Friday, July 10, 2015

The Heart God Awakens

One of the biggest blessings of serving all summer long at Life Action Camp is the opportunity to sit under many powerful speakers who preach truth. This week, Trent Griffith has spoken on revival and the kind of heart God awakens. In one of his sessions, he shared four conditions to God's awakening:

1. God awakens an available heart. (2 Chron. 34:1-2)
2. God awakens a seeking heart. (2 Ch. 34:3a)
3. God awakens a purged heart. (2 Ch. 34:3b-7)
4. God awakens a tender heart. (2 Ch. 34:8-31)

It struck me that I need to constantly have an attitude of humility that recognizes my deep need for God to work in me. This isn’t natural in my flesh. I’d rather God work and change the people around me, but give me a break. God has been breaking me of this proud response that is more concerned about the sins of others than my own.

I want an available heart that is ready and willing to do what God asks—whether that’s fighting the sin in my heart, loving those around me, doing something that’s hard, or going wherever He leads.

I want my heart to constantly seek after God. I don’t want to drift into complacency or forget how much I need God. I want my heart’s orientation to continually be directed towards God.

I want a purged heart. My heart needs cleansing, and I’m thankful for the mercy and grace of Christ, unveiling my sin and bringing conviction. I want to have a purified and refined heart, that I might please my heavenly Father.

I want a tender heart, one that is sensitive to the Spirit and walks in obedience. I want to be responsive to the people whom God has provided to speak into my life. I long to have a tender heart, not a hard heart.

God resists the proud, and I don't want to live in a way that invites God's resistance. I'm praying that He would continue to soften and work in my heart where He knows I need it most. Today I'm thankful for the grace of God that softens and awakens my heart, that convicts me of my sin, and transforms me.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Looking Forward and Upward

A lot of changes have happened of late. Big, life-altering changes. Like leaving our church and home of 9 years and moving out of state. Through it all, I’ve been learning a lot about myself, my struggles, and my propensities towards sin.

One of the things I’ve realized is that I don’t like change. I get comfortable and like things to stay steady and predictable. Probably because that’s how I am in everyday life. I’m not very adventurous and I don’t tend to change things unless there is a lot of thought and good reason beforehand. So I think that sometimes God has to do some drastic things in my life in order to push me out to something I would normally never do.

We’ve moved multiple times before, so that aspect shouldn’t have rocked my world. But when there are sudden changes that conflict with my ideas or plans, I see where I tend to question God’s love and goodness. The way things panned out would not have been how I would write my story. However, my all-wise God sees the big picture. As with Joseph being sold into slavery, Moses getting stuck in the wilderness with a bunch of complainers, David being pursued by Saul, Abraham sacrificing Isaac, or Job’s home and family taken away from him—all of which were terrible circumstances—God was working through them.

And the main way God works in us through difficult situations is to stir us to lift our eyes upward. Because today is not all there is, and hope placed in anything here and now will not last.

What was the foundation of hope for Joseph and David and Job? It wasn't in their circumstances improving, because that was uncertain. Their hope was a future hope, an imperishable kingdom (1 Peter 1:3-5).

I’ve never grieved more in my life than I have in the last few months. I’ve never struggled more with how and why God is doing what He is doing. But I’ve never hungered more for that day of final redemption. I’ve never had such longing for future—when there will be no more sorrow, no more grief, and no more sin. I long for that day of redemption when all things will be made right and He will reconcile all things to Himself (Col. 1:20). That’s where my hope is, and that’s the only place we can find lasting hope. 

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Romans 8:18


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Squirming on the Altar

Many times in my life I’ve told the Lord that my life is His and to do with me as He pleases. Yet when difficulties come that I did not want or expect, I start kicking and screaming on the altar.

Funny how that works. Even when I offer my life to the Lord—a blank check with no stipulations—I still find that I want want to write in part of what it says. I’m willing to say “Yes Lord,” but when God brings something unexpected, my initial reaction is, “But not that!”

And that depicts the Christian life, at least for me. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) I want God to do with me as He desires, but I want the comfort and security of the people and things around me. I want God to lead, but I want a say in what happens. The two don't often mesh well.

During my teen years, one of my favorite passages was Romans 12:1-2. Verse 1 speaks of being a living sacrifice. This was a desire I had from a young age, but most 12-16 year olds don’t grapple with the reality of this kind of desire and prayer. As I think back upon this passage that had much impact on me, I smile at how God was using even that to lay foundations for the work He would continue to do in me. That work God began was refining on more of a surface level, and He continues to work that deeper into my heart. 

