Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Suffering, Tearing down walls, Building bridges

I try to read Joyce Meyer’s daily devotionals every day. It usually amounts to 4-5 days a week when I think about it at work. I’ve come to really like her as a bible teacher over the past several years because she’s blunt, straight-forward, contagiously positive, and has an incredible story/testimony. You can watch her daily 30 min program on tv (shown twice a day) or they post them on her website. Her best-selling book “Battlefield of the Mind” was the first of her books that I’ve read and I can see why it became a best-seller! She talks about how as Christians we now have a constant battle going on inside of us between our flesh and the Spirit (our old self and our new self). This battle to choose right or wrong, to be positive and happy, or negative and miserable, all of the time as we go about our days, mainly takes place in our minds.

Based on Romans 12:2 “Do not conform any longer 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,” she urges people to let God transform their minds to be more like his in order to win the battle and gain the peace and joy they’re missing. I really should read it again- probably every year or so would be good for reminding me of this battle and what I can do when I feel frustrated, anxious, stressed, fearful, or just unhappy. The truth is there’s no reason for me to have these emotions. I’m so incredibly blessed! The reason I, or we, get to feeling this way is because of the lies in our minds that we’re choosing to believe (which come from the enemy. But we can renew our minds with God’s truth which is his Word) and we’re allowing our emotions to control us. Boy, can I really relate to this! When I first realized how often I let my emotions control how I think, what I say, and how I behave I was really convicted. The majority of the time, how we are feeling isn’t based on the truth. For example, as a girl especially, there are days I feel incredibly insecure. I’m unhappy with everything about myself and I start to believe the awful things I think about or say to myself which leads me to think others view me the same way. It’s an awful spiral! Before we know, we’re grumpy and pouty (as my husband says) all day. Our day is ruined! All because we bought into the lies in our heads and dwelled on them. Or maybe we interpret something someone said the wrong way and we let it bother us all day. It causes us to change our view of that person. Or we take it personally when someone is having a bad day and offends us, not considering what all they may be going through that has nothing to do with us. I don't want to be controlled by emotions or by untrue, negative thoughts. I want to be controlled by the Spirit!

I have a really bad habit of dwelling on the negative. I know it’s a product of my childhood and past experiences (you know the old saying- if you don't get your hopes up about anything then you'll never be disappointed. I usually fall into that pessimistic world view). But it’s my goal to become victorious over this bad habit of the flesh and become a more positive person. After all, I am a new creation! I just have to take off the old clothes and put on the new. Also, as Joyce says, just because the first part of your life started off less-than-lovely doesn't mean your future has to be that way. You can choose to let go of the past, stop living back there, and walk in the abundant, good life God has for you. Letting go is a constant battle for me. Especially when the deeds done in the past have ripple effects that are still showing themselves today. You know, I love my husband’s optimistic and positive nature! There are days I can’t stand listening to or being around myself, so I’m sure others are tired of my pessimism too. I'm so glad God paired me with my opposite and I can learn from him. He blessed me with someone who came from a different background. I'm hoping  his good qualities with rub off on me.

One day I was really convicted when we were arguing over something silly (as it is more often than not) and he called me out on my pessimism! He actually said “You always look at the glass half empty. You’re so negative all the time.” Ouch! It’s what I needed to hear though. There’s nothing like marriage to reveal your faults and weaknesses that need God’s transformation! When I really stop focusing on everything I think is wrong with me or wrong about the imperfect circumstances I’m in, the Spirit takes over my mind and reminds me just how blessed I am. And that the things I’m thinking aren’t even true! That’s why we’re advised to think on “Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy,” Philippians 4:8. The Bible advises us not to dwell on anything untrue, unworthy, wrong, impure, sinful or negative because God knows how it can drag us down into depression and away from him. We get wrapped up in ourselves and forget His goodness and all of his blessings. My discipler in college once told me a wise saying "Worry, stress, fear, pessimism, pride, all these things are not of God. In fact, worry is a sin because it's making a problem bigger than God- which is not true at all. He is bigger than all of our problems. And pride- or self centeredness- is a sin because it makes us bigger than God." Jesus knows better than anyone how we’re tested all day long in our minds and hearts (thoughts and emotions). This is why he warned us not to worry about anything, but pray about everything. He can help us win in this struggle and achieve peace of mind.

I learned so much more about this struggle in our lives, particularly for women, from the book “Me, Myself and Lies: A Thought Closet Makeover” by Jennifer Rothschild. It was a bible study I got to do over a period of 5 months at my church back in college. I highly recommend it to girls!

Anyway, back to my first point. I like to read Joyce’s devotionals and today’s really resonated with me:

Ephesians “For He is our peace. He has made us both, Jew and Gentile, of one body and has broken down the hostile dividing wall between us.”
She says that for many years, she put up walls as a result of experiencing difficult and unfair trials in her life. One day, the Holy Spirit showed her that her life was meant to be a bridge instead of a wall for others to pass over and find their place in God, just as she had. Over the years, she’s torn down those walls she put up to protect herself from others and erected highways in their place so others can pass over and find the same liberty that she found in God. She ends with “Make a decision to tear down your walls and build bridges. There are so many people who are lost in their messes and need someone to go before them and show them the way. Someone who’s been through it before and can relate. Why not be that person for them?”

This really touched me because for one, I’ve experienced numerous trials I would consider unfair and certainly difficult since I was about 11 (so for over a decade/the majority of my life). Secondly, I too have felt the leading by God or calling of the Holy Spirit to tear down the walls I’ve built (to protect myself from people and more hurt) in order to be a bridge for others to come to know Christ- the one who changed my life. He made my life better. He completed me- to be cheesy. He wants others to know the fulfillment, unfailing love, endless mercy and joy he can give them. He wants everyone to come to know the truth and be reconciled to him. As Jesus told people whom he healed, "Go and tell everyone what God has done for you," Luke 8:39. We have an assignment from God to tell others what he's done for us- not keep our knowledge of him and the gospel to ourselves.

