Making Progress

I just get so frustrated.
Frustration
Failing
We often speak of deeper things via email so that we can linger long over ideas, drawing them more fully into ourselves before we respond.
I feel that after so many years of following Jesus that I should have made more progress, that I should be more like Him, think more like Him, speak more like Him. Yet I still struggle every moment to obey, to control my temper, to love others.
Struggle
Me too, Dad. Me too.
My heart feels heavy when I look at any given week and how much I have failed my husband, my daughters, my God.
I want so desperately to be like Jesus, to have love be my first response in any situation, to be grateful for everything that comes my way.
Yet day after day I lose my temper, I choose my own desires over the needs of those around me,
I forget to walk with God.
Forget
Guilt
Have I made any progress at all? It certainly doesn’t feel like it.
Yet God tells us that creating a new heart is not up to us. We are not capable of changing our heart of stone for a heart of flesh, but God promises that He will do this for us, that He will change us to look more like Jesus, to be who He created us to be.
Will I believe Him?
Will I trust what He says more than what my physical eyes can see? Will I trust the Word even when contrary evidence seems to mount up higher?
…. it is certain that the Christian does grow in grace. And though his conflict may be as severe in the last day of his life as in the first moment of conversion, yet he does advance in grace — and all his imperfections and his conflicts within cannot prove that he has not made progress. ~ Charles Spurgeon
As in so much of this walk with God, will I choose to trust His promises or my own imperfect judgement?
Conflict
Heart of stone
May we all push aside the guilt that we pour down on our own heads and say with the 17th century monk, Brother Lawrence,
When he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault saying to God, “I shall never do otherwise, if you leave me to myself. It is You who must hinder my failing and mend what is amiss.” Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it. ~ Practicing the Presence of God
Believe
Trust
May we all trust God that much and give ourselves no further uneasiness about it.

How to Give Yourself Grace

I’ve written about it before in this space, but since I will never act perfectly until the day I see my Lord face to face, I will just have to continue to write about it in hopes that this act of writing will somehow help me.  Perhaps it will help someone else as well.
Grace
I want so desperately to follow Jesus without having to fight against myself; I want to do the right thing at the right time without a raging internal struggle; I just want it to be easier for me to obey.  Will you join me over at Embracing Grace to talk about the grace God gives us even when we can’t give that grace to ourselves?  I’d love to meet you over there.
(http://embracinggrace.net/2013/11/how-to-give-yourself-grace/)

Love the Lord your God

Lately I’ve been hearing and reading a lot about what I should do as a follower of Jesus.



I’ve read about persecuted people who live in third-world countries, families who sell their homes so they can adopt more children, young parents who move to the inner city.

When Jesus calls us to abandon everything we have and everything we are, it’s almost as if he is daring us to put ourselves in the flood plain. To put all our lives…all our property and all our possessions…all our hopes and all our dreams in front of the levee and then to ask God to break it. To ask God to sweep away whatever he wants, to leave standing whatever he desires, and to remake our lives…according to his will. ~ Radical by David Platt

We have to continue to fight – for the individual and against evil and destructive forces – because the cause is always worthy. And once you have stepped into this world, you can never walk away. Once you have been made aware, you have a responsibility to care. ~ The Scent of Water by Naomi Zacharias

I’ve read and heard many important and completely true things.


Jesus does ask us to give up everything for Him.


He said that if we do not hate our own lives, our own families in comparison to Him, we cannot follow Him.

Salvation is free, but discipleship costs everything we have. ~ Billy Graham

As I read and listen, guilt begins to trickle into my heart.


Am I doing enough? Am I living right? Am I giving up everything for God? Am I too comfortable in my current life?


This is a dangerous thought-road for me, partly because I am a firstborn and I love rules. 


I like lists and I want to know exactly what I have to do to be in obedience to God.



As I begin to think about our family, however, I am reminded of the things that we are doing for Christ. 



Having kids at all is a big step. I didn’t always want children, but God convinced me that this was one way in which He wanted me to serve Him: to have and raise up children who will glorify Him with their lives. 


We have made a lot of material sacrifices, both for me to stay home with our children, in order to personally raise them in a way that will glorify Him, and for us to not start adding up debt so that eventually we can have disposable income that we can give back to God.


Could we do more?


Of course. And that is the trouble.


No matter how frugally we live, how much we give away, how much time we sacrifice, it can never be enough.


We could always do more. It is impossible to do enough to repay all that God has done for me. It is impossible to truly give up everything for Jesus.


So what do I do? Wallow in my guilt? Give up because of my inability to do or give enough? Is that really what all of these books and teachers are telling me?


No, but I’m afraid that it seems that way at times.


I am learning however, very slowly, that it is not about what I do or don’t do, it is not about what I give or don’t give. It is about a relationship.


My relationship with the Triune God is what is most important in this life. This is more important than giving away all of my possessions. This is more important than eradicating all of the sin in my life. This is more important than moving to the inner city or telling everyone I know about God.


