Last week, we talked about what it could mean to practice the wrong things; how practicing something the wrong way over and over again, does not lead to perfection. I hope that you took my call to action and applied it, and this week, I'd like to talk a little about what we should be practicing.
It is an obvious one folks, and I'm going to keep it short and sweet today.
What should we be putting into practice?
Do you know how many times the word love is in the Bible? That's ok. I didn't either. It varies, depending upon the translation you might be reading. For me, I have an NIV, so I used this site to find out. From there, you can change the translation you're reading to find out yours.
The word love appears in the standard NIV Bible 574 times in 526 different verses. That's a lot. The names Lord, God, and Jesus appear more often. Also, there are less significant, two and three letter words which appear more often. But I have searched many words, and not even the word pray appears more often than love. It's not even close.
Of course, it is important to pray, but what is the one thing that plays on repeat over and over again in the teachings of Jesus, and the teachings of the New Testament? Have we ever read/heard/seen anyone love the way that Jesus loves? I can barely stomach being in the same room with someone who has the stomach bug, but Jesus didn't run from the sick. He didn't turn from the hurting. He didn't chastise the broken.
Jesus walked among the broken. He embraced the hurting, and he cared for the sick. He corrected, and he rebuked, but more often than not, He taught by example and parables, frequently revolving around loving people.
We read of him washing the feet of others, healing the sick, and feeding the hungry. We read of him laying down his life, in great suffering, for the sake of not just his friends, but his enemies as well. Page after page after page, we see examples of this love, and yet we so often walk around with chips on our shoulders, as though the world owes us something. We are quick to anger, quick to judge, and quick to throw tantrums when things don't go as planned. Why? Because those things come more easily to our sinning nature, because we have practiced the wrong things!
For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command:
"Love your neighbor as yourself."
What is it that we have "learned or heard or seen" from God? The teachings throughout the Bible, and more specifically the teachings of Jesus, are repetitive. So should our practices be. It takes work, and it takes repetition to make changes. It's a good thing we have a manual for that.
But don't take my word for it! A great place to start is the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' longest sermon, found throughout Mathew chapters 5,6, and 7. Just like Paul stated in Galatians 5:14, even this can be largely summed up with love.
When I was growing up, my dad had a strongly opinionated stance against the phrase, practice makes perfect. He talked about it in teaching and in coaching, and he often used me as an example.
See, he believed that this phrase was inherently false, because if you practice something incorrectly hundreds of times, the result is that you do it incorrectly. Instead, he would often say that practice makes permanent. If I practiced shooting a basketball, the wrong way, hundreds of times, I would not have the perfect shot, but I would have a permanent one. My body mechanics would always return to that muscle memory I had created, whether it was correct or not. Then, if I wanted to correct that shot, it would take twice as much repetition and work to fix the error. The body doesn't let go of what we've told it so quickly, and it takes more discipline to change, than to stay the same.
I did not understand the depth of this lesson, at that young time in my life, on a basketball court.
We are born sinners into a world of sin. Even with the best of intentions, we tend to gravitate toward selfishness and act out of jealousy and unhealthy comparisons, in pursuit of our own goals and ambitions.
And the behavior that we practice, becomes permanent. I will say it again.
The body doesn't let go of what we've told it so quickly, and it takes more discipline to change, than to stay the same.
When I was a young teen, I had some corrections to make to my jump shot. In an effort to shoot baskets from a distance that my elementary school body was not ready for, I had spent the previous years practicing the shot incorrectly. I was pushing hard from my hip, and adding the push of my guide hand in the follow through. This may not mean much to those who don't follow basketball, but the concept remains; I practiced incorrectly for years because of selfish ambition. I wanted to be a 3-point shooter, and instead of allowing myself to grow into that correctly, I tried to speed up the process, and I created a much less accurate shot.
The process of correction was long and tedious. It involved extra time, extra repetition, and even extra equipment. I had to wear a strap over my left hand to keep it from turning incorrectly. It was uncomfortable, and for a long time, I missed even more shots than before because the correction felt awkward, and my body would rebel against it. I had to actually move back in, closer to the basket, to relearn the mechanics. I spent months, not shooting a 3-point shot at all. I wasn't right back where I started. I was actually farther behind.
However, I did, become the 3-point shooter I had set out to be. In fact, my 3-point shot was the main contributing factor to colleges recruiting me, and paid for my education. Had I not made the corrections, I would have perfected an inconsistent, mediocre shot. I would have worked hard, putting in a lot of time in the gym, doing the wrong things. I would have missed my goal because of stubbornness and refusal to change.
