One of the major issues with shame is that it blocks the essential process of recognizing and repenting of sin. This may seem counter-intuitive. Shame-filled people feel bad about themselves and feel they do wrong all the time. Shouldn't they be overly sensitive about their sin?
The answer is no. At least, not in the right way.
One of the strange effects of shame is that it blocks the normal process of recognizing and making it right when you've done something wrong. The reason for that is that the shame-filled person is already so overwhelmed with feeling bad about him or herself, that he or she blocks out the feeling of “badness”. They can't admit they've done wrong because it would simply be too much. They have no confidence of being forgiven, no safe base to come back to from the devastating feeling of having messed up.
Shame leads to a broken and wildly inaccurate “guilt meter”. Shame-filled people feel disproportionately bad for things that are not wrong or not their fault. They feel guilty for making anyone feel bad about anything, and are incapable of setting appropriate boundaries because of their fear of making anyone displeased with them.
On the other hand, they are often incapable of recognizing the very real faults or flaws that they should seek to change. Or if they do, they beat themselves up for them and feel even more shame. The knowledge of their guilt drives them further into the darkness, instead of toward the God of love who will forgive and help them change. If you're certain you'll only be condemned, why would you admit fault?
Shame-filled people are stuck. They are unable to make any real progress toward self-improvement or in Christian terms, sanctification. They are bogged down at the side of the road with four flat tires.
Being able to recognize a wrong you have done, feel healthily sorry for it (as opposed to feeling bad and worthless as a person), and take steps to change it (in biblical terms, repentance) requires a certainty that you are loved and accepted. Shame-filled people can't do this because for them, it would be like falling off the map. If you're already banished to the edges of the world by your inherent badness and can't earn your way back, acknowledging that you've done something wrong would be to fall off into the abyss of darkness. It's too costly.
By contrast, when you understand that you are loved and accepted and that there is nothing you can do to change that, this frees you to be able to recognize behaviours, patterns or attitudes in yourself that aren't good, admit those to God and to appropriate caring people, ask for forgiveness and grace to change, and take the appropriate steps. It's like putting air in those four flat tires so you can continue driving down the road. Without it, you can't even start.
This is why a proper understanding of who God is, is so essential. He can be trusted. He is not capricious, fault-finding, unjust, angry. He is who he said he is and does what he says he will do. He is exactly the same today as he has always been, and as he was when he wrote Scripture. When he says he forgives, he means he forgives. When he says he casts all our sins into the depths of the sea, he means it. When he says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9) it's because he does just exactly that. He's not secretly angry and disapproving. He doesn't cast us away when we sin. That's a legacy from a distorted past that gives us a false understanding of a God who has no imperfection.
If you're dealing with someone who suffers from shame, it's essential to be extremely careful about how you address behavioural change. It's very difficult for a shame-drowned person to receive even loving correction. When a shame-filled person is told “You did something wrong” he or she hears “You're a bad person who is not accepted.” Rather than simply addressing the symptom (the behaviour) seek to address the underlying problem (the person's sense of worthlessness and need to understand they are loved). It's essential for all of us to be able to access the normal sin/guilt/repentance/change process. But for a shame-filled person, an integral foundation of love and acceptance, by both God and those in her faith community, must be laid before she can do this. Always, always, always, call for change out of this foundation of unconditional acceptance, because that is how God changes us. We don't grow to earn his acceptance; we grow because we have already received it.Comments: 0
Shame. I'm no psychologist or expert, but I do have a lot of experience with that toxic emotion called shame.
Shame is more than an emotion. It's a total perception of yourself. It's the fundamental belief that you are worthless, bad, unlovable, unqualified. It silences your voice, causes you to retreat inside yourself, avoid relationship, and live in a toxic stew of depression, anxiety, and feeling bad about yourself all of the time.
Shame leads you to hate yourself for even normal human behaviour and mistakes. It causes you to beat yourself up over every conversation and action, convinced that you made a fool of yourself and that no one can possibly like you. Shame leads you to hide. It drives you away from relationship with those who regard you positively. It makes you feel you've done something wrong even when you haven't, but more insidiously and deeply, that you ARE wrong, in the very core of your being, and there's nothing you can do to escape it.
Shame is often the legacy of a toxic and abusive upbringing. Parents are meant to provide children with unconditional love and acceptance. Although they discipline their children for bad behaviour, they do not withdraw their affection. They instill in the child that he is fundamentally worthwhile and that nothing he does renders him unworthy of their care.
By contrast, an abusive or toxic environment instills a deep sense of shame in a child. He is told through words and actions that he is unlovable, bad, worthless, and nothing he says or does can alter this fundamental judgement. A child has no independent filter or point of view. He believes what his parents say about him and incorporates it into his self-perception. This destructive legacy lasts far beyond leaving home. Children from toxic homes become adults with no sense of self-worth. They carry with them the terrible burden of chronic shame, impacting jobs, relationships, emotional health, physical health—everything.
Shame's worst damage comes in the area of relationships. We avoid relationship, or choose it with people who regard us in the same kind of devaluing way that our parents did, thus repeating the cycle. We feel that no one could love us if they knew who we really are, so we isolate or join up with people who don't truly care about us, in accord with our self-judgement. Anyone who treats us with respect is rejected, because they are so foolish they can't see the truth. Our shame becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, re-wounding us and keeping us from relationships with people who might show us we are indeed worthy of love.
