Have you ever noticed that we rely on ourselves for far too much? When we want to change something about ourselves; our diet, our attitude, our habits, we tend to think that we need to do it ourselves. I have even heard some people say that they wanted to know more about Jesus, but felt they had to clean up their lives first.
Religion might work this way, but a relationship with Christ, does not. What I mean by that is that tradition and rules of religion may make you feel unwelcome as you are. Some churches may have rules in place, spoken or unspoken, which make you feel like you can't step foot in their doors until you've cleaned yourself up.
I will often tell myself that I cannot do something, wear something, or go somewhere, until I have lost the weight I need to lose. I will punish myself, withhold fun and rewarding things from myself, for not meeting the self-inflicted requirements, and I believe I can punish my way to my goals. Only this line of thinking never works, because I start off, already feeling defeated. Defeat hangs on my shoulders, because I am already punishing myself for not being where I'd like to be.
That is not Jesus. This is not the life or the journey he has for us. Unyeilding rules, regulations, and traditions, do not represent a rewarding relationship with Jesus. Why do we punish ourselves? He wants to make us new, but we resist His love and acceptance, in exchange for doing it ourselves. It's as though we cannot accept the reward, if we've accepted help along the way.
Do you love Jesus? Do you recognize that He is your Savior?
Then let Him SAVE you. He is there for you. You were not meant to travel this journey alone. You were not designed to change yourself, by yourself. You do not need to face your faults, your bad habits, or your addictions alone. Jesus does not expect you to clean yourself up before greeting Him. He knows every part of you, every flaw, every fault, every mistake, and He loves you anyway. He just wants you to recognize this, because standing on that truth will change your perspective, and take the weight of your own shoulders.
You are made new, in Him, and that is enough.
I tend to see things differently than most people. I have an inquisitive mind which often asks, "What happened that the camera is not showing?" Or, "What made this person react the way that they did?" People who do not know me or cannot understand me, often accuse me of making excuses for people, or actively searching for ways to excuse bad behavior.
But much like parenting, I don't have to excuse bad behavior to try to get to the root of the problem. Often, knowing exactly what it is we are up against, instead of making assumptions based on only part of a story, can tell us exactly how we should respond, and anger is almost never the correct response.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
Not only do we often assume the incorrect response, but it is aslo a misguided reaction. The person you are angry with, is not the enemy.
The person you are angry with is not the enemy.
As with most scripture, God helps me relate, by reminding me of my own parenting experiences. My almost 4 year old daughter and I have been having kind of a rough year. We have been at odds over almost everything. She doesn't want to go potty when I tell her to, or eat when I tell her to, or...pretty much do anything when I tell her to. She has been fighting for control. And while this has been incredibly difficult and exhausting for me, I wanted to see the whole picture, even, or especially, that which she was unable to fully articulate herself. I have tried changing my own tactics. I have tried remaining calm and peaceful in the face of her screaming. I have tried different incentives, and different disciplines, I have lost my patience on multiple occasions, and I have prayed. Throughout all of my observations, God has shown me parts of what my little girl is struggling with.
She lost her playmate this year in her big brother. For all the previous years of her life, she was never without a sibling. When she was born, I was homeschooling, and all four kids were home. Then, for the first two years that the older two kids were in school, she still had one brother here. They didn't always need me. I was able to do dishes and laundry, and tidy up without too much concern. But now he too is in school, and she is lonely, and I am still responsible for the same dishes, and the same laundry, and the same, or often bigger, messes.
When I began to realize some of what her defiance was about, and recognize the pain she hasn't been able to express, I started setting aside more quality time for her, games, reading, trips together to the library, or even the store; anything that makes her feel like we're in this together. Sometimes, instead of using the TV to entertain her while I clean, I will even sit and snuggle with her during her shows. Sure, the house is a mess, and we tend to live in a perpetual state wearing clothes straight out of the dryer, but there's a little more peace, but not because my daughter changed, necessarily, but because God changed me.
When we don't truly know what we are fighting against, Satan can more easily provoke us to anger about all the wrong things, make us doubt ourselves, or those around us, and stir up constant conflict in areas where there could be resolution.
I became insecure about my parenting, I became angry with a defiant child, I lost my patience over things I did not fully understand.
Meanwhile, my child was fighting for control in a world that has been changing around her, and struggling with emotions she could not fully understand.
Is life perfect now that I have figured this out? No. Sometimes I still lose myself in my anger, in rushed moments of chaos, but the realization is eye-opening. When I take the time to remember what it is I am truly fighting, or what it is she is really struggling with, it doesn't always change her behavior, but God reminds me of how to love her through it.
God knows our battles, He knows our enemy, and it is not the people we are at odds with. It is not the people we argue with or the people we disagree with. It is not the people at all. Satan uses these people, these disagreements to stir up conflict in our own hearts.
Knowing your true enemy does not always change the behavior of the person you are struggling with, but rather changes your response to them. Allow God to change your heart. The enemy seeks to stir up distrust and hate and bitterness, but God's truth will bring peace.
I talk about loving people, a lot. Not because I'm super good at it, but because I believe it was the most important commandment from Jesus. He spoke of it often, and called us to love everyone, no matter what. But just because Jesus said so, doesn't make it easy. I fail at this often. Not that I am intentionally mean, but I do not always go out of my way to show love. I do not always make the most loving decision. Sometimes I am selfish. Sometimes I am tired, and I just don't want to do that extra thing, when deep inside, I know it's something I should. Sometimes I become resentful of those I feel may be using me, or those who are not always loving toward me. Humans are a complicated species, and there are a lot of emotions wrapped up in the decisions we make each day. And the truth is, we are often so far in our own heads, that we miss opportunities to show love and kindness.
