The conversation comes up around this time about "new year resolutions." It fascinates me to hear what people choose to commit themselves to, and in reality, how many of those vows are thoughtlessly broken less than five days in. Or 24 hours. [Guilty.] Have you also noticed, how most of the time, resolutions have to do with things people can see, or more external problems? We get a gym membership, buy new diet-specific cookbooks, swear off dating, sign up for a debt management courses, buy the latest Bible study, and then the wheels fall off, the hype dies down, two weeks pass, and we're telling ourselves, "I guess I blew that one." Someone I esteem highly once told me in love, "Liesel, as good as your intentions may be, they essentially don't matter. Intentions without action will get you nowhere." This frustrated me so much for the longest time, because I just couldn't get it right! Yeah, this isn't new. The apostle Paul struggled with the same thing. He was loving enough of a big brother to confess this in a letter to the Romans (7:19):
"For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing."
Think about this logically with me. First, this shows us that we aren't the only one who struggles with this inner battle the way our arch rival would love for us to believe. "You're the only one," is one of his favorite lines that we believe for some silly reason. Moreso, what Paul's words show, is that in these resolutions, we commit ourselves to correcting symptoms we can identify without addressing the disease that's bigger than us. It's like we've been walking around with cancer that's infecting every part of our life, and saying "I'm going to take Tylenol for this headache". "I have an impulse problem rooted in insecurity and lack of self-control, so I'm going to go on the most intense diet and hope my finances get in order."
This is going to sound crazy, but the bullseye for our attention isn't a healthier diet for a healthy body image (much less to look like the airbrushed gym rat that's half-clothed on the front of any given magazine), debt management, breaking addictions, correcting broken lifestyles, or bad behaviors. The target here is deeper than making and breaking habits. It's eternal and the effects of our choices ripple into the physical, pressing areas of life by default. It's a gift from God to desire a transformed life. Without the Spirit of God it's impossible to see these changes last without manifesting as similarly themed issues in a different area of life.
A friend of mine and a champion of heroic faith, Nancy Alcorn, coined the phrase, "You must get to the 'why' behind the 'what' or the issue will never truly go away. The 'what' is behavior, a symptom, while the 'why' is a girl's need of a Savior.'" The point? The main problem isn't promiscuity, craving attention, an eating disorder, a porn addiction, or a bad attitude. The problem is that every fiber of our being needs to be rescued. And you know what? This is good news, and there's nothing shameful about it. It's the condition of humanity that is not without hope.
What if our focal point shifted this year from the temporary problems, the distractions of the external, and we set our aim at knowing God for who He is and why He has us here? This could seem daunting or out of reach if you've never acknowledged experience with God or if you really don't know much about Him. I was in that same place at one point, but the Creator of everything that exists promises that when we seek Him with all our hearts and guts, that He will make Himself known to us. He will answer with what we need to hear. He doesn't hold Himself back from us.
I was sitting with a group of people last Monday night, and the question was posed, "What pleases God?" The leader of the discussion prompted us to not answer off the top of our heads but find places in the Scriptures that would point us to the real answer of what He says.
The passage below is from the same letter that Paul wrote to the Romans (chapter 8) that I referenced a moment ago.
1) Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you[a] free from the law of sin and death.
Note: We don't use "there is no condemnation" to openly embrace our sinful nature as some do, saying, "Jesus already died for this sin I'm doing, so I can ask for forgiveness when I'm done doing us." This is a verse of transcendence from the place of hopelessness where we toil with what we cannot defeat to a place of understanding that Jesus has enough strength to stand firm on our behalf in our weakness... And in this, we actually get to live in His victory. He set us free from the curse of sin and death and fulfilled the law, reconciling us by the law of His Spirit. We no longer have to wrestle in self-loathing the way we did before we knew Him. It's wild, but keep tracking.
3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh ("flesh"refers to our nature outside while we were still under the curse of sin that we still struggle with, leaving us susceptible to the schemes of the enemy if not addressed),[b] God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. (Only Jesus, fully God while born in human flesh, could walk in perfect righteousness and blamelessness as an atonement for our brokenness.) And so he condemned sin in the flesh(in human form), 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.(It is through what Jesus did, making the Spirit fully accessible to us, that we are able to live according to the Spirit.)
