spiritual muscles. So we should be grateful for every experience. If you are feeling frustrated at your job, slighted by someone, persecuted or mocked, the pain makes us stronger. Pain, it’s what’s for dinner.”

When I view struggles as contributing to my ability to love, then I can indeed be grateful for their presence in my life. And gratitude unlocks a loving heart.

I’ve already been able to put these realizations into action. Even though the non-profit ministry I work for is small (around 25 employees), there can be some tension between what we call the “sides” of the office (because we literally have 2 different offices that are across the hall from each other–admin/donors/events on one side, sales/marketing on the other side). After having some drama this past week between sides, I thought maybe Admin felt underappreciated, like the Mktg department always expects them to bend over backwards while jumping through hoops to do whatever we want done. So instead of getting angry and frustrated, or gossiping about how they’re not acting like Christians, I suggested our side throw their side an appreciation breakfast. Just so they know that we really couldn’t do what we do without them. My team liked the idea so Phil is going to bring it up to Debb and Jason (VP and Director of Sales). Hopefully it’ll work out…

So much to read, so little time

14 Apr

I constantly feel like there are 500 books that I would like to be reading. And while I do read a good amount (I’ve read 11-ish this year so far), I don’t read nearly as much as I would like.

On Easter Sunday, I was all excited for the afternoon because I could just relax (finally!) and read. Well, I tried but I made it about 5 minutes into my book and was out like a light. For 3 hours. There went my good intentions.

I joke that my family has a special gene that allows you to fall asleep anywhere, anytime. My grandma Ruth, my mom’s mom, used to fall asleep looking at pictures or in the middle of telling you a story (I think she was quasi-narcoleptic).

My mom fell asleep in the waiting room of the orthodontist every time she came to pick me up. So much so that I finally asked her to wait in the car because she was embarrassing me (teenage insecurity…)

My younger brother, Chris, fell asleep in the dentist chair on his first visit ever.

My parents fall asleep 15 minutes into any movie, regardless of the time of day it’s being watched or what genre of movie it is.

I have been cursed with narcoleptic reading. The minute I start reading anything, my head is bobbing and swaying and I’m reading the same paragraph over and over again for 10 minutes, not comprehending a single word. I have to be sitting in an upright, uncomfortable chair with something in my hands to keep me busy in order for me to stay awake when reading something.

I’m amazed that I made it through college.

Or that I’ve ever read an entire book in my lifetime.

And this past Sunday, my nap wasn’t so much a nap as a sleep coma. You know that feeling when you’re so impossibly tired, that even when you try to wake up from a nap, your limbs feel like they’re filled with lead and your eyelids are glued shut?

Well maybe it’s just me.

Anywho, that’s how I felt on Sunday.

Back to my first point about having so many books I’d like to read, I updated my blog page entitled “Books I’ve read in 2009.” While I didn’t have many to add that I have already read, I did add several (like 25) that I would LIKE to read.

So if you know of any great, fantastic, non-trashy-novel books that you think I should add to my list, feel free to let me know!!

A Custom-Tailored Life

11 Apr

I’ve finally reached Romans 9 in my Bible study (going through all the epistles starting with Romans for however long it takes me). I love being able to focus on just a few verses at a time (instead of reading whole chapters at a time, like I did last year to read the whole Bible in a year). 

Today I read Romans 9:9-13, about the story of Jacob and Esau. The thing that really stuck out to me (probably because I can relate it to my own life) is that God determined the purposes of Jacob’s and Esau’s lives while they were still in the womb.  The text says “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad–in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call…” God didn’t favor one child over the other because of who they were or what they had done…because they hadn’t done anything yet! Rather, God favored Jacob over Esau because of His purpose in election.

I’m not going to get in to the doctrine of election here because while I agree with it, I don’t have enough savvy explanations as to why.  (But a line in the song “All I Have is Christ” explains it well: “If you had not loved me first, I would refuse you still.”)

What I find reassuring about God’s election in these verses is that God has a plan for my life, and has had a plan since before I was born. Indeed, Ephesians 1 says that He chose me in Christ before the foundations of the world.

But He didn’t just choose me to have eternal life (though that is the main attraction). He also chose me to have a life on earth that glorifies Him. And rather than thinking there is a specific kind of life that glorifies Him (as I have been stuck in thinking for the past several months), He created me for a specific life (MY life) that will glorify Him.

Let me explain: Jacob and Esau were very different people. Esau was a man’s man. He hunted, fished, was big and tough and hairy, like his father, Isaac. Jacob was the complete opposite. He didn’t like to hunt; he stayed in the tents instead of roaming the fields. He wasn’t big or tough and he wasn’t hairy (Genesis 25-27).

Since God’s purposes for both Jacob and Esau were determined in the womb and Psalm 139 says “You knit me together in my mother’s womb,” it stands to reason that God designed Jacob and Esau in the womb specifically for their purposes in life. Jacob was a cunning man–he succeeded in stealing his brother’s birthright. Esau wasn’t there when Isaac bestowed the birthright because he was out hunting (that’s where my husband would be too :)).

