Honoring and Guarding Our Sabbath: A Devotional and Prayer for Ministry Leaders (and Workaholics in General)

“So then, there is still awaiting a full and complete Sabbath-rest reserved for the [true] people of God; For he who has once entered [God’s] rest also has ceased from [the weariness and pain] of human labors, just as God rested from those labors peculiarly His own. Let us therefore be zealous and exert ourselves and strive diligently to enter that rest [of God, to know and experience it for ourselves], that no one may fall or perish by the same kind of unbelief and disobedience [into which those in the wilderness fell].” (Hebrews 4:9-11, Amplified Bible, Classic Edition)

I remember once hearing Joyce Meyer say something to the tune of, “The Lord’s the author and finisher of our faith, but He’s not obligated to finish what He didn’t author.” The following paragraphs are not intended to make you bail on your calling, lie down on the job, or abandon your work ethic or loyalty; but rather, to compel you to work smarter instead of harder, and to actually consult the Holy Spirit before you start filling up your daily planner with what God may not have told you to fill it with! And you guessed it. I’m talking to me here…

Take care, friends, that you begin to respect your bodies and minds and start cutting ties with what God didn’t author, even what appears to be good or productive. Some of us are addicted to busy-ness and we gauge our stock value in the Kingdom (and everywhere else) by how far we can push the envelope abusing our bodies. Sometimes we feel a little more important, pious, “martyr-ish,” and yes, even prideful when people are fawning over our dedication with, “Wow, I don’t know how you do all you do.”

Let me lovingly submit to you that God doesn’t violate His own precepts! If you are not allowing yourself a Sabbath–on whatever day you choose to celebrate it–you are walking contrary to the system He Himself set in place and was the first observer thereof! God doesn’t need downtime…the God who never slumbers or sleeps doesn’t actually need to recharge; but He set the example for us by resting on the seventh day. Now, I realize that a “Sabbath” looks different for everyone–folks have work shifts, assigned workdays, etc., that are set for us without negotiation; but the point is, there must be designated downtime; set-aside blocks of time. For someone whose job mandates unreasonable 7-day schedules, I can’t tell you that you must leave that job, but I will tell you to make yourself a Sabbath block of time. That block may be hours instead of a full day; but I urge you, set aside your block large or small and guard it as sacred! For those of you who have the luxury of a 5 or occasionally 6 day workweek, you don’t get to fudge in this, either. Start establishing a Sabbath in your life instead of treating your quiet time with God like a power nap.

And full-time ministry leaders who aren’t under secular workplace mandates, this applies to you, too–perhaps especially to you. Start setting a better example for those in your circle of influence! Even a 3-shift coal mine sets scheduled downtime for maintenance on its equipment, if it wants to stay in business! Keep running that machine without greasing and regularly changing hoses, etc., and see how costly it gets when things start burning out, locking up, and falling apart… In Exodus, when God established the Sabbath, He did it not just for that head of a household and his family, but also for the sake of the animals and hired servants/slaves…He even designated Sabbath years for the sake of the land, which could be overworked out of zeal, greed, or a variety of motivating factors. Relentless leaders not only abuse their own bodies, they wear out anyone or anything who’s close to them or under their authority!

So why do we people in leadership feel compelled to give the “do as I say, not as I do” excuse for abusing our bodies? We reference Scriptures like “work while it is day because night comes when no man can work” to justify never, ever taking a break? And we tune out the voice of reason who urges letting go of a few things so that the remaining works we do are done more effectively. Are we letting the enemy guilt us into walking in rebellion, deceiving ourselves into thinking that because we are in the last days, we must override common sense (and the Word) to be as busy as we possibly can be? Can we do so and expect to be exempt from the health and emotional consequences of priding ourselves in being workaholics?

