is not the word
but for the trials
that make me understand it.
is not the word
but for the trials
that make me understand it.
When is the last time you were able to say “no” with a clear conscience? If you’re like me, my question strikes you as ridiculous: Who can possibly say “no” and feel no guilt? Surely it is only natural that doubts about ourselves and our decision will always go along with declining a request or choosing to not serve the community in some way. Saying “no” has an almost insurmountable stigma to it. We don’t say it unless we absolutely have to and then, only with a properly-prepared excuse we hope will soften the blow.
Some of us, who feel we have to say “no” often, become very good at making comforting, acceptable excuses. We never let the people to whom we must deliver the dreaded word think we do not utter it without palpable pain and utter recourse. We believe it is an honor to never let anyone down. What we don’t realize is that we make people our god when we do this. We let them indirectly determine the type of lives we live. We are at the mercy of whatever need or event which should come up for all our days.
As difficult as it is, I have been learning to say “no.” But not just “no” when it’s squeezed out of me by circumstances I can’t control. I’m going so far as to choose “no” as my answer when I deem responsibly handling the matter before me to warrant such action. I still struggle with the idea of what people will think of me–how they might even doubt my godliness if I am too forward in how I stewardship the life God’s given me–but I am disposed to move forward anyway. I have been caged by the fear of others for far too long. It may take me a long time to win a complete victory over these false concerns of my heart, but God is calling me to obedience in this area and is giving me the grace to give it to Him.
If you can identify with my confession and the calling I feel to no longer let fear of men undermine my fear of God, let me encourage you to take a moment right now to celebrate. Neither one of us would choose this transformation for ourselves. If God did not intervene, questioning so kindly the way we live our lives, we would not change. But He has chosen liberty on our behalf; He has offered to be our burden-bearer and the One to teach us how to cast our every burden onto Him. He’s got this whole process in His hands. We just get to submit and watch Him work. What a joy! Because of His grace, we will learn to say “no” as liberally as necessary so that we can say “Yes!” most wholeheartedly to the things He has specifically called us to invest our lives in.
Have you found that regulations seem to be synonymous with the idea most of us have of godliness? If we find someone who follows the rules very well we immediately think, “Oh, they must be godly.” Often, we find it easy to believe this because we ourselves find it so hard to keep the rules. We think if someone can keep them so well, they must be of a different spiritual caliber than us; they must have some secret that we don’t. They must be touched by God or the recipient of some measure of divine favor that we lack.
But, despite our staunch convictions concerning this matter, we should not forget to ask ourselves: Does God agree with our judgment? Does God regard our delight in the evidence of such high moral standards as a thing to praise? Is He ultimately pleased when we have the whole Christian life covered by our execution of perfect actions that touch every sphere of justified behavior and astound every neighbor we have?
Or would God witness that we have lost the heart of worship in all our closely guarded behaviors and “spiritually” modified existences? This is a concern we should not take lightly; I don’t believe God does. He wants our hearts far more than He wants any show of “faithfulness” or “piety” that strips the heart of tenderness toward God in order to elevate flesh in the manner of recognized godliness. Such a pattern of living has a name in the church: it is legalism.
Legalism is a strain of pride and spiritually-oriented conceit that sidles up to people who forget the reason why they stand before God or never discovered how they can know God’s pleasure freely. It’s a shame. It’s a curse, really. It is something we should desire to see Christ defeat in all it’s subtlety and scam.
I love how Galatians chapter five handles the matter of legalism. It first thrills us at the prospects inherent to our grace-delivered relationship with God through Christ and then enjoins us to not let anti-Christ tensions of legalism twist what God has provided into something that kills the soul:
22-23But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.
23-24Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.