The reassurance to me is that if Jacob and Esau were designed for the lives God intended them to lead, then so am I. Instead of feeling ill-equipped or unable to live the life God has called me to live, I should rest in the knowledge that God has designed me for my life. He custom-tailored my personality, skills, and interests to what He intended my life to look like. Or he custom-tailored my life to fit me (classic chicken or the egg dilemma).

However you want to look at it, what it all boils down to is that I am equipped to live the life God wants me to live. I am not incompetent, inadequate, or unqualified. God has qualified me, made me adequate, and bridged the gap of my incompetency, through the cross of Christ. Tim Keller says something in his sermon “Blessing Self-Forgetfulness” that I repeat to myself often: “The verdict is in.” Meaning I no longer have to prove myself, my value, my worth to anyone, including myself, and least of all, to God! Like Romans 8:33 says, “It is God who justifies.”

It is also God who equips you for the life He wants you to live, both in your innate personality and abilities, but also through the Spirit’s work in your heart and soul.

“Now many the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

Can we give anything to Christ?

6 Apr

In light of my revelation the other day, I found this article by John Piper (you can find it here and I have pasted it below). He says it so much better than me, but these have been my realizations the other day and this morning while reading Romans 8:33-34.

Can we give anything to Christ?

When the psalmist cried out, “What shall I render to the Lord for all of his benefits to me?” the reply was, “I will lift the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord” (Psalm 116:12-13). So, translating that into Christmas: Jesus gives us the gift of himself and we ask, “Now what can I render to Jesus for all the benefits of his fellowship?” Answer: Ask him for his help. That’s the gift he wants.

The reason Christ wants this is because he always wants to get the glory while we get the benefit. Glory comes to him when we depend on him rather than try to enrich him. If we come to him with gifts—as though he needed something—then we put him in the position of a needy person, and we’re the benefactors. He always wants to be the one who is infinitely self-sufficient. Therefore the only gifts that we can bring Jesus are gifts of praise, thanks, longing, and neediness.

A fountain is not glorified by us hauling buckets of dirty water up the mountain and pouring them in. A fountain—a spring in a mountain—is glorified, rather, by us lying down at the edge of the stream, putting our face in, drinking our fill, and getting up and saying, “Ah!” That’s called worship. Then we take a bucket, dip it in, walk down the hill to the people in the valley who don’t know that the spring exists, and we say, “Taste this! It’s right up there, and his name is Jesus!” The kind of gift that the fountain wants is drinkers, because then he looks truly overflowing, rich, and self-sufficient. And that’s exactly what he wants to look like.

______________

Hebrews 4:14-16 says, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Together with Romans 8:33-34, this verse shows that our response to having the Father on our side and the Son interceding for us should be…asking for more grace and mercy! Not service, sacrifice, or payment but lifting up the cup of salvation and calling upon the name of the Lord.

In my quest to overcome my sins and failures, I have been striving for self-sufficiency. I thought I should be able to get to a point where I felt like I finally had it all together. I am realizing more and more that I will NEVER get to that point–and that itself is a mercy from God. For if I did get to that point, I would have no need for God. Like Piper writes in his article, “Glory comes to him when we depend on him rather than try to enrich him. If we come to him with gifts—as though he needed something—then we put him in the position of a needy person, and we’re the benefactors. He always wants to be the one who is infinitely self-sufficient. Therefore the only gifts that we can bring Jesus are gifts of praise, thanks, longing, and neediness.” I only have to bring Jesus praise, thanks, longing and neediness.

I can do that.

Ch, ch, ch, changes!

5 Apr

So many changes…

1. I chopped 5 inches off my hair.

My hair before the cut

My hair before the cut

My hair after the cut

My hair after the cutJust in time for spring! I love it!

2. Did I mention that I am training for a triathlon? It’s on July 18th. I officially registered last Friday. I have also starting a few new blog to chronicle my adventures. I didn’t want to inundate this blog with triathlon crap (plus, I have plenty of musings on life to keep this blog updated) and what’s more fun than to have TWO blogs!

So add this one to your blogroll or Google Reader: trigirl2009.wordpress.com.

3. We repainted our kitchen. I LOVE it. I am going to try to sew some curtains for it too with my still-unused sewing machine that I got from Trav’s grandma. But here’s the transformation so far:

BEFORE

BEFORE (we left it exactly the same as the previous owners had it)

DURING (with a coat of primer)

DURING (with a coat of primer)

AFTER (with only one coat of green paint! The green matches the one odd-colored wall in our living room)

AFTER (with only one coat of green paint! The green matches the one odd-colored wall in our living room)

I think I’m going to make white curtains with possibly some green/blue pattern on them…I really like damask but I don’t know if that would be just as dark as the curtains there now (we’re trying to lighten the kitchen up). We’ll see!

Finally, a revelation.