5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
Note: This shows us that the layers of sin run deep, and without relationship with God and getting to know Him, it's going to be literally impossible to please Him as we live this life. How can you please someone you do not understand or know? How can you know yourself without understanding the intentions of your Creator? How can you understand what the Spirit desires, if you are not taking the time to know the Spirit? This just makes me excited that we are allowed to!
9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. (If you have taken the step of faith to pronounce Christ Lord and Savior of your heart, mind and life, the Spirit of God lives in you! Whether you fully understand what that means yet or not!) And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life[d] because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of[e] his Spirit who lives in you. (Read this paragraph again out loud as it might help you comprehend it better.)
Now, take a deep breath and check this out.
“There are three persons living in each of us: the one we think we are, the one other people think we are, the one God knows we are.
“Unless we are desperate to get into real victory, we are so easy on ourselves and so hard on others! Self loves self, though it was said of Gerard Mejella that grace “he loved all men except Gerard Mejella.” Great possibility! But too often we hide ourselves from ourselves lest the sight of ourselves should sicken ourselves. Let us invite the searching eye of God to locate this corrupt, spotted, stinking Self in us. Let it be torn from us and ‘crucified in Him, (so) that henceforth we no longer serve sin.’ (Romans 6:6)”
As I sat here staring at a blank page, considering these superficial resolutions, I asked the Lord for practical ways to become more like Him. Once the heart is changed, behavior follows. And let me tell you something, sister, your DNA changed once you were adopted as daughter of God through faith in Jesus. Motivational post-its on your refrigerator and desk at work might not stand the test of time (I do this, so I’m not knocking it), but the next steps you read will. Your suppressed anger outbursts might work with the "count down from ten [or 100]" tactics with your kids for a while. There's a deeper peace that's available, though.
We have deeply broken and filthy places in our hearts, mentalities, that we need the Spirit of God to invade. That could either be mildly offensive and you're thinking "Look sister, speak for yourself!", or you're aware of the reality of your situation, and you're still with me. There is an acronym for the process of this life change that came to me this week, and I wanted to invite you into this with me. (Repentance can be a "Christianese" word, but it's one of the most important ones. It's acknowledging our own sin and brokenness, confessing it, and turning away from it while exchanging it for whatever of His goodness God would replace it with. What happens here is our souls are mended. We exchange the decay and filth that comes with own sin through His transforming power and learn to walk in a new way, His way.
When we trust Him enough to say, "I'm all in," he then addresses lies that we didn't even realize we've been believing about ourselves. "I'll never be able to make it successfully as a single mom." "I am not as valuable as that girl, because- look at her. She has everything, and look at what she's doing." "I'll always be this angry." "I'll never make it out of debt because I lack self control." "What man will want me now? My prince charming may or may not come, so for now, I'm lonely. That guy will do." He hates these messages we pick up and believe. He wants to tell you something different. In order for you to hear Him, you've gotta hush, trust Him to change you, and let Him be MASTER of your thoughts. He promises to complete the good work He's begun, and he's not finished with any of us yet. (Hallelujah, because I still need lots of work!)
Meditate: Friend, if we want to know God and understand our uniquely designed and networked wonderfully made selves, we're going to need to open up the Book that He gave us and read about Him. It's through allowing Him to write His words on our hearts that we get to trust His "I love you," "I have ransomed you," and "Follow me". If we’re going to know exactly what He wants from us, what is required to live into the identity that He speaks over us, we have to know the words He spoke and taught to lead us there.
Psalm 119:11- Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.
Psalm 1:2-3 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season,and its leaf does not wither.In all that he does, he prospers.