I believe the most challenging part of passages like that is not going somewhere or doing something God wants you to do (although at times that is the most difficult). Consistently, the hardest thing for me is submitting to the heart work God wants to do in me. Allowing Him to "hand pick trials" and bring circumstances to unveil the deeply rooted sin in my heart is not my choice way of growing in holiness. I'd rather it just happen as I read my Bible and pray. Wouldn't that be easier? But without the struggle, we'd lack gratitude for the work God is doing and future hope that someday we won't fight the dark sin in our hearts. God's ways are so much better than ours.

I've heard it said that the problem with a living sacrifice is that it can climb off the altar. Submitting to what God wants to do in our lives is not a one-time thing. Working with Him and allowing Him to change what is most needs, our hearts, is the hardest part of the Christian life. But it is necessary that we might be purified and holy and conformed into the image of Christ.

Let's get back on the altar, trusting that the work God is doing is good.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

After the Weeding: the Growth of Spiritual Fruit

If you haven't, read part one here.

Spiritual weeding catalyzes growth and produces joy.

Frequently "joy" is not the first thing that comes to mind when we consider the daily grind of life and fighting the sin in our hearts. If the fruit of weeding out our sin produces eternal rewards, why don’t we often find joy in doing it?

Because it’s costly.

And it’s humbling.

Weeding out sin involves giving up a right to something: the right to hold a grudge, respond in anger, withdraw in fear, blame our circumstances, manipulate to control, or get back at someone. It means I have to see my sin as my biggest and deepest problem. Honestly, I’d prefer to blame someone else other than myself for my problems.

Sometimes I get stuck in the here-and-now and wonder if obeying God is really bringing about eternal fruit. The truth is, while weeds grow quickly, real fruit grows slowly. It takes cultivating and watering. Consider the sowing and reaping principle in Galatians 6:

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Real fruit comes long after after the sowing of the seed. Similarly, this the case in our spiritual lives; we don’t immediately see the fruit of faithful prayer and Scripture reading, of putting off sin, or of running after righteousness. This is why it's tempting to grow weary; because the work is intense, and we don't always see the fruit.

But isn't this exactly where God can work—at the point of desperation, when we feel like our attempts at fighting sin are faltering and our work is in vain?

This is why we need Christ. We need His power to that we might do the hard work of weeding out sin. But we need His grace just as much after the weeding, that we might consistently sow to the Spirit and bear fruit. This is where we must remind ourselves daily of our need of the gospel, of the cleansing that comes through Jesus Christ, and the power that enables us to do what He commands. In this He is glorified, as we bear much fruit and prove that we are, indeed, His disciples. (Jn. 15:8)

So don't give up in your fight against sin. Don't neglect to sow to the Spirit. As Paul prayed, may we be "...filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God." (Phil. 1:11) 

One day the hard work will be a mere shadow of the past, and as we see God face to face, we will know it was all worth it. 


Monday, April 6, 2015

Spiritual Weed Pulling

I don’t really like weeding.

It’s hard work and tedious. Often you sit there and start pulling, just to realize all you’ve done is pluck the tops of the weeds off, while the roots still remain deeply in the ground.

But every time I weed, I’m reminded of the spiritual correlations of weeding out sin in my heart.

I think of how much easier it is to pull the small weeds than the huge ones in the garden. But how it is also tempting to leave the “small ones” because there are so many! I’d rather just ignore them and pull the bigger, more obvious ones. It’s faster, after all.

I think God gives us this vivid picture for a reason. There are spiritual analogies in weed pulling that need to be continually on the forefronts of our minds. Hebrews 12:15 exhorts us to see that “…no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”

Don’t you find it interesting that God links bitterness with roots? Roots aren’t visible, but they are often strong—especially of the weed variety. And if we let something like bitterness take root, the ugly fruit will start to spurt out in our lives. Lashing out, criticizing, withdrawing, or other sinful responses will begin to wreak havoc. I know how quickly the root of bitterness can spring up in my life. It’s not pretty, and digging it out is certainly not fun.

But the consequences of failing to weed out the sin in our hearts are more devastating. Letting the weeds take root only results in more problems in our relationship with God and others, and overruns the good fruit, just as weeds, in time, overrun and steal the nutrients of the plants in a garden.

Thorough weeding takes time. And so does spiritual weeding. It includes being suspicious of my own motives and actions. It means not being content with “weed wacking”, but actually digging to get to the roots. Weeding out sin is not a moralistic "stop this and do that" type of response. It involves recognizing our weakness and depending on God to produce the needed change in our hearts.

With the cross before us, we must see the urgency to fight the sin that so easily entangles (Heb. 12:1), and look to Jesus. Rooting out sin won’t be enough if it's not replaced with real fruit. And we can’t produce fruit. Only God can do that work. It is only through abiding in Him that we can bear much fruit (Jn 15:5).