Shame has the same kind of damaging effect in our greatest relationship, with God. It twists our perception of him just as it does that of other people and ourselves. Unkind and unloving parents deeply imprint in us a false image of a God who is like them. In reality, God is loving, kind, forgiving, accepting, totally just, and trustworthy. But a child of shame cannot see this because his or her emotional reality is trained otherwise. It can take a long time and much struggle before this deeply-imprinted false image of God is replaced by an accurate one.
For many years, my legacy of shame from a hate-filled and abusive upbringing hampered my relationship with God. I had difficulty becoming a Christian not because I had intellectual objections to the gospel, but because I viewed myself as so completely sinful that I was beyond God's grace. I saw God as angry, punitive, capricious, rage-filled, unjust, unmerciful, unreasonable, unbending, incapable of pleasing—in other words, very much like my father.
Even after I became a Christian, I struggled. I never felt close to God or accepted by him. When I tried to pray, it felt like my prayers hit the ceiling. I'd give up in desperate loneliness, wishing that I could feel loved by God like other people I knew.
I felt that I knew the truth about God. That all this talk of God's love and gentleness and kindness was a false construction by people who'd had it better than I did. No matter what they said, I knew deep down that he hated me.
Don't get me wrong. I do believe in God's judgement and holiness. He will discipline us as believers when necessary (in love), and he will eternally punish those who remain finally unrepentant.
But I have come to know that God is a God of justice, and of love. His justice means that he must punish sin. But his love means that he'd rather have mercy. His love means that he sent Jesus Christ his beloved Son to die on our behalf to bring us back into relationship with him, and his justice means that when we truly repent of our sins and trust him, he will never punish us for those sins. We can enjoy the favour and smile of God. We cannot and must not deceive ourselves into thinking that makes it ok to go on sinning, but we can and must believe in the goodness of God to completely forgive us. We must believe the testimony of Jesus and of Scripture that God is a kind, generous, trustworthy Father. We can live free of shame and self-hatred and enjoy a close walk with a God who loves us.
So how do we move from our shame-filled distance from God, into a right understanding of him that allows us to life in the light of his love? The problem is not that we do not hear teaching about who God truly is. The problem is that for us, shame, anger, and condemnation are emotionally true, on a level that goes far beyond logic. We can't escape it. This fundamental emotional reality must be radically altered, but how?
I don't have any magic answers. But here are some of the things that helped me on my journey:
Don't give up. The road to healing can be a long one, littered with difficulty. But I truly believe that those who seek God will never be disappointed. The legacy of abuse and shame can be a tough one to overcome. But I stand as living proof that it's possible, and I know it's possible for anyone who trusts the same God I do.
Admit to God, as difficult as it might be, your shame and negative feelings. Admit your powerlessness and inability to change. Admit that you don't feel close to him and don't trust him. Ask him to do whatever it takes to bring you to healing and wholeness.
As counter-intuitive as it might seem, seek out relationship with people who will reflect God's loving-kindness to you. People who will counsel you, pray with you, and seek freedom with you. Shame leads us to hide. But godly people are essential in this process. They can see what we can't and have faith when ours is dead.
These must be people with whom you feel safe. You must be able to open up to them and say whatever's in your soul, no matter how dark, and know they won't condemn, criticize, or correct you, but respond with love.
As hard as it might be, I believe that ultimately we have the choice to either believe what God says, or to believe our feelings. True freedom only comes when we make the choice to trust what God says no matter what our feelings or experience shout at us.
For those who were raised in a religiously toxic environment, it may be hard to read or to hear God's word in a way that is not condemning. I'd suggest a few things: one, take a break from reading scripture if need be. If you are reading it out of obligation and guilt, stop. It's not going to bless you.
Two, seek to understand Scripture through the eyes of those who know God as loving and kind. Hear their perspective.
Three, pick a totally different translation of the Bible, one that might slip past your “filters” and allow you to hear the intended meaning, rather than your shame-translation. The Message is a good example of a fresh, contemporary take on the Bible that reads completely differently from traditional translations. It might not be the best for in-depth bible study, but for grace-starved souls, it might be just what they need to hear the voice of the Shepherd more clearly.Comments: 0
As Christians, it is unfortunately not the case that we arrive at a point where we never have to deal with any remnant of the sinful nature. While transformation, growth, and maturity are definite realities, and genuine change is not only possible but an essential sign of someone who has been truly born again, we will continue to be ambushed by our sinful nature while we're still living on this earth.
I had one of the “ambush” moments recently. It involved a person whom I find annoying. This is not someone whom I would choose to spend time with, but am occasionally thrown together with. They are not by any means a bad person, quite the contrary. But for some reason their personality really gets on my nerves. Instead of dealing with it graciously, I was quite curt and even rude to this person.
I was, and am, appalled by my behaviour. I realize that my reaction was unacceptable, and that change is required in the future. However, I also recognize my complete inability to change, and even my unwillingness to do so. This person's behaviour rubs me the wrong way, and I don't want to have to respond to them graciously. I don't want to have to spend time with them again.
But given that I likely will have to, and that change avoidance is not part of maturity or character growth or God's will for me, I know I have to go through the self-death of repentance, humbling myself, and seeking change. Even though I don't want to, this is Jesus' call.