Ask: "Prayer is what activates the Word of God in your life." You'll probably read or hear me remind you of that again at some point because it resonated with me so deeply when I heard it. Have you opened your Bible started to read and been like, "Seriously? What do tax collectors have to do with me, and why did all the nationalities have "ites" after them?" As you prayerfully open your Bible, asking God to show you Who he is, you'll be amazed at what you learn! (And if you've tried this and it's frustrating you, I've totally been there, too. I'd love to chat with you about this.) Ask Him to show you a lie you've believed about yourself that He disagrees with. Maybe it's "I'm not smart enough to understand the Bible." I hope my testimony I share next week will set that lie on fire for you and give you much hope. Ask Him to show you things that are in your life that shouldn’t be. If you struggle with weight, whether it be over-indulgence or you eat enough to get you by and keep you in your quadruple zero jeans, there’s a problem deeper than physical. Self-discipline and self-control comes in this process we're talking about.
James 4:2b,3 - You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
Surrender: There’s no way around this. Bare your soul. Be real. Or let Him show you what’s real. Tell Him your fear. Tell Him why you have them. If you don't know why that fear is there, ask Him to show you and show you how to be brave. Tell him how your heart's been broken. Ask Him what He thinks about it, where He was. Ask Him if He feels anything for you. Tell Him everything. Lay those things down at the feet of Jesus. Empty yourself emotionally, mentally and in your deepest places and let Him fill you up. He's so faithful, friends. Open the Word. He has love letters for your soul.
But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I gave Egypt for your ransom,
Ethiopia and Seba in your place.
Since you were precious in My sight,
You have been honored,
And I have loved you...
Turn: Don't stay where you are. Don't park your rear pockets at this spot in life and miss 2016 and all that is in store for you and your children. The Spirit shows us things about our lives in mercy, pardons us from the most severe punishment, and leads us in the way of wholeness. You're leading a family, my sister. Let Him lead you to acknowledge the hard places, because this is grace. Then let Him lead you and heal you out of them. This is repentance. Consider the reasons you don't want to stay there. Turn from the things that have had their grip on your heart and life, and let Him set you free. Tell the Lord what these things are, and let him break your heart away from them. Sometimes this might feel like heartbreak, but when our emotions have made us slaves, the sound of those chains breaking unmistakably scream out freedom.
Experience: Checking for mile markers in our progress should be rare thing, but challenging how we are handling things, processing through moments consciously should happen all throughout our days. It's self-awareness in a sense of "Lord, I need your help to do this, and I need you to show me how," rather than, "Hmm... How does this measure up to my own standards." Or "How did I just look to people around me?" When you're spending time in the Word, you start to understand what it is to live this life well. Not by others' standards, but by His standards. When you spend more time in prayer, inviting the Spirit of the Lord into our thought life, we are no longer distracted by the things around us, but engaging in the eternal relationship we were created for. When you're talking to Him, allowing yourself to patience and silence to listen, we get to know personal things about Him, what He wants, what He's planning, what He's dreaming for you. Transformation (not behavior modification) happens here. The Spirit compels us to action. Those unhealthy habits and patterns, the foul language, the destructive relationships, the negative thoughts, the offensive spirits, and the underlying currents in our lives that pull us away from what we want start to be flushed out by the current and course He leads us on. Someone once said, "You become like the five people you spend the most time with." So experience a new Friend in Jesus.
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. - Romans 12:2
Rest: Understand that He is not blind to anything about you. If this makes you cringe, remember there is no condemnation for those in Christ. He will heal those places in your story that you wish weren't there, or those mentalities that you can't climb your way out of and He will wash the shame fromthe looking glass in the mirror. He has invited us to enter into His rest! He's invited us to recline at His feet and listen to whatever He, the Creator of all that is, would say. You are not only existing for this instant. Those children you are raising are watching your legacy, and sometimes you feel like all they see you do is cook, clean, drive and try not to lose your mind. Let them know you. Talk to them about this journey you're one with the King. Invite them to be a part of it with you. Understand that as you let the Spirit of God come into the most intimate places of your world, past the symptomatic stuff, a ripple effect will occur. Trust Him with that. You focus on Him, fall in love, and let Him love you.
You women are heroes. You're loved, gorgeous, and cared for deeply! Let us knows how we can be praying for you over 2016.
With All My Heart,