25-26Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original. (The Message)
As I hope you see clearly from what you’ve read above, God is into personally performing our heart work, while legalism seeks to get ahead of God in the transformation department and make Him unnecessary in our pursuit of appearing holy. Therefore, the heart of legalism misses the heart of God. And, if we miss the heart of God, we have truly missed everything. Our hearts cannot be engaged in anything meaningful where God is intentionally or unintentionally excluded. In this way, we diminish our hearts and make religion our results-god rather than reverencing the God who has already accomplished the results that really matter. He is ready and eager to apply them to us, if only we are ready to have Him do so. Are we?
I know that there is a pretty good chance that you have committed an act of service that no one noticed. I know that I have. I wish I could say the opposite, but this really miffs me. I would like everything that I do to be appreciated at least with some recognition.
I would like people to see with eyes of recognition. And if they fail to have those in the moment, I cling to the hope that at some point in their day it will finally “click” for them and they’ll realize what they failed to notice before. Then, they’ll come and thank me, or congratulate me on achieving such a lofty heart in my pursuit of godliness. (Whew! Yeah, that would be nice.)
One problem: people don’t do this. I don’t get this. Except, that I ask myself, how many times to I do this favor to others–recognizing, acknowledging, remembering their contribution? (Oh! Better not to ask!)
But, considering how much I desire to be served, how much I treasure my own happiness and well-being, you would think I would do everyone of these things. Except the fact that I expect the good things people do for me. I don’t expect them to do anything else. I’m that into my own benefit. And boy, do I forward it with everything I’ve got!
At the very least, I don’t appreciate the service I get, since that would be admitting it wasn’t deserved. At the very worst, I don’t serve others because I won’t acknowledge my true calling: to put my welfare aside to increase the welfare of others. (Sheesh! I need to apologize to myself for admitting this; either that, or I need to apologize to everyone I berate for exhibiting such me-like characteristics. Wow–so going to need grace for that one!)
But isn’t grace what this whole matter about. Ultimately the greatest service ever done is not remembered or acknowledged by most people. When Christ died to put to death the penalty of our sin, He didn’t do it for anyone but us. He asks for a thank you, but He doesn’t stop there. He ask for a surrendered life; a commitment to live like the greatest service ever forgotten was done for you. This means that you are in His debt to the extent that you don’t remember it and share its joys with others.
From now on we can’t mourn excessively over the services we’ve done without recognition–such pain doesn’t amount to much compared to this. We were served despite the fact that we who should have been servants weren’t. We were served despite the fact that the One who served us should not have served us at all. We were served not with the goal of doing a good deed, but with the goal of redeeming all of our misdeeds. Praise God!
Sometimes it seems like there is nothing worse than making the same mistake more than once. Especially when I’m on the other side of a mistake–being the one needing to exercise more patience than I would like for the sake of loving the offending sinner.
But, I think my real problem here is not impatience or even a penchant to be disgruntled, but a case of spiritual amnesia. I have poor memory–there’s no other explanation. Surely if I had a good one, I would be full of grace. Thus, no grace, no memory. And to reverse that: No memory, no grace.
You see, I have a problem with exhibiting a good memory because I have a problem seeing grace–I can’t keep in mind what I don’t regularly see.
If grace was shown to me once a long time ago and it didn’t have on-going affects, then maybe it would be okay to forget it. But since grace is the blanket over me every day, I have no excuse. I’m obviously lifting up the blanket and peaking out–perhaps even throwing it back completely and forgetting my need to be covered.
And, if I’m not allowing myself to be completely and constantly covered with grace that is visible to me, how can I see grace as a reality that should apply to you too? Rather, I will resent you because you remind me of my need for grace and how little I’m seeing it (i.e. how little I’m wanting it).
I must want grace. Seeing my sin and my powerlessness to confront and eradicate it makes me want grace. Receiving grace makes me aware that there is a power at work over me and in me that I cannot personally account for. It does not deliver up glory from me, but lovingly bestows it on me. If I am aware of this, I can quit expecting you to be delivering up glory from yourself and allow God to lovingly bestow it on you through me. And, regardless of whether your consistent mistakes make me discouraged at your power to change, I trust God that He is the power that must both make you whole and me at peace with you.