So how do you change something you can't and don't even want to, but know that you must? The good news of Christianity is grace: the favour and help of God that comes freely to us solely in response to our faith and asking, given on the merit of Jesus Christ and what he won for us on the cross, not on anything we have done or will do. As Romans 8:32 says, “He [God] who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” The good news of the gospel is that not only do we receive salvation as a gift, we also freely receive the grace that we need for transformation and to obey the commands of God.
So, these are the steps I go through when I'm faced with something I know is wrong but which I can't change.
1. Humble yourself before God and fully and honestly confess your sin
This is the crucial first step. We can't receive freedom from something we haven't recognized as sin and been completely honest about, to ourselves, to God, and to others. We have to identify the full, truthful reality of exactly how dark and deep our sin is before we can be free of it.
This means no skimping and no holding back. No denying, no pretending, no leaving out the worst parts. We must be brutally honest about exactly what it was we did, thought, said, and felt, and we must own full responsibility for it, not blaming anyone or anything else. Anything less will leave us still stuck in the mire.
David eloquently expressed the pain of a guilty conscience and the liberation of confession thousands of years ago:
“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
“Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.' And you forgave the guilt of my sin.” (Psalm 32:3-5)
It's important, most of the time, to make this confession not only to God but also to one or more trusted spiritual confidants who can express God's grace to you and hold you accountable for change. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are God's instruments to help us to grow and our openness with God is reflected in our willingness to be open with those around us. They can assure us of God's forgiveness, pray with us for change, be honest about how we are doing, and hold us accountable to our plan for growth. Our seriousness about change is manifested in our willingness to confess to those with eyes and ears around us.
2. Humbly admit our inability to change and ask God for the grace we need
The paradox of the Christian life is that we are called to do things we can't do. This is achieved by the power of God's Spirit at work within us, breaking the power of sin and death and liberating us to follow God's commands. Humanly speaking, we cannot do this. That's why God sent Jesus (see Romans chapters 6-8). He has all the power and grace that we need to transform us, and our part is to admit our need and surrender to him to receive it.
I still don't know how this process works. How God works within my heart to change me is a totally mysterious process to me. I only know he does. I only know that when I've submitted to him in this fashion by openly admitting my sin and my total powerlessness to change, and crying out to him for desperately needed grace, that things change. Sometimes it takes time. Sometimes it's a process. But he never fails those who depend on him.
3. Follow whatever steps he has called us to obediently, depending on him for grace
We usually know what it is we need to do, or stop doing. Our problem is we can't. But depending on God for his grace, we can take the steps we need to in obedience to him.
God's word is unchanging and relevant to all of us, but how it's applied to us and how we need to obey it is a living and personal thing mediated by God's Spirit. For example, as I was praying about my failure to love this particular person I strongly felt that the first step was to begin praying for them. So, even though I didn't want to, I added them to my prayer list.
It's important to be obedient to whatever God calls us to do in order to change. Yes, he gives us the grace, but change involves obedience. Usually there are certain steps that become clear to us as we submit to this growth process. They may be things we have long known we needed to do, but resisted. Whatever it is, do it. If God calls you to it, you can be sure he will give you the grace to see it through as you follow him.Comments: 0
“I don't think it matters if there is a god or not. I've met people who believe in God that are good and that are bad. And I've met people who don't believe in God that are good and that are bad. So, just be good. I'm good. Not cos I think I'll go to heaven but because when I do something bad, I feel bad. And when I do something good, I feel good.”
I read this quote, attributed to Ricky Gervais, in a meme-style photo posted to a friend's Facebook page, and couldn't stop thinking about it. So, I decided to write about it.
On the face of it, his first two sentences are perfectly correct. We've all met or heard about people who publicly proclaim belief in God but their lifestyle says anything but. Or who are very religious, maybe even with positions of authority in the church, who are found to have been carrying on a secret double life. And we all know people who claim no belief in God but are kind and decent. There is absolutely no doubt about that.
However, my response to that is this: the behaviour of people who believe in God, or say that they do, is not a valid or strong argument against the existence of God. The fact that someone says they believe in God but does things that are wrong, simply means that the person has done things that are wrong. It does not prove or disprove God's existence.
This would be a bit like saying that if I decide to follow a famous diet, and tell all my friends that I am following it, but then cheat on that diet day by day, and fail to lose weight, there is something wrong with the diet. No. The problem is in my failure to adhere to the diet, not in the diet itself.
As Christians, we understand that “belief in God” is not enough. The apostle James said, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19) This sarcastic retort comes in the middle of James' famous teaching that “faith without works is dead”. The whole book of James is dedicated to showing what “true religion” looks like, and how people who claim faith in God but act otherwise are proving that their faith is bogus.
This same theme is repeated over and over again throughout the Scriptures, from Old to New Testament. 1 John 3:6 says, “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” In other words, if someone claims faith in Jesus but lives an opposite lifestyle, you can safely write off their claim. True faith produces transformation.
Someone who claims faith in God but lives otherwise is not disproving the existence of God. They are disproving the reality of their faith claim.
The second part of his statement, that there are good and bad people who don't believe in God: absolutely, on a certain level, true. We could probably all name examples of people from both sides.
However, this brings up another question. What is “good”? How do we understand what “good” or “bad” is, and how do we judge other people or their actions as good or bad? How do we decide that we ourselves are “good”? Where does our very understanding of good come from?
The act of judging people or acts as good or bad presupposes an overarching, authoritative standard for good or bad. And where does that standard come from? (By the way, I have never met or heard of anyone who believes like this saying that they themselves are bad. Almost everyone, even criminals, thinks of him or herself as good, by their own standard).