I want to note here that just because I came to know Christ doesn’t mean the trials went away and life became easier. In fact, I would say as a Christian life becomes harder. For one, because you become aware of your sin and the struggle between your flesh and the Spirit. You can no longer do wrong without feeling anything. You recognize it, feel guilt over it and yearn to change. This makes daily life harder. In relation to this, you start a journey of transformation that will last the rest of your life. God starts a work in you and it will never end. Just as you come to understand one thing, overcome one thing, or endure one thing, there’s another thing waiting around the corner. It’s like going to school and never graduating. The growth is endless and being transformed by God is a painful process- though beautiful and well worth it all.

Secondly, you’re likely to be persecuted for your new faith and being a new person. This can be experienced in different levels of severity obviously. For me, it was having to change my friends and who I hung out with entirely. It also has led to a significant disconnection and strained relationship with a parent. As Jesus said, “I have come to set the world on fire and I wish it were already burning. I have a terrible baptism of suffering ahead of me and I am under a heavy burden until it is accomplished. Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I have come to divide people against each other. From now on, families will be split apart- three in favor of me and two against or two in favor and three against. Father and mother will be divided against child and child against father and mother” Luke -53.

Lastly, God never promises that because we accept Christ as our Savior and choose to believe in him will we be free from pain and troubles. In fact, Jesus guarantees us that we will have trouble as long as we’re here in this life, but we can have hope and comfort in the fact that he has overcome the world and one day we will share in his glory over all sin and suffering (John 16:33). What an encouraging promise! Bitter-sweet actually. So many Christians unfortunately think that once they’re “saved” God will solve or take away all of their problems and bless them abundantly. Though He can do this and sometimes does, it’s not a promise.

Sure I’m blessed and I’m thankful for all the blessings he’s given me, but I want to be honest and realistic- he didn’t take away all my suffering (in the past, right now today, or in the future trials to come). And really, it’s okay. It’s actually for the better. Because our suffering in trials on earth allows us to relate to the suffering Christ endured for us. What a supernatural feeling to relate to your savior and redeemer- the one who covers all the wrong you ever did and will do, who paid the highest price so you could be reconciled to God! Isn’t he worthy of our suffering? It’s the least we can do for him- to endure the trials we face.

I don’t want to make light of some of the things people experience. What I’ve gone through isn’t near as horrible as what most people do! But by relating to Jesus in his suffering we also will get to relate to him in the experience of his glory when he returns or when we join him in heaven! Also, our suffering is the primary means through which God brings other people to know him. This gets back to the point Joyce was making. It can be counted as a blessing- or at least, be more tolerable- to us when we realize that God can use all the bad we’ve experienced and turn it into something good by using it as a witness to others. We just have to allow him to do this through us! It starts with tearing down the walls we build up.

The hardest thing for me to grasp on a daily basis (it really doesn’t help that I have a perfectionist personality) is that people are imperfect. People are sinners- every one of them! Including myself especially. For all are sinners and fall short of the glory of God. Not one person is good (Romans 3:23). I tend to forget this fact and hold myself and others (but particularly those I love/my family) to such impossible standards. My expectations for how they should live and treat me is so high that I’m often disappointed. My standards fow how I should live and treat others exhausts me. It can't be done without help from the only one who nows how to live a perfect life and by God's grace!

There are times I really get it and I’m able to let go. But usually I really struggle with letting go of offenses and forgiving people of their sins that affect me. Therefore, since a young age, I’ve built up walls to lessen the harm done and pain felt by peoples’ sins. All this has done is caused more problems for me. I’ve harbored resentment, bitterness, anger, unforgiveness, and judgment resulting in emptiness, frustration, anxiety, sadness, negativity, misery, and insecurity. If you can relate, I want to note that Beth Moore’s "Breaking Free" bible study based on scriptures in Isaiah is a wonderful, helpful study to do to deal with these things. I've done it twice! Also, her new book “So Long Insecurity, You've Been A Bad Friend to Us.”

I digress, so the more I realize my sinfulness and need for God, understand and meditate on all that he’s done for me, the easier it is to see the people in my life as he does and forgive them of their sins. It’s humbling to remember who are we to hold grudges and not forgive people after all that God has done for us? If he can show me mercy every day, then I should be able to too. Colossians 3:13 Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And I desperately want God to use my experiences- the bad, unfair things that have happened- to comfort, encourage, and lead to the ultimate Comforter others who have perhaps endured similar things!

Luke Then Jesus said “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” I believe all of us has experienced or carries with us daily at least one thing that God can use to help us relate to another person’s pain and reveal himself to them. It could be something that someone else did having an affect on your life or something you're dealing with as a consequence of your own sin. Either way, we all have had trouble in this life. Every person knows pain. Our personal cross and how we carry it (by showing love and maintaining our faith along the way or not) can affect others’ views of Christ and belief in him. I pray God takes my pain, my story, my experience of how I cam to know God and have a relationship with him- and uses it to bring even one person to know who he is, for his glory. After all, that’s why we’re all here- to know, believe, love, and glorify him. We glorify him most by finding wholeness and satisfaction in him and by advancing his kingdom. So what’s something you’ve been through that you can hand over to God to use for good in advancing his kingdom? What was intended for harm, God intended for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives (Genesis 50:20).

**You can watch Joyce Meyer's teaching series or read her daily devotional on her website found on the right side of this page under Sites I Follow.**

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