I was given a pretty hefty slice of humble pie yesterday. While at the library with my boys, a mom with her daughter kept talking to me. I wasn’t overtly rude by any means, but I wasn’t really in the mood to chat. I had plenty of opportunities to really take interest in her, but unfortunately I didn’t take any. As she was leaving the room I was in, I overheard her mention something about church. In that moment I felt like my eyes opened to view an entirely different situation from the one I was in.

I frequently find myself giving into my flesh and yearning for others’ approval, fearing man and what they will think. I started asking myself, if I was in church how would I have acted around this woman? I have no idea what this woman believed, but if she did love Jesus what kind of picture of Him was I to her? The questions went deeper and I was allowed to see deeper depths into my self-righteousness and pride that I hadn’t seen before. I saw my love for myself instead of the Lord.

I struggled with this all day. I felt shame and guilt because of this new insight and yet knew that I wasn’t believing the gospel. I cried out to the Lord, confessing my unbelief and focus on myself instead of His truth and asked for grace to believe. He sweetly answered the cry of my heart. He pointed me to truth through friends and I was so thankful.

In my flesh, my mind was focused on the fact that I had sinned. I felt like I had disappointed God. That I should “be better.” I wanted to somehow make up for what I had done. The Lord started to help me understand, though, why He convicts us. He lovingly revealed to me that He convicted me and showed me my sin because He loves me too much to leave me in my self-focused state. He knows that He alone is the path to true life and joy, and unless I see that I have need of Him I would always stay focused on myself.

In Laurie’s introduction lecture to our new study “Jesus I Want to Love You” she discussed how the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength. And how because of that, the enemy wants nothing more than to keep us from doing that very thing. He wants to keep us from knowing the love He has for us because we can only love after knowing His love (1 John 4:19). I believe I saw a real picture of that yesterday and God graciously opened my eyes to the even greater reality of His love to me through His convicting me of my sin, not to condemn me or punish me, but to draw me nearer to Him.

I’m currently reading “Parenting” by Paul David Tripp and on a chapter about authority Tripp says, “Mom and Dad, you have no ability at all—by the tone of your voice, by the force of your personality, by your physical size, or by your threats—to deliver your children from their addiction to self-rule. If you had that power, Jesus and his work would not have been necessary. But Jesus does have the power. He cares so much about the dark delusion of self-rule that lives in the hearts of all of our children that he literally gave his life so that they would be rescued and this bondage broken,” (pg. 114-115). I’m so much more like my two year old than I realize. My two year old wants to be ruled by self, but so do I. I was praying today about how to be a picture of God to my children. I was asking the Lord to really help me understand His authority and how He parents me. I was telling Him that I didn’t want to just fall back into my flesh and exert my will to make my children conform to some moral ideal because I didn’t want to sacrifice a relationship with them in order to make them “good.” I don’t just want to care about the exterior behaviors of my children, I want to care for and nurture their hearts, drawing them near to me and my husband and then even more so drawing them near to God. It was as I was praying this that the Lord helped me see that that is in fact why He convicts me of sin. I’m not to feel condemnation or guilt. My sin has been paid for and covered, yes, but even more than that I am free to have relationship with God because of it. He doesn’t want me to just be “good.” He doesn’t focus on just my exterior behaviors for the sake of His name, otherwise He would have made me perfect this side of heaven (I do wonder a lot about why He wouldn’t just do that ha!), but I’m seeing how relational God is. He doesn’t need me to not sin, be perfect and have it all together. He wants me to see my need of Him because He sweetly knows that that is what my soul needs more than anything in this whole world—that’s how I was created. And He draws me near. I felt as if I really tasted the refreshment of His living water like if I was in a desert land (Psalm 63).

We can tend to have a lot of ideals about what Christians are supposed to be like in our culture. I try to put up facades all the time unfortunately. And when the façade wasn’t up, like when I was at the library, I saw and was reminded of the real me. But I also saw and was reminded of the real, living, loving God!

Planted for His Glory

When I was growing up, I remember one cultural message very clearly: “Look out for #1!” We were constantly bombarded with the importance of putting ourselves first and taught that our personal needs mattered more than anyone else’s.  I now know that messaging is untrue, but after a lifetime of hearing it, the words are more deeply immersed than I thought.

And now, I am suffering the consequences from the sin of self-sufficiency.

The last two weeks, I have confessed in my “Taking the Truth to Heart” entry how I have looked to myself for strength and wisdom, which has taken my gaze off of the Lord and placed it on myself.  I have made decisions and commitments without praying or consulting my husband, and now I am underwater.

I’m guessing that the idea that self-sufficiency could be a sin would be either shocking or off-putting to many people. We live in a culture that celebrates independence.  We want to provide for ourselves. We don’t want to rely on someone else.  But if you think about that long enough, you can see that the root of self-sufficiency is pride: I CAN DO IT ALL.