I submit to you as well, we as spiritual leaders have a moral obligation to live in balance, for the sake of those who emulate our example. If we don’t respect our own body/soul/spirit, we must, MUST think of our families, our constituents, and a lost world around us–all of whom look to us for at least a reference point of guidance. Hebrews 4 doesn’t beat around the bush here…suggests that we can actually be a spiritual liability to ourselves and others if we disobey God’s directive on right balance. It’s not legalism to suggest that we treat the rest-time He has given us as a holy thing. God engineered all of creation to flow with that same protocol. You aren’t too important to observe some form of a Sabbath, and neither am I! Let’s start re-drawing the boundaries in our lives so that we can be healthy and strong–emotionally, physically, and spiritually–for these last exciting days before our Lord returns!Pray with me…

Lord, I sincerely appeal to You first for mercy, as a person who is guilty of making myself busier than I should be. My spirit man suffers and my words tell on me when I have spent myself beyond reason. While I don’t like the stress and aggravation of no downtime, I confess and repent before You that I’m a recovering addict of work. I drive myself to be busy while making others miserable, because I make sure they’re busy too. I’m working twice as hard for half the impact, because I’m breaking Your rules and expecting You to bless my dismissal of common sense and Your example.

I’m sorry for thinking that You make special exceptions for me because I carry a heavier responsibility. Yes, to whom much is given, much is required–but the “much” is in terms of a closer walk with You and a deeper level of consecration. And even if it were much more required in the physical realm of activity, there are a lot of things on my plate that You didn’t give, Father. Oh, I like to think of all these responsibilities as given by You, but some of them are of my own doing. Some of them are just because I won’t say no to people who can’t wait for me to get even busier doing things THEY want me to be doing! And I say yes and pencil it into my bloated calendar, knowing all the while that I need sleep, I need study time, and just a break from having to think and run so much.

Forgive me, Lord! You gave me a healthy body meant to carry me well-into old age; and I live like I intend to wear it out in half its life expectancy. I pass up sleep and exercise; and I rationalize that if I’m spending that time doing good works, it will never catch up with me.

I repent and I appeal to You for mercy on all others, too, who have become the work adrenaline-and-approval junkie I’ve allowed myself to become. We don’t know how to change except by submitting ourselves to You and listening for Your counsel. We will have to hear from You because we can no longer hear the appeals from our own bodies. We shush our compromised adrenal glands by pumping them full of caffeine. We have a pill for everything. You in turn have a Scripture for everything and a word MODERATION that we ignore because we convince ourselves that we must be always working 24/7 because of who we are.

I will find a way to be less busy, Lord, with Your grace. I will respect this body as the temple of the Holy Spirit and stop giving You an efficiency apartment with worn-out furniture and tired, cloudy windows to look out of. I will make not just room for You, but the best room. I won’t be merely shooting You a copy of my to-do list after I’ve filled it and crammed more into the margins and started on a new sheet. No, I will say, “Here, Father. Take Your eraser and start removing the sacred cows of a busy addict.” In fact, wad up my to-do list and just start me a new one. Put only Your agenda on my list, in Jesus’ name I ask. And I’ll start asking Your permission before I make all those plans that leach the life right out of me and anyone else who has to tag along.

What? You just wrote in a full night’s sleep and a Sabbath! More time with relationships with real people and less time on computers and electronic devices? And even orders to put healthier foods into my body and more time walking and moving! Wow, You are ordering me to get my act together so that You can get maximum return on Your investment in me. I thought maximum return meant how many items were on my list.

You’re after quality. You are after a ten-ring shot and not a broader spray pattern. Most of all, You are after my heart. You want me chasing after You, walking with You in the cool of the day for RELATIONSHIP, not for my sales pitch to You of all the things I did in Your name (or rather, in the name of “ministry”) which You may or may not have instructed me to do! You want me to know You. Your yoke is easy and Your burden is light? Wow. I guess I wasn’t listening to that (even though it was…written in red).

And Your way of governing balance will help me be first a better daughter to You, and then to be a better leader and better family and society member, too?

Yes.

Selah.