But just because something is harder, uncomfortable, or it doesn't feel natural, doesn't mean that it is incorrect. It could just mean that you have trained yourself to believe that the wrong way was the correct way for so long, that the change is hard. When we apply this to our spiritual lives, it can be mind blowing. God often calls us out of our comfort zones. He often asks things of us which are uncomfortable and feel unnatural, because they were never before a part of our practices.
Call to action!
Let's pray about what practices in our lives need to be changed, to direct us toward God's calling. It might be difficult. It might be uncomfortable, but let's open our hearts to those corrections. Ask yourself what the ambition is behind what you're practicing, and if it is anything less than Godly, ask Him to change your heart and your ways.
I have a guilty pleasure. Don't judge me, ok?
I like to watch The Bachelor. And not just The Bachelor, but every spin off and every aspect of the franchise. I'm talking Bachelor, Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise, Winter Games; you name it, I've watched it. I'm not proud of it guys. Please still be my friends...
Anyway, a really common theme among contestants in these shows, is when they talk about wanting to find a 50/50 partner in life; a teammate if you will.
As someone who has played team sports, most of her life, let me just tell you, this is not how teams work. 50/50 does not make a successful partnership. Half of each partner, does not make a whole. If you are going halfsies on everything, you are setting yourselves up for failure. This goes for any relationship, teammates, family, friends, significant others, spouses. Are we all going to be 100%, 100% of the time? NO! Because try as we might, we are not actually Christ Himself. But that is precisely why 50/50 will never work. If 50% is your bar; your best, on your best day, to meet that relationship half way, then your bar is too low, my friend. What happens when you have a bad day? God didn't call us to go halfsies in love. He called us to be all in, 100%, and He showed us what that meant.
While we were still sinners, while we were less than our best, Christ died for us. He gave 100 for us, and he asks this of us as well.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
He so much as told us that we should give people our all. He gave all of Himself, for us. He died for us. He didn't give us 50, and wait for us to come the other 50. No! He gave 100! He came all the way. He meets us right where we're at, and He loves us.
And in marriage especially, He tells us that we become one.
So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.
If you take two pieces of clay, and slide them together so that they are touching, you have 50/50. They have met half way. They've met in the middle. But what are they sharing? They are not sharing anything but that space in the middle where they touch. They are saying, I've come this far, but I go no farther. That is not really sharing a life, is it? That is being equal, being two parts of a whole piece, that refuses to get messy. Those two halves are very easy to pull apart.
But when you take those two pieces of clay, and mold them together, that is when they become one piece. They are no longer standing there, side by side, saying they will meet the other half way. They have joined together. They have given all of themselves to the other, and then become impossible to separate.
A very wise man, who counseled my husband and me in our premarital counseling, once told us that for a marriage to work, it should be 100/100. Basically, that if I am putting my husband first in my decisions, and he is putting me first in his decisions, we will be as one; not half the time, all the time. This is more then meeting in the middle. It is showing the person you love that you're willing to come all the way. If you are both doing this, from there then, compromise becomes easy.
I have subtly hinted to you, on more than one occasion, about my struggles with the lackluster Christian life. I am a busy mom of four, trying to maintain a household and run a business. Life is full of distractions, and I often let them take over.
I spend a lot more time than I care to admit, questioning God and doubting His goodness. I struggle with so many of the same things everyone else does; money, relationships, gossip, greed, selfishness, impatience, and anger. Often, in spirals of constant discouragement and frustration, unable to meet my goals, I find myself playing the role of victim rather than victor.
And this is not who God has called me to be; not who He has called any of us to be! The love and blood of Christ alone, declares us victorious. When we are feeling defeated, let down, frustrated, or deficient in any area of our lives, the world will tell us we just need to pull ourselves up by the boot straps, so to speak, and work harder, when really we should be falling to our knees seeking Him. Our contentment comes from the Lord. Our desire for Him is great. Our need for His presence expands a vastness which we cannot fill of our own volition.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteousness reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun.
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Commune with Him. Make time for Him. Seek Him first and foremost in all that you do, and He will have answers. But when we try to press on ahead of our own free will, often destruction is imminent. Do not compare your failures to the successes of others. Commit your way to the Lord. His way; not your way or anyone else's.
Might He sometimes call you to work harder in certain areas of your life, to reach your goals? Perhaps. But don't just assume that that is all it takes. Include Him in your plans. Infuse every aspect of your goals with His presence. Be open to how He might guide you, and how your goals might shift and change to meet His will.