Here is an example of what self-sufficiency looks like for me. I’m asked to be on a committee I know I can help with. I know I have the skills and would be of great help to the people who asked.  So, I say yes, on the spot, without thinking about how I will fit in the extra meetings and time requirements.  Or, I’m asked to take on an assignment at work, which I also know I can do, and that it will really help my team, so I do it.  Or, because I want to meet more people at church and want to study the Bible with my husband, I sign us up for a class at church (when I’m already in a Bible Study!), that happens to be a discipling class, so we are not only attending a weekly class, we have to find time and energy to pour into discipling someone. Or (last example, I promise), my son requests to change his piano teacher, which is actually a very reasonable request, but I agree to it without consulting my husband or praying over it. His new lesson time is now during the week, and it is one additional commitment I have to juggle.

Examining why any of us makes commitments is an interesting exercise.  For me, I think there is a feeling of pride that comes with being needed.  There is fear of saying no.  I loathe conflict, so it’s sometimes easier to go along with a request than stand up for how I really feel. Or, as in the case with my son and his piano lessons, I want to make someone else happy.

In Revelation 2, Jesus speaks to His church at Ephesus. He commends them for their deeds, their hard work and perseverance. He recognizes them for enduring hardships in His name and not growing weary. But then he says, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen!” (Rev 2:4-5).  The Ephesian church had begun to rely too much on themselves and their own wisdom. They had forsaken their Lord.

I believe we were created to be dependent upon God.  The Bible tells us again and again that our source of strength in life cannot be found in ourselves, “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God…” (2 Cor 3:5).

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63).

“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:6).

So, what are the consequences to being overcommitted?  Most of us know them.  I constantly feel rushed. I’m working against time. Inner peace is fleeting. I’m tired, not prioritizing well, not taking care of myself. Because I’m a chronic pain sufferer, my pain has flared.  The worst part (for me) is that if I feel over-done, I start to check out mentally and emotionally and then I think…where is God? I feel alone and isolated because my capacity to engage and connect with anyone (even the Lord) has shrunk.

For the time being, I am stuck in a season of over-commitment.  I have to ride it out.  I am grateful the Lord brought this sin to my attention, because what was once in darkness is now in the light, and in the light, there is healing.  I have confessed my sin and am praying the Lord will grant me wisdom as I face the consequences of my sin. I know He is close, and I know He will make a way for me to endure.

My verse this week is: “Set your minds on things above, not earthly things” (Col 3:2).  This verse reminds me where my real source of strength is.

Growing in Grace

A few weeks ago, I looked at my calendar and was suddenly filled with anxiety.  My schedule was just too full.  I started to feel overwhelmed. Fearful. My first reaction was “what can I drop from my schedule to gain a few badly needed hours each week?”  And sadly, Bible Study was the first thing that came to mind.

This gave me pause.

Why would Bible Study be the first thing I would let go?  Is it because the committee I’m a part of at my son’s school would be angry at me if I dropped out?  Is it because I don’t want to let down a friend?  Is it because I fear keeping better boundaries at work will make me look less dedicated?

All of those concerns involve people and potentially disappointing people.  I fear what people think of me.  I fear letting people down.  But as God’s Word reminds me, they are people, NOT God!  Where are my priorities?

In the book of Job, God asks seventy-seven questions of Job that remind us that God’s ways are not our ways; His thoughts are not our thoughts. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, have you ever in your life commanded the morning, and caused the dawn to know its place, that it might take hold of the ends of the earth…” (Job 38:4, 12).

God alone is worthy of all praise. He alone is to be worshipped.  And yet, it crossed my mind to drop out of Bible Study just a couple of weeks before it was scheduled to start.  I just wanted a quick solution to my overly-full calendar.  I was tempted to pull out of studying God’s Word – the God of the universe.  The God of all creation.  The God who saved me.

I’m so grateful for the Thistlebend studies for the truth I have learned.  I now know how to recognize my sin, to see how my sinful flesh reacts to stress.  I go into self-protective mode.  I don’t seek God.  My gaze is set on the things of this earth, not the Lord.

So…it was with a thankful heart that I started our new study: “Jesus, I Want to Love You.” I know I need God’s Word and I desperately want to love Jesus more.

I am participating in this study via the online group.  I have a friend and accountability partner which is absolutely key for me – it’s easy to drift in on-line studies without someone to keep you accountable. I watched Laurie’s teaching via video and was very encouraged.  As I listened to Laurie, I felt my heart breathe a sigh of relief. I was back in the safety of God’s Word.  Life is hard. Life is busy. We will struggle with the tension of what our flesh longs for and what we desire to do for the Lord and in our walk with the Lord.  BUT, I now can say with certainty that I’m dropping my anchor again and saying “NO” to earthly commitments, NOT my Bible Study.

If you are in a season of life that seems overwhelming and you feel like you need to cut back on commitments, I pray you will not drop out of your Bible Study or discontinue your quiet time.  Time with Jesus fortifies us. I have found time and again, that when I am overcommitted but stay faithful in my commitment to study God’s Word, He opens space in my schedule. He blesses my effort.  I know he will bless yours, too.

Growing in Grace