(Adapted from a Facebook post I made 03/31/17)

Repentance: Don’t Hide–HEAL

Don’t let the enemy guilt you out of your #destiny. If you have sinned or otherwise failed or fallen short, repent. Yes, I know there’s seemingly nothing profound in that advice, but it’s still true. I didn’t say resign; I said #repent.

#Repentance isn’t just being sorry for something you’ve done (or in some cases, haven’t done), it’s evaluating where you went wrong and making the necessary corrections to keep it from happening again: a change of heart and action. Maybe you’ve done something or allowed something and it’s wrinkled the fender of your reputation and distanced you from God. Maybe you’re just disappointed in yourself and it’s easier to bail than to humbly start all over. The first thing Adam and Eve did after they sinned was to HIDE. And may I even say, the more we are respected and admired, the harder it feels to get back up when we stumble because the accuser wants our shame to be very public.

Yeah, Satan’s goal is to take us out and damage as many people as he can in the process…but friends, when we’ve taken a faceplant, the world needs to SEE us recover, even if a few folks (and particularly some who are supposed to be on our “side”) hurl a few insult-and-accusation stones as we are picking ourselves up. Sometimes we privately recover, but truthfully, sometimes what we resolve to just do in private enables us to wallow a little longer in the mess–and kept hidden, sometimes we fix it, but sometimes we just choose to stay broken. Don’t stay in that place. It’s a rat’s nest.

There may be shame in failure but there’s no shame in turning to God to fix us when we have failed. Last night before I went to sleep, this verse went through my mind and I just meditated on it as I drifted off: “So now, those who are in Christ Jesus are not judged guilty. Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit that brings life made me free from the law that brings sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2 NCV) The KJV says there’s “therefore now no condemnation.”

Because of our trust in the redemptive power of the cross, we can machete our way through the choking, dense growth of sin’s effect on our lives and emerge back onto the right path intact. Paul realized the possibility of preaching to others but himself becoming a castaway–so he held himself accountable. So should we.

It’s just where we are. Sharing the good news is relatively easy. Being the “living epistle read of every man” part, not so much. The best thing to do is to keep ourselves holy, on guard, prayed-up, free from bondages. It’s a lot easier to maintain than to break down and repair. But if you are reading this from the cave where you went to hide after your embarrassing fall, please know there is HOPE for you. Sure, there’ll be a few who would remind you of your inadequacy, but there is a whole host of witnesses crying out just beyond your earshot, “Get up! Try! Finish! Keep going! You’re almost home!” There’s a Father checking out the window, pacing in the roadway, wanting to put a ring on your stinky, stained hand and restore you with full privilege instead of demoting you from sonship to servitude.

I remember once when I was still in school, one of my schoolmates wound up getting badly burned when he threw gasoline on a bonfire. The kid was ashamed/afraid to tell his parents because it was a foolish act of disobedience, messing with fire and flammables; and because he hid the terrible burn under his clothing without getting help, the burn got badly infected and became a serious, dangerous problem much worse than a parent’s chastisement for disobeying. No doubt the scars are still on that leg, decades later. We hide our burns too, sometimes, don’t we?

Peter had to repent when he fell. Yep, one of “the three amigos” whom Jesus kept privy to His most important missions actually betrayed Him in a most contemptible way when things got too dangerous. But Jesus WANTED him back. He even said to him, “when you’re restored, strengthen the others.” See, your recovery is never just about you. Jesus didn’t choose to just gloss it over and strengthen them Himself in Peter’s absence; He in essence told Peter, “YOU do it.” There’s going to be a visible restoration of the part of you that needs healed, friend, and the people who’ve been let down by your absence are also going to be strengthened…by YOU. It is this action that will bring you full circle and it will keep you accountable in the future because of its humbling quality.

As much as it feels to the contrary, you aren’t expendable. God needs you on that front line. Replacing you is not His ultimate will — redeeming you, however, IS! He saw in ages past where a you-shaped piece of the puzzle needed to go, and He created you to fit exactly right there in the big picture. He doesn’t have a bunch of spare you’s just lying around in case you malfunction! Repentance says you are willing to let Him rebuild you to keep doing what He created you to do. And sometimes, we need rebuilt not only because of our sins, but also even from just being battle-weary, worn-out, and hyperextended. Let Him.