What does “being good” mean? Does it simply mean not harming others? Doing nice things for others? Recycling? Taking public transit instead of driving?
When I meet people who claim not to believe in God but to be good, this is the level of goodness they mean. A standard of non-harm. These people are very nice (mostly) to the people they like: their friends and family, coworkers and random strangers who are nice to them. They don't rob houses. They don't kill people. They don't kick animals. Etc.
What I don't see is a standard of positive goodness, even to people who hate them or are unkind to them, or have nothing to offer them and in fact only take from them. Kindness, loving, and goodness even when it hurts, when you yourself may lose from it, when no one sees, when it is hard, difficult, dirty, and painful. Persistent loving, even when it bears little fruit, even when the person doesn't change. Genuine forgiveness and seeking the good of even those who have hurt you. A lifestyle of self-sacrifice and self-denial on behalf of others.
This kind of loving, to be quite honest, I have only ever seen among dedicated Christians.
And why? Because Jesus tells us that the standard for “good”, the standard for love, is not simply not doing harm, and being nice to most of the people around us. It's a lot higher, and a lot more difficult, than that.
“You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)
Jesus is saying that it's not enough to love those who are close to you, those who are nice to you, those whom you like and who are like you. Jesus' call is to radical love and self-sacrifice for even those who hate you.
It's a standard that blows most of our ideas of “good” out of the water. As does the rest of Jesus' teaching.
And it's a standard that, I believe, is impossible to meet, humanly speaking. Jesus calls us to this, but I do not believe we can do it. I know I can't. I am weak and I fail at this regularly. I am grumpy and judgemental and self-serving and love my own comfort. I dislike and sometimes even hate people who are mean to me. I certainly don't love them. So how do I follow this call of Jesus?
One word: grace. As Christians, we understand we're not called to do this on our own. Jesus died to break the power of sin and selfishness that we're all chained to as human beings, and rose again to give us new life and the ability to follow him and love in this radical and self-denying way, the way that he himself loved us. When we receive him, he begins to change us from the inside out, as we cooperate with his grace.
That's why I do not believe it is possible to be actually and truly “good” without God. Our standards of goodness fall into the dust when compared with the standards of Jesus. We are so prone to self-deceit, spiritual blindness, and pride, that we can't even see ourselves properly when we are using our own standard of “goodness” to judge.
Finally, to address the last two comments in the quote: as a Christian, I do not “do good” because I think I might go to heaven. I do good because that is the character of God and I want to be like him. I love him because he first loved me and because he has passionately, persistently loved me, even when I was at my worst and hated him. I didn't deserve a mote of the goodness he's given me, particularly the gift of Jesus. I could never repay him, but I want to offer him my life.
“Heaven” is not some disconnected paradise where we float around on clouds strumming harps, or walking through beautiful parks. Heaven, in the biblical sense, is defined as the presence of God. Heaven will be heaven because he will be there with his people, and there will be nothing more that separates us from him. There will be nothing more that is not good (of God): no more sin, no more death, no more hatred, wars, division. I want to be in heaven because God is there. Heaven is simply a continuation and perfection of the life with God that we experience on earth.
And finally, the bit about feeling good when you do good and feeling bad when you do bad: Ricky is simply describing in current English what the Apostle Paul described this way a couple of millennia ago:
“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 2:14-18)
In other words, God gave the Jews a written form of his standard of goodness, the law. Paul is saying that even though the Jews were given the law, every person, even Gentiles who never received it, has an innate understanding of the requirements of God and what is good or bad. When people do what is “good”, they are showing that they have this understanding. Their conscience is aware of this standard, even if they don't know where it came from, and condemns them when they do bad or approves of them when they do good. When people make judgements about good or bad, about others or about themselves, they are showing this code of God written into every human being and every society: imperfectly to be sure, but there. Mr. Gervais is no exception.Comments: 0
I'm single. I've been single for most of my adult life. And I'm ok with that. Mostly. I am a 33 year old woman, and I suppose by most accounts I should be panicking about my age and single status. And I'm not. There are days (thankfully few and far between) when I feel sad about being single, and frustrated that it seems impossible to find anyone. There are other days (thankfully most of them) when I don't think about it much at all. And other days when I feel genuinely thankful to be single. Overall, though I have some desire to find someone, I feel ambiguous about the idea of marriage. It has a lot of great aspects and upsides. But so does being single. I love my freedom and independence. I love the ability to choose to minister to anyone at any time, unhampered by the responsibility of a family to consider. I love the freedom to travel at any time, or to stay up to 2 o'clock in the morning, or to eat something strange, or to not wash the dishes if I don't want to.
There are other times, when I feel the lack of a close, intimate relationship. Times when I wish I had someone to hold me. Times when I wish I had someone to help me with things that are difficult to do on my own. Those thoughts usually pass pretty quickly, thankfully. But sometimes they're there.
The main reason I'm single is my commitment to Jesus. If that were not the case, I would probably be with someone. Attention and interest from men is not a problem. Unfortunately, most of those men are not followers of Jesus. And given the fact that that is the foundation, the goal, and the most important part of my life, I know it's a venture bound for failure to try to share my life with anyone for whom the same isn't true.
That's a viewpoint that most of the world finds insane. For most people, having an intimate life partner is the most important goal in life. Or, having the freedom to sleep with whomever you want is crucial. Most people cannot understand a “religious” commitment to an invisible God keeping you single and celibate. Try explaining it to a guy who is trying to woo or seduce you. They usually think you're crazy.