This is something I continue to learn every day as my business grows, often at a slower rate than I would like; as our savings account grows at a much slower rate than I would like; as my husband's goals of pursuing higher education become put off yet another year. Cars break down, jobs become stressful, health deteriorates, people in our lives become difficult. WE become difficult. This is life.
But our contentment is found in Him, and Him alone. We cannot force things to happen for us, nor can we force ourselves to be happy in our current station in life. What we can do, is make sure that in each and every moment of our journey, we are not alone. God doesn't ever leave us, but we often ignore Him. Don't ignore Him.
Pursue Him. Let Him have your heart. Let Him be your goal, and watch how He leads you.
Yesterday I returned to church after some excruciating back pain kept me from going last week. My husband was playing on the worship team and had to be there early, so that left me to get all four kids out the door and to church by myself, and mornings are still the worst time of day for my back. We managed. We got there only 5 minutes late, which is the earliest we've been all year. We took our seats, and since the music was already playing, I stood to sing. After a while, my back wasn't feeling great, so I sat down.
A war almost immediately broke out between my two daughters for the closest space next to me. A war that my oldest would never win, because all of the older siblings will sooner behave themselves and forfeit to the baby, to avoid getting into trouble causing a scene. Forgetting that I had a whole other side to sit on, my youngest was pushing my older daughter away from me. She did not want to share. I gently tried to explain that she could sit on my other side, but she continued to push her sister around. Finally I just lifted her up and tried to place her on my left side, which was wide open! And she screamed, "NOOOOOOO!" and pulled that stiff as a board toddler routine so that lifting her was almost impossible and added additional strain to my back.
I lost it.
Throwing caution to the wind, I swiftly lifted her kicking and screaming over my shoulder, and carried her out to the toddler room. With several walls and doors between us and the sanctuary, I sat her in a chair, and sat down across the room from her. She proceeded to kick and scream even louder now, because she really loves worship music and wants to be out there. Me too, kid!
After her third warning about rocking the chair that shouldn't be rocked, so that the legs slam into the floor, I took her to the couch in a side room, and closed her in there by herself. The screaming became louder, because now she really wanted to be with me. She didn't want to be alone, even if it was only a door between us.
As I sat there, near tears myself, from the frustration of a 4th child who tends to take up all of my energy and most of my time, leaving scraps of a mommy for her siblings, I realized how much like her I have been.
Last week I was unable to sit at the computer to type up the Monday message, due to horrible back pain. I had to record my message on Instagram instead. For those of you who may have missed it, click HERE. I talked about how this back pain seems to be an ongoing lesson of mine. See, I allow my world, my life to fill up with distractions, and I ignore God, not completely, but just enough to be able to do what I want and then cry to Him when things don't go my way. I find it difficult to hear Him and listen to Him amidst the noise I, myself, have created. I believe many of us, if we're being honest with ourselves, struggle with this every day.
Then, when things don't go my way, when I become hurt because of my own poor decisions, I immediately blame Him. Just as Charlotte was mad at me for removing her from the worship service, and couldn't see how this was a direct consequence to her own actions, I too cry out to God as though He is the reason I am suffering.
And when I feel as though He isn't there, as though I am suffering all by myself, it takes me far too long to come to the realization that my separation from God is my own fault.
As Charlotte cried out for me from the other room, she realized something. She knew that even when she was mad at me, she didn't want to be without me. Her cries changed from screams of frustration, yelling about what she wanted (and couldn't have), to crying out, Mommy! Mommy! Can you be with me, pleeeeease!?
Any parent who has been through something similar knows the heartbreak of hearing your child cry out for you, when you are trying to teach them a lesson. Because we love our children! We want to be with them, we want to hold them when they cry, and take away the hurt, and wipe away the tears. We do not enjoy their suffering, even when, or especially when we know it is self inflicted. Nothing can separate them from our love.
No matter how loudly she screams, no matter the size of her tantrum, no matter how embarrassing it may be to drag her from a public place, looking like the world's worst mom, I will never stop loving her.
Folks, this is how God feels about us! He wants to be with us. He wants to hold us in our suffering. He wants to comfort us in our pain. He doesn't even care if the pain we're suffering is at our own hands. He loves us still!
Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, but we sure do know how to distance ourselves from Him when we want to. The next time you're feeling alone or abandoned, check yourself, because you could be allowing distractions, anger, frustrations, or your desire to just do what you want, to distance yourself from Him. He is always there, just waiting for an invitation.
We have to stop kicking and screaming long enough to invite Him in.
As a wife, mom of 4, and business owner, finding time to spend in the Word, can be difficult, so I get it! Come join me each Monday for a simple message of hope, faith, and encouragement amidst some honest mommy moments.
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