Lay aside what’s holding you back. Phooey on what anyone might say or think, don’t you wallow in condemnation one more day. Your destiny is right where you left it, and Jesus can recalibrate the driving directions from WHEREVER this moment finds you…to make sure you arrive safely. Come home.

Frequency

radio

I remember a time when, here in these tightly-clustered mountains, an AM/FM radio signal had its work cut out for it. You pretty much had to settle for only being able to pick up the very closest station or two, and not necessarily with clarity. But for me, that didn’t work because I liked the kind of music most local stations didn’t play. So I would lie there in the bed at night, or later on be driving in the car, with some obscure, faraway station playing that was barely audible. Sometimes it would be competing with another station of similar frequency and you could hear both at the same time. So what did I do? I listened THROUGH the interference. I would disregard the static and the other voices and simply focus for as long as I could on that faintly central sound.

Nowadays in the digital age, we hardly ever tune into FM radio; but the reason I am sharing this isn’t so much about the “good old days” of technology but instead about cutting through interference to get to what you desire. Specifically, the voice of God.

In these last days, there is a heightening of spiritual activity. Many voices and much static tries to drown out and overpower and make of no effect the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Word tells us of a famine of the hearing of the Word of God, and I believe in part that is what we are experiencing in the form of static interference in the heavenlies. You are going to hear some loud voices denouncing your God, trying to shame you for believing in Him, or at least trying to shame you for believing EXCLUSIVELY in Him. There’s a lot of distracting noise and drama and chaos that at times causes the message to feel faint or garbled. Praise the Lord for good days, but other days you are going to have to listen THROUGH the interference. You will have to move that antenna around and hold the radio right up to your ear. Part of your survival in the final days before the Lord’s return will be keeping your desire SHARP, your senses focused. The world will offer many options of other gods and even competing similar frequencies so close that at face value it’ll be hard to tell which source you’re hearing…EXCEPT, Jesus assured us that His sheep know His voice and another they will not follow! He even invites us to try the spirits–weigh what you see, hear, and feel against the Word to see if it’s really of God or just another noise.

How badly do you want to hear from God? You can just shut off the receiver and say it’s too hard; there’s too much static and it’s too much trouble for too little return; maybe try again later. Or, you can do as I did with that old radio. When I really focused on what I was listening for, I would become less distracted by the noise and more in tune with what I had DEEP DESIRE to hear. Sure, it’d have been nice to have internet radio in the 1980’s, or at least money to buy the records I couldn’t afford, but that’s beside the point. I thirsted after a certain sound and this was my only means of getting it. There’s a bittersweetness in that hard-sought voice of God. You might wish there were a gallon of that water but you will savor the droplets like a dying man. I made no apology for my affection, and I didn’t let my location, my liabilities, or my lack stop me from listening with all my might. Shouldn’t I at LEAST be willing to put that same diligence toward hearkening to God’s voice that I once did into trying to listen to a little jazz radio, smack dab in the heart of bluegrass country?

Tune out the distractions, for there are many, and LISTEN for God. You won’t be denied.

Running the Backup Plan Aground…for Good

fiashing-netProbably the loneliest day of Peter’s whole fishing career was when he re-launched the S.S. Simon and tried to just be a fisherman again after following Jesus. The romantic call of the sea and the nostalgic smell of the salty nets held little sway over him now. After all, a Simon reed can easily sway in the wind; but now his name was Petra, a solid rock. The wind of recklessness and wavering was no longer his domain. I wonder if his pivotal decision to finally return to the disciples and Jesus came from an instant replay of that day when Jesus asked the twelve whether they, too,  would abandon Him like others who were turned off by certain elements of His teaching. Peter replied, “Where else would we go…YOU have the words of eternal life!” Perhaps it was the memory of this moment that caused him to finally sever all ties with his backup plan and dedicate the rest of his life to serving his True Source.