2 Apr

As I sat in bed last night, propped up by 2 pillows, my ESV Bible and journal on my lap, my NIV study Bible and the dictionary within reach, I was discouraged, confused and desperate as usual. Reading Romans 8:26-27 about how the Holy Spirit helps us pray, I felt my usual cynicism and doubt. Why didn’t I see the evidence of that power in my life? Why didn’t I feel the strength and empowerment of the Spirit like the Bible said believers do? I just feel so…ordinary. Like I always have.

I silently asked God when He was going to answer my prayers and give me some answers. Was He ever going to? I was beginning to lose hope. This has been the state of my heart for so long that it’s hard to remember a time I didn’t feel this way.

I wanted specifics. But there are no specifics in the Bible. And I realized that the reason for that is because God doesn’t care (ultimately) about the specifics, the circumstances, the situations, locations, details. He cares about attitude, character, and relationship.

I thought of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24: “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”

But what really caught my eye was the next passage:

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

When I read the last part of verse 24, I started to cry. God was telling me, “Kathy, I will give you a revelation, I will lead you in a Christ-like life, but it will be in My way and in My timing.”

“Ok, ok, ok,” was all I could say as the tears rolled down my face.

I kept looking for specifics, for tangible examples, for the one unique purpose for my life to be revealed. But here’s the thing: maybe there isn’t one. Maybe God intends for me to glorify Him through a normal, everyday life. Maybe it’s my reactions, actions and attitudes that are supposed to be the radical thing about me, instead of my lifestyle.

I realized that instead of defining my life by what Christ has done for me, I have been defining my life by what I can do for Him.

And what I can do for Him will always be flawed, imperfect, incomplete, subpar. I can’t even live up to my own standards through my own efforts, much less live up to His. 

This lie snuck into my mind without my knowledge because I didn’t think I could earn salvation through works. But I thought that it was up to me to live the Christian life out. I am now in charge of what happens. Sure, God has an overall plan but I’m the one who has to execute it.

Galatians 3:3 could have been written to me: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”

I had a conversation with God about this this morning.

“But God, I still want my life to matter,” I said.

“My child, it already matters. I was willing to send my only Son to die for you and your life,” God replied.

“But I still want to do big things for you.”

“I know, Kathy, I know you do. Just be patient. I’ll open the doors for you.”

“So what do I do in the meantime?”

“Live your life for me and for others.”

“What does that look like?”

“Draw close to me and you’ll see.”

He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.

Fail.

1 Apr

Have you ever seen the funny pictures on icanhascheezburger or failblog.org that just have the one liner “Fail.”

Here’s one if you don’t know what I’m talking about:

A puppy chewed the book corner…the book’s title is The Art of Raising a Puppy.

Fail.

I think these things are hilarious.

Sometimes I feel like you could take a picture of me and put the same one-liner on it: Fail. Especially when it comes to the Christian life.

I realized yesterday as I was praying in the morning (or at least what was my half-hearted pathetic attempt at praying) that I am hung up on what I consider to be the qualifications or requirements of the Christian life.  I keep thinking that a “good Christian,” one that is relying upon God and desiring to be like Christ, one who is full of zeal and passion and energy, will do things like spending hours in the Word and prayer daily, volunteer in their community, serve at church, care for the elderly and sick, share the gospel with every person they come in contact with, exude joy and confidence in Christ 24/7, and always react out of self-control and gentleness. And since I’m not doing any of those, or at least not to the caliber I imagine this ideal Christian does, I am worthless. I am not living my life like a Christian. Instead, I am wasting my life.

This is how I feel.

So you can imagine that I feel like one big FAIL. The picture of me could show a glimpse of the Bible, with the values and ideals that I claim to be my own, and then show what my real behavior is like: instead of being selfless and humble, I am selfish and proud. Instead of being gentle and kind, I am agressive and inconsiderate. Instead of living in the truth of God’s love, I look to the world for the definition of my self-worth…and the basis of my self-loathing.

I also realized yesterday that I have a hard time dealing with failure. In that I don’t deal with it. Instead, I shut down, go on autopilot, with a constant cry of self-pity and desperation in my heart. I get overwhelmed at what a failure I am. Instead of feeling like I am just failing in one area of my life and that I can work on it with the Spirit’s help, I feel like my entire life is one big FAIL and I am collapsing under its weight.

Grace would seem to be the answer. God doesn’t require perfection from us, because He knows we are incapable of it. But here’s the other thing that hangs me up: grace leaves me with my life as it is. If I accept that I am a failure and God loves me anyway because of grace, if I accept that I don’t “have to” do anything to earn His favor, doesn’t that mean that I accept my life as it is?

But then, if I am discontent with my life because I think it doesn’t meet God’s standards, and yet He tells me that there no longer are standards because I am clothed in Christs’ righteousness, what happens to the basis of my discontent? Is it not based on lies? Is it not based on self-imposed rules and obligations? Am I not drowning in a sea of my own making?

I am waiting for God to save me from myself, waiting for Him to sweep down and set me on the solid rock of the life I want to have. But instead, I feel like I’m at the bottom of a well, able to see the light of day but having absolutely no ability to get to it. God must lower the bucket for me to climb out.