The one thing that can keep you from the dedicated pursuit of romance and sex, is if you have something in your life that's greater. That makes the right relationship worth waiting for, or makes life without that relationship not only bearable but even happy and fulfilled.
I read an article today that perfectly summed that up. It's titled “Jesus Is Better”. Here's what it has to say about relationships:
We were created to be in relationship with one another. However, when we seek for another person to fill the relational void that can only be satisfied in Christ, every relationship we encounter will be lacking in some way. Our spouses can never love us enough, our friendships will be marred by insecurity, and our children will suffer from the pressure of our relational demands. Fear of losing relationships leads to anxiety and worry. Despair at what we may never have leads to bitterness and anger. In Christ alone can our relational needs be fulfilled. No other person can make the promise, "I will never leave or forsake you" (Heb. 13:5). All other relationships suffer from the finite nature of the participants. Only an eternal God can promise that nothing will separate us from his love. Indeed, by growing in our affections for Jesus, all the other relationships we treasure are not lessened but increased. Jesus is better. (The Gospel Coalition blog, “Jesus Is Better”, by Melissa Kruger)
How can a single person live life free from sadness, loneliness, and the endless, sometimes desperate search for “that one special person” to make life complete? By being fulfilled by the perfect relationship, the only source that can do so, Jesus himself. From that perspective, a marriage relationship is an enrichment and a blessing to a life that is already complete, not one's all-in-all. And if that marriage relationship never happens, there may be sadness, there may be disappointment, but there is not a loss of life itself. We are looking forward to an eternity where marriage doesn't exist but where perfect unity and love between us and Jesus and each another will make it irrelevant.
Marriage is not the goal of my life. Jesus is. I don't do what I do to find a spouse. I do what I do to seek to please Jesus. Loving and ministering to needy people in his name is a greater thrill and joy (in a different way) than a romantic spark. I don't seek spiritual growth in order to “earn” a spouse. I seek it to be closer to Jesus, and to be more of a blessing to the people around me. Marriage is not the prize of a spiritual walk. Jesus is.
Not that there's anything wrong with marriage. But it is not the ultimate. It is one state in which people can walk out this life serving Jesus. Paul says if you can't hack it being single, then seek a spouse! But he also made it clear there are unique blessings, benefits, and freedoms to being unhindered by earthly spousal commitments in order to serve the One who is the true lover of our souls.
There is nothing wrong with wanting marriage, or with seeking it. But we have to be careful to check what is truly most important to us. If our desire for marriage is stronger than our desire for God, even marriage won't satisfy us if we find it. Nothing earthly can bear that weight. If we're happy and content in our relationship with Jesus, marriage can be another blessing added to life, without having to carry the impossible burden of being our everything.
And by that I am NOT saying (as I've unfortunately heard even Christians say) “when you're happy with yourself, that's when you'll find someone”. There are no guarantees in life. Not even as a Christian. God isn't a cosmic spouse-dispensing machine, and we mustn't be angry with him if he doesn't give us what we want because we feel we've been good enough. Again, Jesus is the goal of our life. Not marriage. If I live life with him and am never married, that will be ok.
Yes, it's a struggle at times. Yes, there are days when the grass looks greener on the other side. But the same is true of marriage. Sustaining a close, loving, intimate relationship with another sinful human being is hard work. Nothing in this life delivers us from struggle, pain, dissatisfaction, or the brokenness that comes from living in this world. No circumstance, person, job, location, or anything else is a magic ticket to a painless, trouble-free life or a talisman against hardship and heartbreak.
So I'm happy leaving it with God. If he chooses to bring me a spouse, then great. I'll thankfully receive that gift and transition into a different way of living. If he doesn't, then great. I'll continue seeking and serving him and trying to be a blessing to the people around me in the ways I feel he's called me to. Either way is a win-win. The occasional days of feeling lonely aren't enough to outweigh what I have in him.
A great realistic article on marriage, from a married person: "Marriage Doesn’t Solve Your Problems"Comments: 0
He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30)
For me, this is a hugely convicting and challenging passage. It should be a wakeup call for all of us to check ourselves and figure out if we are truly in the kingdom of God, because Jesus is saying there are a lot of people who think that they are, but who will be very unpleasantly surprised in the end.
It’s not enough to go to church. To sing the worship songs. To hear the preaching. To take the Lord’s Supper. To be present in meetings where God’s power is working. To have done those miraculous works yourself (Matthew 7:21-23). To go on mission trips and help the poor.
These people Jesus was talking to couldn’t have gotten any closer. They were around him. They heard his teaching, they ate with him. They had seen his miracles, and many of them had probably even been healed by him. And yet they were in danger of completely missing the kingdom even though its King himself was with them.
Being around Jesus, or his apostles, isn’t enough to guarantee entrance.
Doing miraculous works, casting out demons, prophesying, healing the sick, raising the dead, isn’t enough to guarantee entrance.
Faithfully attending church all your life isn’t enough to guarantee entrance.
These people, and many more like them, are counting on the wrong things. They are looking to their external religious behaviour, their proximity to Jesus and his teachings, their “good works”, or the miraculous power displayed through them, as their assurance of being “in”.
Jesus is saying that’s not enough. What does your life look like?