What I focus on most has to be my desire for God. 

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. ~ Mark 12.30-31




The idea of the primacy of loving and desiring God is made more clear in the writings of Brother Lawrence:

I know that for the right practice of it, the heart must be empty of all other things because God will possess the heart alone. As He cannot possess it alone without emptying it of all besides, so, neither can He act there and do in it what He pleases, unless it be left vacant to Him. 

You need not cry very loud. He is nearer to us than we are aware. Every one is capable of such familiar conversation with God; some more, some less. He knows what we can do.  Let us begin then. Perhaps He expects but one generous resolution on our part. Have courage.

We must know before we can love. In order to know God, we must often think of Him. And when we come to love Him, we shall then also think of Him often, for our heart will be with our treasure.

What do I desire most of all in this life? Whom do I love best? 


If it is not God, than it doesn’t matter how radically I live, how much of my time or resources I give away. 


If I do desire God most of all, even if I am simply trying to love God best, than I can trust myself to His hands, knowing that He will change my heart, which will naturally change the way I live. I will know what He wants me to do, how He wants me to live, and I will be at peace even if others think I am not doing enough or not doing the right things. 

Again, I will reference Brother Lawrence

when he had failed to love God best of all, he only confessed his fault saying to God, “I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself. It is You who must hinder my failing and mend what is amiss.” Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it. 

Abba, please help me to desire You most of all, to love You above all. If left to myself, I will never love You. It is You who must mend my broken heart. It is You who must purify my heart so that my life will glorify You. Let me only pursue my love for You and then be at peace, trusting that You will not let me fail. 

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. ~ Jude 1.24-25

A Pure Heart

“I don’t like obeying.”



My eldest daughter’s puffy, tear-stained eyes pierce me with the anguish that only a three-year-old can have.

“I know, darling. Obeying is very hard sometimes, even for Mommy. I have a hard time obeying God sometimes too.”

Just like my eldest, I get very frustrated with how difficult it is to obey. I want to just fix everything that is ugly and wrong in my heart. I want my heart to be pure and whole and I want this right now.



Our conversation reminds me of what I read in Brother Lawrence’s “The Practice of the Presence of God” where Brother Lawrence says that perhaps God doesn’t want us to try to fix everything in our hearts all at once. Perhaps God just wants us to focus on one or two things at a time while we allow Him to change our hearts:

When an occasion of practicing some virtue was offered, he addressed himself to God saying, “Lord, I cannot do this unless Thou enable me”. Then he received strength more than sufficient. When he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault saying to God, “I shall never do otherwise, if you leave me to myself. It is You who must hinder my failing and mend what is amiss.” Then, after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it.

Why do I feel as though I must agonize over my disobedience? Why do I think that I must be pure before I am worthy of God’s love, worthy to ask Him for anything? Isn’t that the whole point of the cross…that I cannot be worthy on my own?


In Mark 9, a father brings his demon-possessed son to Jesus’ disciples who are unable to cast out the demon. The disciples try to cast out the demon without prayer, without asking for God’s help. This is what I do all the time. I try so hard to cast out my own failures, my sin, the ugliness of my heart without asking for help. Just as the disciples did, I underestimate the power of evil in the world and in myself. I don’t see how weak and proud I am.


Then Jesus has an exchange with the father that gives me such hope!

This man asks Jesus, “Would you heal my son?” And Jesus says, “Everything is possible for him who believes.” That is, “I can do it if you can believe.” The father responds, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” That is, “I’m trying but I’m full of doubts.” Then Jesus heals the man’s son. This is very good news. Through Jesus we don’t need perfect righteousness, just repentant helplessness, to access the presence of God.


Jesus could have told the man, “I am the glory of God in human form. Purify your heart, confess all your sins, get rid of all your doubts and your double-mindedness. Once you…can come before me with a pure heart, then you can ask for the healing you need.” But Jesus doesn’t say that–not at all. The boy’s father says, “I’m not faithful, I am riddled with doubts, and I cannot muster the strength necessary to meet my moral and spiritual challenges. But help me.” That’s saving faith–faith in Jesus instead of in oneself. ~ King’s Cross by Timothy Keller

Aha.

Putting my faith in Jesus rather than in myself. Telling God that He must mend and clean my broken and ugly heart if He wants my heart to change…and then not worrying about it anymore!


To be able to confess to God when I fail and then leave it with Him ~ this is grace.

To allow Him to change me while I simply rest in His love ~ this is grace.

To leave to God the work of making my heart beautiful while I focus on and enjoy the sweet relationship I have with Him ~ this is grace.


Praise be to God for the good news of His grace!

May I remember this grace instead of being frustrated with my inability to obey.

May I trust that God’s seeming delay in making my heart beautiful is what is best, that the journey is somehow essential to the goal, rather than being impatient for a perfect heart right now.


art credits: “Brother Lawrence in the Kitchen” from a book published by Fleming Revell Co. in 1900; “Christ with Martha and Maria” by Henryk Semiradsky in 1886