Once God has expanded your boundaries to accommodate the person He’s growing you to be, you can never quite fit back into your original container. Oh, to be certain, we have to make a living, support our families, and in general, be exposed to the world if they are to be exposed to US and to the Gospel we share. However, if you feel your failures have put you out of commission to serve the Lord and carry the Good News, I beg you to think of Peter and his brief turning away from his calling. His most victorious, passionate days would come after he realized that his success lay in Jesus within him instead of in his own strength.  The pages in his dossier that revealed days of his least savory performance were only left in the file because they were amended to show the amazing comeback in each circumstance. It no longer mattered that there were blotches on his record…the blotches were a setup for an amazing finish of, well, Biblical proportions. Peter’s last half of his journey as God’s “petra man” far exceeded his former days; for just forty days after Jesus ascended to heaven, the Comforter came and Peter got to be one of the first people on earth to operate under this release of power from on high!

So why are you reverting to your backup plan, minister, leader, disciple, pioneer?  If God called you, and you have undealt-with wrongs, right them. Even if it means you have to prove yourself all over again and feel the humiliation of a tarnished reputation, be quick to repent, to forgive, to make restitution, to accept the mercy and forgiveness of the One Who asks nothing more of you than to “feed My lambs…feed My sheep.” You can build character, stability, integrity if you’re willing…and if you can’t return to the place where it all went south, God can absolutely redeem you to a different assignment, with perhaps even more powerful impact!  Eventually your failures will be yesterday’s news to those around you; and even if they should never quite be forgotten, God will weave a victory comeback into even that part of your story. The truth is, whether you’re used in the same way, a lesser way, or a greater way, you’ll never be free of that call to a destiny of His design.  It’s bigger than that small, safe, predictable life you once envisioned for yourself.

Run that backup plan into a sandbar and be done with it.  Put a “For Sale” sign on your escape vehicle.  Boom or bust, go all out this second (or even third or fourth) time around.  Have a Peter kind of finish. Even as a martyr for his faith, he went out on his own terms–better yet, he finished on God’s terms. Come back home, wandering servant of Christ. He still has need of your part….

Save

Save

Unhooking from Guilt

fish hookSo, my brothers and sisters, you owe the flesh nothing! You do not need to live according to its ways, so abandon its oppressive regime.” (Romans 8:12, VOICE translation)

One of the quickest ways someone can distance me from him or her is to try to lay a guilt trip on me.  Call it a quirk in my personality, but I don’t cotton well to being nagged at or  manipulated through false guilt.  (Just so everyone knows…when I’m distant or slow to return calls and emails, there really is a good reason.)  And yet, when I look over my life, so many of the bad decisions I have made have been in times when I’ve allowed guilt to sink its hooks into me.  While I shy away from people who try to turn me into a chess pawn, I still have yet to completely break away from self-imposed guilt—that drives me to work myself into oblivion for fear that I haven’t given enough.  As you’re reading this, chances are, you are shaking your head in agreement because you too wrestle with a life out of balance.

So you may say, “A little guilt never hurt anyone.”  There’s a huge difference between conviction and condemnation, friends.  The Holy Spirit convicts.  Conviction is an admonishment that is always intent on bringing us up higher in our relationship with God.  Conviction challenges us to do the right thing regarding our relationships with God and man.  Conviction will steer us away from making costly, wrong decisions.  Once we make the right choices, the conviction then lifts…and we go on about our way, liberated and our peace still intact.

Condemnation, on the other hand, has no intent on making us better.  Condemnation is Satan’s (and sometimes, people’s) tool to keep you in a holding pattern of feeling nothing you do will ever be good enough.  Condemnation doesn’t want your debt paid.  It won’t let you free from its manipulation, because the one wielding condemnation against you retains an advantage over you.  You’re under that person’s thumbnail.  You will exhaust your last resource just to placate the nagging, and still it won’t go away.  Condemnation affords no peace.  That’s a prison without walls.