In this passage, he calls those who are excluded “workers of evil”. In Matthew 7 he says:
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21-23)
What is your life like? Are you living for, loving, and obeying God from the heart? Do you seek to love your neighbour as yourself? Do you follow Jesus even when it’s hard, when it goes against what you want? Do you seek him in the secret place, where no one else sees and where you can’t get any public “religious credit”? Are you proud, complacent, and hypocritical, thinking God will excuse that hidden sin because you’re doing so much for him in the church? Have you repented of your sin from your heart? Do you desire him to cleanse you from the inside and make you truly righteous, or do you simply want the religious power that comes from being a church leader and doing miracles? Do you long to please God from the centre of your being, even if no one else sees, or do you want to be publicly known as a “godly person”? Do you care more about doing the right thing than about people thinking well of you? Are you fooling yourself into thinking that God won’t care about sin patterns that he clearly says he does?
These are questions we all need to ask ourselves. In the end, it won’t matter how much religious credit we accumulated, how big our churches got, how many accurate prophecies we gave, or that people thought we were so godly and righteous sitting in church, and gave us spiritual responsibility. None of that will matter if we miss the kingdom eternally.
I know which one I’d rather have. God make me poor and humble and righteous of spirit, truly desiring you and doing your will above all else.Comments: 0
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Sometimes we come to situations in life that seem completely impossible. We simply cannot see how God can change them. Sometimes, things happen that seem like the very worst possible outcome. Sometimes, we pray for things and instead of the situation getting better, it gets worse. Sometimes the thing we most fear and dread comes to pass.
What do we do in that situation? Do we conclude that God isn’t working? That he doesn’t hear us or answer us? That he doesn’t care? That he isn’t powerful enough to change things, or to stop bad things from happening?
Those are certainly the natural ways to think. In the middle of severe pain and disappointment, they are common conclusions, even for people who know and trust God.
And yet Scripture doesn’t give us any reason to believe that God is anything less than loving, all-powerful, caring, and working for our good, even in the midst of seemingly the worst things to happen.
We simply can’t see sometimes how this could possibly be true. Death, disappointment, loss, heartbreak—none of these things seems good.
And yet, God sees from a vantage point that is not ours. His thoughts are not our thoughts, his ways are not our ways. They are infinitely higher.
Sometimes, the very worst possible thing to happen to us is actually how God is working out his plan. It’s exactly how he intends to bless us, or bring us the result we are praying for. God has an infinite variety of ways to do things. He is infinitely creative. He is often doing more than one thing through a situation, or working in more than one person. He often has a timing that is not ours. From our limited perspective, we believe we know what he should do and how and when. From his perspective, he is doing much greater and more good through what he chooses to do and when he does it than if things worked out how we thought they should.
Sometimes, the very worst thing happens in order to cause us to cast ourselves completely on God and realize that he is our only hope. We begin praying desperate, faith-filled prayer, depending only on him. While we are still looking at the situation, while we still have some hope in circumstances, other people, or ourselves, we will not pray this way. It’s only when things get as bad as they possibly can be, completely desperate and well beyond our ability to cope or to control, that we turn to him.
Often, God allows these things in our lives because there are issues of character or sin in us that he is working out. We do not recognize our desperate need for change until we run into circumstances that make it painfully clear, circumstances that cause us to desperately cry out to him for the heart reform that only he can do. God wants to bring us to a place of greater trust and faith, of deeper knowledge of who he is, of complete surrender and obedience. He knows that those things are truly better for us than getting what we want.
Romans 8:28 says that God works everything out for the good of those who love him. So we know that must be true, no matter how painful and seemingly terrible our situations are. We have to remember that God’s idea of good is us looking more and more like Jesus. It is not to spare us from every kind of pain and suffering. In fact, pain and suffering are often his greatest teachers to shape us into the character of Jesus.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good….For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Romans 8:28-30)
God will do whatever it takes to accomplish that, up to and including not granting our deepest desires or allowing us to suffer loss that we think is unbearable. Usually when the trial is over we can see how God giving us what we want would not actually have been best for us. We can see how the pain brought about better results under his loving hand than if we’d continued living with self-centred motivation, or worshipping something or someone rather than God.
Hebrews 12:11 says it best: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
In our limited perspective, having our desires met is our motive and it should be God’s. God wants to purify us of such illegitimate motives and give us a heart that is truly in line with his kingdom and his will.
This doesn’t mean we can’t pray and expect our prayers to be answered. But often our prayers are not answered because we are asking them for the wrong reasons. James says, “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:2-3) God seeks to cleanse and purify our motives so we can pray according to his will, out of compassion for other people, out of a desire to see him glorified and his kingdom come, not out of a desire for self-gratification.
This is difficult and it can take a long time of struggle and trial, and things getting worse, before we let go of our hold on our selfish demands and begin to see things God’s way. When we begin to truly desire his will and pray for it and seek to obey it, we begin to have peace in the middle of our troubles and see change: perhaps not the change that we wanted, but the change God wants for us, which is of far greater value.Comments: 0
A few months ago, I had an experience which affected me profoundly. It was my birthday. I went for a run down to the waterfront and sat for a little while on the beach looking out at peaceful waves lapping the shore. Since it was my birthday, I was in a bit of a thoughtful mood, reviewing my life and the events of the past year. I began thanking God for each blessing he had given me and all the good things in my life.