The Christian life is a continual reminder that I’m not good enough. I thought that was just a mental assent I made when I accepted Christ. I didn’t realize it is something I have to face every day. It is truth, it belongs to me.
But I resent it. I try to live as though I can fix this. As though it is not such a big deal. If I can believe that, I can believe that everything is okay or, at least, it will be after I’m able to make things right.
Yet, for some unfortunate reason, this doesn’t work. Evidently, I’m missing something. Something huge. So, what could it be?
I’m missing the fact that I accepted Christ because I saw that I wasn’t good enough and there was nothing else I could do about it. I reconciled myself–in action, though clearly not fully in heart–to the fact that I am blemished and defiled by sin and its affects. I didn’t accept it because I thought it was a pretty thought, but because it was true and I was being offered the antidote.
What I’m realizing now, though, is that the antidote not only saves me, it makes what I do for myself of no affect. It neutralizes my ambitions because they flow from a heart that cannot be trusted. It factors in grace because self-righteous living gives birth to no good thing.
On my own I’m powerless and with Christ I remain powerless in the flesh but mighty in the spirit–His Spirit. I turn away from trusting myself and relying on my own efforts to care for and support myself. God knows I use the wrong things to comfort myself and justify what I’m doing. I need to be broken free of sinful obsessions that are too natural for me to confront on my own. It is impossible for me to know how to “take myself down”–I’m not gifted in self-mortification.
I rely on Christ to do that. I rely on Him to adjust the seat of who I am from being nourished by the flesh to being nourished by the spirit. I rely on Him to make me of no account in the equation because I don’t advance myself in Christ. I rely on Him to relieve me from my discouragement that flows from a desire to deliver self from the jaws of death that I find at Calvary. I rely on Him to give me a new picture of what being me is supposed to entail. Ding, ding, ding! The game has timed out, leaving Christ with the only score on the board. Well, folks, it looks like Elaine’s loss is Christ’s gain! (Hallelujah.)
What do you do when everything is not okay? How do you live life when it is no longer possible to pretend that’s your life is all right, that you know how to deal with the horrors you’re going through?
This might surprise you, but I don’t think we do anything in the common understanding of the word. Instead, we sit and watch. We ask God for a greater vision of what He’s doing and we trust Him to bring to pass what He reveals to us.
We use the time in front of us in a way that says “I’m letting God do what He’s doing with me. I’m not going to get in His way–though I’m surely going to be running His way a lot!” We recognize that we’re not going to come through this without His comfort. We believe that because He will give us His comfort, our entire test will become a blessing.
We don’t do this because we want to impress God. Neither do we do this because we hope our sheer willpower can make us more righteousness while we fight. We do this for such a higher reason: We do it so that we may not forfeit an opportunity to treasure the presence of God in moments He wants to redeem. We treat days and years and seasons of pain and pressure like missives written in code. We consider ourselves loaded down with grace not because we see so much good but because we know God does.
He knows where we are, and He may not move us, but He won’t let us mistake that He is right in our midst. Trials teach us to welcome Him in with greater abandon. The teach us that He defines our hope and that no one or no thing can cripple Him though they try to cripple us. We are safe in His arms. What ever wants access to us, to destroy us, must go through Him first.
Trials also bring out the sin in us; they impress us with the magnitude of what Christ did for us at the cross. They remind us that our greatest enemy has been vanquished. They encourage us that we are not beholden to our former orientations–we have been raised to live for Christ.
There is nothing to obsess over. There is only to walk the path He made ready. There is really nothing for us to settle, nothing for us to make right. God has done all that. He simply invites us to enjoy it, to come into the kingdom He has set up. After all, God allows trials in our lives because He wants to get us acquainted with what He can do, what He has done; He knows how handicapped we are when all we know is what we can do.