So let us take seriously our responsibility in spiritual weeding, and by the grace of God, carefully cultivate our relationship with Him and allow Him to prune us and produce the fruit needed in our lives.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Striving After Wind

I cling too readily to things. People, possessions, plans. I grab what I think I can hang on to. Eventually, it falls through; it's merely striving after wind (Ecc. 2:26). Slowly, I’m seeing that everything is loss compared to knowing Christ (Phil. 3:7). The "everything is loss" phrase is a nice sentiment, until you start to actually lose things. It's not an easy lesson to learn. Lots of ugly sin spurts out of my heart at those times.

I’m learning to let go of things that I hold dear. Christ is enough.

I’m learning not to collect treasures that collect dust and can be burnt up in a second. Christ is enough.

I’m learning that my hope cannot be in people, because they will always fail me. Christ never fails. Christ is enough.

I’m learning that friendship and community, while great blessings of God, cannot be ultimately where I find my hope and comfort. Christ is enough. 

I'm learning that life is too short to hoard or store up for my future. If it means giving up all my materials possessions, I can, by God’s grace. Christ is enough.

I'm learning not to cling to comfort or things I know well. In seasons of difficulty or change, Christ is enough. 

If it means leaving family and friends behind in order to spend my life for the sake of the gospel, so be it. Christ is enough.

It’s hard to really understand what it means that Christ satisfies until other things are taken away and you are forced to make the decision to turn to Christ or to harden your heart and sulk in bitterness. Reality hits—I say Christ is enough, but will I live as though Christ is enough?

“I try never to grasp anything in life too tightly, because it hurts when God has to pry my fingers open to take it away.” Corrie ten Boom


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Hidden Blessings in Affliction

"It is good for me to have been afflicted, that I might know how to speak a word in season to one that is weary." 
Charles Spurgeon

It’s amazing how quickly things can change. Sometimes changes are exciting. Sometimes they are terrifying. I don’t know about you, but I find as I’m getting older the changes become more sudden and more massive.

I’ve noticed my sinful tendency to be concerned all about myself. I think about how a difficulty or circumstance affects me, I wonder how things are going to change for me; me, me, me! Instead of resting in the God of my salvation, I worry or try to trouble-shoot the future, even if I can do nothing about it. Reading this Spurgeon quote challenged me and reminded that the hard things in life serve not only for my benefit, but also for others. What a response Spurgeon had; thankful for affliction and difficulty because God could use him to then encourage and comfort others in their affliction. Hmm. 2 Corinthians 1? This is the attitude I need to have.

Let's not waste the difficult moments of life by falling into self-pity or responding in anger towards God or others. Let the Refiner's fire work the character in you, and humbly submit to the process. And then watch and see how God will use what He does in you to encourage and comfort others.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." 
2 Corinthians 1:3-4


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Hope for the Control Freak

The truth from Jeremiah 17:5 that trusting in self leads to a heart that turns from God is deeply challenging. I know it is true because when difficulties build and I respond by worrying and attempting to control my circumstances, my prayer life decreases. Funny how worry and stress can’t grow at the same time as prayer and hope in God. There’s good reason for that—because prayer requires humility. If I really humbled myself before God and acknowledged my need for His grace, I would be given the power to rightly handle the worry, stress, fear or other wrong thoughts.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” Jer. 17:7-8

There are a few things that stand out to me in this passage. 
Those who trust in God...
  • Do not fear when the heat comes. No fear of difficulty or trials. No responses of worry or push to control.
  • Are not anxious even in bad circumstances (drought)!
  • Do not cease to bear fruit. God wants me to bear fruit no matter what the circumstances around me are like. Trusting in Him doesn't get rid of the difficulty, but it allows me to grow and bear fruit amidst it.

As I see sinful responses overflow from my heart and as I seek to repent of them and learn to respond biblically, I must remind myself of the gospel. My hope is in the gospel and the truth that Christ has provided everything I need in Him. If my heart battle for control stems from a desire to look good to others, I can release that and know that I am accepted by God because of Christ’s righteousness on my behalf. If I’m worried that I won’t accomplish everything because I want to succeed, I can remember that at the end of the day, it’s okay if everything doesn’t get done. My joy or purpose isn’t based on my performance, but on Christ’s death in my place.

So the hope for "control freaks" is not found in a system or a plan, but in Jesus Christ. Will you hope in Him, or will you fight to control your life?


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Heart of Control Issues

What do you think of when you hear the term “control freak”?
Someone who’s demanding?

In my last post, I shared about the control freak in me. The Bible has another word for the control freak. Proud.

While it may not be 100% of the time, the desire for control generally stems from pride. I think I can control things better than God.