As I did so, something began to shift inside me. I suddenly realized I had been very ungrateful lately, disgruntled and upset about certain things I felt I should have that I didn’t. Instead of focusing on the many blessings I did have, I had been choosing to focus on the things I didn’t. I allowed those things to fill my view and depress my mood so that I was unhappy about my life. But when I began to praise God for the good things I did have, I suddenly realized I actually had a very good life and many, many things to be thankful for.
Gratefulness or ingratitude, contentment or unhappiness, are all a matter of perspective. I can be content with the many blessings God has given me, or I can choose to focus on things I think I should have but don’t. The first way is a way of light, peace, and happiness; and what’s more, it accords with reality. The second is a way of darkness and unhappiness, and buys into the lie that God hasn’t given me everything I need or isn’t good to me. Same life, two totally different perspectives that change everything about how I feel and what I see.
The apostle Paul urges us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:18) That’s something I’m still working on when it comes to circumstances I outright don’t like. But it's something I want to be better at.Comments: 0
I’ve been struck very strongly recently by the fact that there are two possible, radically different ways to live. We each have the choice—I have the choice of which way I will live. This is a very personal conviction, so I’m going to write this as if I’m writing it to myself, which I am.
The first way is simply to live for myself. To spend my time, money, thought, and energy only on my own life. To work toward accumulating the things that I want, the things that I think will make my life better and more comfortable. To work hard to preserve the things that I have and to gain more and better things. To use my time solely to do things that I enjoy, not directed toward the good of anyone else. To spend my money only on me and things that I want.
In this first way, my only goals are my comfort, enjoyment, well-being, and gain. I seek to get more money and things, and I preserve them only for myself. My sole consideration when making a decision is, is this something I want? Is this something that will benefit me and further the goal of improving my life? I am the only consideration, my well-being the only purpose.
It doesn’t take much work to live like this. This is the default, the way we are all inclined from birth. It’s my natural inclination as well.
Jesus told a parable that cuts to the core of my inclination:
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:13-21)
In this parable, Jesus exposes how foolish this way of life is. No matter how much we accumulate in this life, we can’t take any of it with us when we die. Living as if this life and our material comfort in this life are all that matters, is to foolishly ignore the fact that we all must die, that we will face God’s judgement for how we’ve lived and used the resources he’s given us, and that eternity is forever.
In light of those considerations, the only way of life that makes any sense is the kind of life that Jesus continually calls us to: to give up ourselves, our comfort, our riches, our lifestyle, our time, our money, our energy, our love—in short, our lives—for him, his kingdom, and for others.
In this second way of life, nothing is considered ours. Everything is God’s. We hold it with a loose hand. We are willing to give it up, whether it be our time, our comfort, our money, or our possessions, to serve him and serve those he’s called us to love. We are generous with what he’s given us. We don’t seek to preserve our lives but to lose them in order to keep them eternally. We don’t fuss and grieve when we lose material possessions, because we know we have a better and lasting inheritance in heaven (Hebrews 10:34). We willingly accept a lower standard of life if necessary in order to further the gospel.
This strikes at the heart of our Western materialistic, secular culture, which teaches us that we “deserve” a high standard of life and urges us to continuously accumulate more and better things; and at the heart of mankind, which naturally seeks its own well-being above all else. Jesus teaches us that contrary to our natural inclinations, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)
I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, I desire to be “rich toward God” and not toward myself, because that is all that is going to last forever. I don’t want to foolishly live as if this life is all there is, and lose everything when I die.Comments: 0
One of my friends is a fairly new Christian. She recently remarked that she didn’t like reading the Old Testament, and when I asked why, she said “God just seems awfully angry.” I replied with something profound like “hmm”, and the conversation went on from there.
But that remark squirreled away in my brain, and, coupled with my recent bible reading, sparked some thoughts. This is absolutely not some great theological, exegetical, hermeneutical, scholarly paper, just my thoughts. So if you want detailed scholarly information, see elsewhere. Or just read the Old Testament.
God seems angry in the Old Testament? Why yes, yes he does. He was angry quite a lot. But why? Why was God so angry?
To figure that out, we have to look at the history of Israel. God had taken a ragtag bunch of slaves from their harsh taskmasters in Egypt, as he had promised hundreds of years before. He heard their cry, took pity on them, came down, picked Moses to lead them, did a whole bunch of big miraculous signs, including killing the Pharaoh and his army, to get them out. Once they were out, he provided for them miraculously in the desert, including repeatedly listening to their cries for meat or water or food or whatever, and giving it to them. He preserved them so their stuff didn’t wear out even though they were tramping around the desert. He brought them into the land he had promised them, a really nice land that produced abundant agricultural products, and assisted them in kicking out the people who lived there (whether that was a really nice thing or not is a topic for a different time).
God made a covenant with Israel, a solemn promise. A good modern-day illustration would be a marriage, which, despite the fact that it’s so easily and commonly broken by divorce, is supposed to be a promise that you will spend the rest of your life with this person and take care of them in good times and bad, etc etc. In fact, that’s a perfect illustration because it’s the analogy God uses: he says he’s Israel’s husband and she’s his unfaithful wife. In the covenant God promises that he will be Israel’s God and look after them and have a special relationship with them. In turn, they promise to obey him and love him and be faithful to him and not worship other gods, which is the spiritual equivalent of having an affair with someone who is not your husband. If they obey, they will be blessed: with land, with produce, with peace, with prosperity. If they don’t, they will be cursed, and eventually, they will get conquered by their enemies and thrown out of their land.