I have often used driving in traffic as an example of this. There is something about being behind that wheel, and surrounded by tons of metal, that makes us bold, self-righteous, and entiled in our anger, and selfish in our choices. I mean, no one else on the road could possibly have anything more important to do than we do, right? We drive with blinders on, not that we don't see that guy trying to get over into our lane at the last minute, but we are convinced that our journey is more important than his.
Am I wrong?
This driving in traffic scenario is much like our lives. We get so wrapped up in our own journey, our own goals, that we don't make room for anyone trying to reach theirs. Cut throat competition opens between corporations. Doing things out of character to get ahead of competitors, becomes normal, and we excuse it by telling ourselves that they did it first. Maybe, sometimes, that's true, but should it matter?
The Bible says it should not. If Jesus was clear about anything, it was love. As imperfect humans, we often withhold our love and forgiveness, like children with a grudge, unable to see someone else's story, or value someone else's journey.
But Philippians 2:4 goes on to say, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.
Can you imagine what this world might look like, if we all strived to put this into practice? If everyone was earnestly looking out for the interest of others, everyone's needs could be met.
Life is messy. Life is chaotic and busy, but in this traffic jam of life, if we took our blinders off for just a minute, and acknowledged that blinker, maybe we could slow down for a minute, and show our neighbor that we value their journey as much as our own.
When I think about people in our nation's history, who truly lived out their faith, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is the first to come to mind. He believed firmly in nonviolence and in love. He spoke of it often, and he lived it out in his every day life.
Today, as we honor him, I have one very simple message to share. It is a message of love. It is a message of peace. It is a message that the world seems to have forgotten.
When people are wrong, love them. When people are right, love them. When people are arrogant, self-righteous, stubborn, unkind, love them. Jesus shows us this throughout all of the New Testament. His stories, assembled together, are like a how-to book for loving people. He loves people through mistakes and through hardships. He even loves people he knows are going to betray him. As he took his final breath, he even prayed for those who killed him.
Nothing is simpler, and yet nothing seems quite as difficult for us imperfect humans, especially in these tumultuous times. Martin Luther King Jr. got it though. He understood this. He knew that hatred plus hatred would never equal love. He knew God's Word and he believed it, and you couldn't convince him that evil should be repayed with evil.
I have a toddler who proves this point for me almost every day. The louder she objects, the angrier I get. The angrier and louder I get, the louder she objects. However, if I stop and hug her in the middle of her fits of anger, it calms the storm. It doesn't happen right away, but confusion often sets in; wait, you're supposed to be angry with me...not hugging me. What's happening? And then I often have a better chance at getting to the root of the problem. But our anger will often just ricochet, back and forth off of each other, picking up speed, without bothering to look for solutions. Love doesn't ricochet; it soaks. Love doesn't bounce off, quickly searching for a way to defend itself. Love stops to get absorbed. It doesn't have an agenda. It doesn't have an argument to win. It just lands on a person and says, hey, I'm here if you need me. How and when the love gets absorbed just depends on how thick their skin is. But no where in the Bible does it say to give up.
Do everything, everything, in love.
I woke up this morning with the same line of a song playing over and over in my head. It's a gospel song I've heard a handful of times over the years, and it was never really one of my favorites. It's a good song, but some songs you just really feel, if you know what I mean. With this one, I could really take it or leave it. It just wasn't the kind of song I was going to sit in my car to finish if I'd reached my destination.
But God often speaks to me through songs, and especially the unexpected ones; the ones I know are only from Him, because I do not hear them or sing them regularly...or at all. This morning, one line played over and over again, the second I woke up, "Sometimes you have to encourage yourself." It goes on to say, "Sometimes you have to speak victory over the test." Suddenly a song I hadn't previously given much thought, was speaking to my spirit.
I have been conditioned to fear punishment. I believe most of my friends who were athletes might feel the same way. I was conditioned to believe that if I wasn't good enough, I would get punished. If I didn't make that easy shot, if I didn't make that free throw, if I made a mistake that cost us the possession or a basket, if we lost the game, we would be punished. We knew we would be punished, but usually not right away. We would live in fearful anticipation of when we would be punished for not being perfect.
Some of this stemmed from my own form of self-discipline. Most athletes get to where they are in their athletic careers because of a pretty decent amount of self-motivation already. Then, when they have coaches who condition them in such a way, it is easy to live out the rest of their lives in a system of reward vs punishment.
When I met my husband, I feared (and still often do) that I wasn't good enough for him. I fear that I am not a good enough wife, daughter, sister, aunt, mother, friend. I criticize myself all the time. When I heard the lyrics of this song first thing this morning, I realized that in living this life of fear, I have created a breeding ground for negative thinking and speaking. I have made it easy to be critical of myself. I have told myself that this is who I am, and I have believed it.
And I have stopped caring for myself. Instead of living in victory, living like the loved and saved person that I am, I have been living a defeated life.
I share this with you not for sympathy, but because I believe someone else out there needs to hear this.
You cannot live your life fearful of
imperfection and punishment,
because it directly contradicts
the perfect love of Christ.
You cannot speak victory over your life while playing the role of the defeatist. Jesus' perfect love, already took the punishment for your imperfection. Amen?!
Now, because old habits are hard to change, and because I don't want to just leave you (or myself), with a powerful message without an applicable way to change, I want to wrap this up with a list of things you can do to change this behavior, and I'd like to join with you on this journey of self-love, self-care, and living a victorious life.
I also couldn't leave, without allowing you the opportunity to hear the song God used for me this morning. I hope this message finds you well and provides encouragement where needed. If you struggle with accountability, and need encouragement in your prayer and journal life, don't hesitate to reach out!
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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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