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.’” Jer. 17:5

There’s a correlation in this passage—trusting in man or self leads to a heart that turns away from the Lord. In Jeremiah 17:6, the results of trusting in self are described as leading to dryness and deadness, like a plant in the wilderness.

Who is my trust in when I try to completely control my life? When I worry that control is taken away from me? Ultimately, it’s in myself and how I can handle my circumstances, or it’s in other people and how they treat me. Either way, my battle for control shows that my hope and trust is not in God.

Situations may be very difficult. I'm not suggesting that we stuff the difficulties of life to the back of our brains and just "trust God". But as Martyn Lloyd-Jones wisely explains,
"...anything that comes across our path and puts us in difficulty, at once shows whether we believe in Him and trust in Him, by our response and reaction to it." (from the book, Spiritual Depression)

At this point I can ask, what is the response of my heart? Is it displaying trust in God, or myself?

It’s unfortunate that I would let my own desires and feelings of control keep me from turning to the only One who has control—God. But it’s not only unfortunate, it’s sinful. I know, theologically, that God has all power, that He is sovereign. But sometimes I live more like a practical atheist—as though God isn’t even there.

I need to humble myself before God and recognize my inadequacies, my feebleness, my smallness compared to Him. I need to entrust myself to Him, because He has all power and control. I need to purposely think on things that are true and right (Phil. 4:8), and take my thoughts captive so that I do not dwell on my lack of control, but on God's ultimate control. As I see God and His greatness, I can humbly and willingly submit to His perfect plan, even when it contradicts my own.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Control Freak

I don’t realize how much of a control freak I am.

I’m your typical Type-A personality. I like things planned out ahead of time because I think it’s wise. That’s the good twist on it. The honest reality is that I like to plan ahead because it gives me a sense of control.

So this past year as several circumstances have been out of my hands, I’ve noticed more than ever how much I struggle with not having control. It’s so easily justified in my mind: “I’m not worrying, I’m just trying to think through how this will work out.” Except that "thinking through" focuses on me and my plans and neglects prayer. Ultimately, the problem is that I like to have more control over my life than God. My actions reveal an attitude of, “Yes Lord, but let me show you how to do it…”

While there are blessings in our unique personality traits, I also believe they correlate with deep struggles of sin. My drive to accomplish my goals can result in impatience and frustration when my goals are not met. I can respond in worry or fear when I feel overwhelmed that things won’t get done. I can withdraw or lash out towards others who interfere with my goals. I can blame circumstances or people for sinful responses in my heart. Yes, this Type-A personality thing can reveal a lot of sin in me.

The reality is we’re all control freaks. No matter how laid-back you are, each of us is prone to control our circumstances. We think we can manage our lives better than God. And when God’s goals for my holiness impede with my goals of accomplishing something, there is tension. At that moment, I have a choice. Am I going to respond in obedience and trust, seeking the Father and relinquishing my desires to His own? Will I choose to pursue His glory and Kingdom more than my goals and kingdom? Will I trust in my own ability to control my circumstances, or will I rest in God, who has ordained each circumstance for my good?

When I'm tempted to try to control my life or circumstances, I must recognize my need for God's grace. I must pray for a heart that desires to fear God and obey Him rather than fear what will happen if I don't get what I want. "Not my will but Yours be done" must be my prayer. That takes humility and sacrificing my dreams or goals at times. But God's plans are so much better than mine, if I would only trust Him.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

You Will Never Glory in God Until...

“You will never glory in God till first of all God has killed your glorying in yourself.” 
Charles Spurgeon

Self-glory is one of the greatest struggles for each one of us. It’s humbling to see again and again how full of myself I am. I think as Christians it’s easy to throw around phrases like “to God be the glory” or “praise God!” and not even think about the depth to what we're actually saying. We don’t always meditate on God’s majesty and greatness enough to really fill our hearts with wonder at the God we serve, and to bring us to humility. While I would never say this, I sometimes live as though I can tag Jesus on to my self-glorifying plans, instead of submitting my all to Him. I need a greater grasp on the truth that I will never glory in God until I am first empty of myself. God can't fill me while I'm already full of something else—myself.

I see God’s great mercy in Him hand-picking trials and circumstances to kill my pride and self-glory. The last thing I want to do in difficulty is search my heart to identify sinful attitudes and responses, but God gently prods and leads me to do so. My attempts at identifying and killing my sin often fall so short, yet again, His grace is great, and He works amidst my failures and inadequacies, showing me again that it's not about me or my successes, but His grace. 

I don’t understand God’s ways or why He allows some things—but who can claim to? I know only the outskirts of His ways (Job 26:14). He is so far above me. I’m thankful everything He does is good, so I can wholeheartedly trust in Him.