And here’s the kicker: Israel agrees to all this. They hear God speaking, telling them all the terms of the covenant, including the blessings for obeying and the curses for disobeying, and they agree. They marry themselves to God that day forever and ever amen.
And then they go out and worship a golden calf that they make themselves.
And then...the entire history of Israel. Where God does miraculous things for them, takes care of them, provides for them, just as he promised in his half of the covenant. And what do they do? They worship other gods. They oppress the poor. They are violent and unjust. They do horrific things like sacrifice their children by burning them in fire to other gods. They refuse to change their ways or worship God. In other words, they do absolutely whatever they can do to shamelessly break their half of the covenant and throw a big “nah, nah, you can’t make me” at God.
So God sends them curses he promised. He allows their enemies to come and harass them. He allows drought and famine.
And then Israel “repents”. Under the pressure of hard circumstances, they cry out to God for mercy. And what does he do? He sends it. Instead of getting sick and tired of this faithless people who have never kept their promises to him, despite the fact that he has always kept his promises to them, he rescues them. He sends a judge or a king or somebody to fix the situation. He conquers their enemies. They are all grateful and promise once again never to forget, and to worship God forever.
And then? They forget, and begin worshipping other gods, and doing whatever the hell they please. And the whole cycle begins over again, lather, rinse, repeat.
And it’s not like they can say they didn’t know. God continually sends them prophets to remind them about him. About the covenant. About what they are supposed to do and Whom they are supposed to obey. And they refuse. They kill the prophets.
So eventually, God has enough. After many many many years, he finally gets thoroughly sick of these people who don’t get it. He brings out the ultimate punishment: he allows their enemies to remove them from their land. And he doesn’t even do it all at once: it happens in stages.
I was super struck in my reading of Ezekiel how God says: “how I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols.” (Ez. 6:9) God has had enough. He has been patient with these people, he has wooed them as a husband woos his beloved wife, he has cared for them, he has sent prophets to plead with them, he has forgiven them again and again, he has rescued them over and over, and this time, God has reached his breaking point. He can’t take it any more.
And yet, even in the ultimate punishment, God still has mercy. In the middle of terrible predictions of judgement and calamity and mothers eating their infant children, he promises that he will preserve his people even in the land of exile. He promises that he will bring them back one day. And he makes even greater promises, hints of a New Covenant, one in which his people will be changed from the inside out, so they will have hearts that want to love and obey him, that want to be faithful to him, that won’t go away from him to worship idols (like money and good jobs and social status and relationships and things like that).
So was God angry in the Old Testament? Yup, you bet he was. Why? Because his heart was broken over a people that refused to give him his due, just as a loving husband would be angry and grieved over a wife who refused to stop sleeping with other men, who refused to love and respect him, who refused to be faithful to her marriage vows and her family. Yup, that’s exactly how God felt.
So what does that mean for us today? Has God stopped being angry?
Well, yes and no.
If we’re in Jesus, then absolutely yes, God’s wrath and just judgement against our sin was hurled against him at the cross, and we bear it no more. If we have genuinely repented of our sin and put our trust in Jesus and pledged to follow him with the rest of our lives, then no, God is not angry with us.
But. And here’s a big but, and one that has to be carefully stated.
God does not hate sin any less than he did in the Old Testament. God doesn’t have any less of a desire for a faithful people that will love him, obey him, worship him, honour him, and reflect him to the world. It’s not like God decided, “OK, whatever they want to do now is fine, Jesus got that covered, I don’t care anymore. I’m going to go take a nap.”
Unfortunately, I think that’s the picture of “grace” that we get given in a lot of churches. Like once we’re a Christian, God loves us and stuff, and it doesn’t really matter anymore what we do, cause God’s going to forgive us anyway, right? Cause Jesus took care of all of that.
Uh, no. If anything, the moral code in the New Testament is FAR higher than that of the Old. You think not sleeping with your friend’s hot wife gets you off the hook? Try not fantasizing about her.
God’s ultimate goal is, and ALWAYS has been, a people that look like him. Who live like he designed us to in this world. Who love justice, mercy, and righteousness. A people who obey him no matter what. A people that the outside world can look at and go, “Oh, OK. There’s a God, and he’s like that.”
It’s just that now, God made sure that that would happen. When he puts us in Jesus, he cleanses our hearts, gives us new hearts, puts his Holy Spirit inside of us, so we obey because we want to, and because we have the power to. We worship God with our whole being.
But if we don’t? It’s not like it doesn’t matter. It’s not like there are no consequences for rejecting God or spurning this new covenant. Hebrews is all about that. Go read it. It’s about how we have been given something so much better, something REAL instead of the picture-covenant of the Israelites, and holy heck you better watch out if you reject it, because the consequences are eternal, not temporal. Take this thing seriously. Don’t think you can just indulge in sin, drift away from God, disobey, ignore him, and then play the “but I accepted Jesus into my heeeeaarrrt!” card. Won’t work. God’s playing for keeps. He wants a people who are too.
God is serious about holiness. Yes, he will forgive sin, and thank God for that. But a heart that loves him will not be thinking about how much it can sin and get away with. A heart that loves him knows how poisonous sin is, is utterly thankful to have been rescued from it, and wants to live a life shunning it because closeness to God is a far greater treasure than any momentary pleasure of sin that leaves lasting bitterness and regret (1 John 3:4-7).Comments: 0