Guilt steals your health.  I’ve been there.  I’ve hung onto toxic relationships sometimes for years, and to my detriment.  I’ve given up so much personal enrichment time that it’s incalculable.  Whose fault is it?  Most certainly mine.   Exercise and right amounts of sleep and solitude and prayer and Word time have sometimes gone right out the window, because I reasoned that I just HAD to work more…doing things other people were putting on my ever-growing to do list.  (Don’t expect that other people will recognize and respect your need for some personal space.  They’ll keep taking as long as there’s a drop of you to give!)  My list has grown to unmanageable proportions because I wouldn’t say no.  Guilt saw to that.  Without safe boundaries, all the joy has at times leaked right out of me.  And you know what?  God isn’t in one bit of it.  He isn’t glorified at all when my health and mental health are at times a wreck; or that I have grown overweight and dangerously out of condition, or that I resent being me.  Know what God does and doesn’t give you the green light to add to your schedule.  Ask Him.  Even if it’s a good thing in and of itself, it might not be in His plan for you in particular…and He isn’t obligated to finish what He didn’t author!  Don’t let guilt-laden activities weaken your immune system and cause you to become sick!

Seasons are temporary.  Don’t let guilt make them permanent.  There are seasons in our lives when we do find ourselves pulled-on out of necessity.  You may be caring for a sick spouse or aging parent right now, or several small children.  And when you hear someone say, “You’ve got to take some time away.  You have to take better care of yourself.  You can’t keep going forever with no down time,” it would sound so good and right if not for that nagging voice of guilt.  Even God’s voice can be heard, however muffled by the screams of the urgent present,  pleading with you to slow down.  You have a choice at this point:  you can listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit that says, “Pace yourself.  Work on boundaries and balance.  Keep God first and make enough time for yourself before you pour out to other people.  Remember, this season will pass; and you need your health now as well as after these demands are no longer upon you.  Take care of your spirit, soul and body for the long haul!”  And deep in your spirit, you know it’s a right word.  Whether you listen, or you cave into the fear that others will judge you unfairly, it’s a call you’re going to have to make.

I’ll never forget a lesson I learned when flying a few years ago.  As the attendant went through safety protocol with us, she explained that, if the oxygen masks dropped out of the ceiling, parents of small children must apply their own masks first.  Wow. And the reason being, if the parent were to pass out, he or she wouldn’t be able to save the child.  How many times over your life has guilt caused you to do some things in the exact opposite order?  We become so busy doing the work of the Lord that we neglect to walk in the cool of the day with Him–and when I say “we” I’m even including you pastors who find yourself in this same position!  May I remind you, if you let yourself go physically and spiritually to pot, you will be of no benefit to anyone else.

Go ahead and take that day off.  If someone offers to float you out, take him or her up on the offer.  Go for a walk and then watch a clean, funny  movie (maybe with popcorn or an ice cream!).  You’ll feel a whole lot better.  Remember, if you turn down help, not even then will guilt leave you alone.  It’ll always try to be there telling you that you should be doing more.  Since guilt won’t be satisfied, you may as well go ahead and find some joy and peace in your life!  Let guilt go aggravate someone else for a change.  Most importantly, ask GOD to order your steps.  When you are starting to dip into your reserves, He can replenish you.  Be prepared for Him to say no sometimes.  Our pastor, Mitchell Bias, shares sometimes how his late mother-in-law, Edith, has called him on a couple of occasions and said, “The Lord says you are to do nothing but REST today.  Don’t even leave the house!”  Give yourself permission to back away and rest.  Ask God to put people in your life who will affirm what He’s ordained for you–a life in harmony and balance.  God won’t wreck your health to advance His cause.  He has too many resources and people out there to rely solely on you.  We need to be reminded of these things once in a while!

Guilt perpetuates your bad habits onto your posterity. It will make you a bad parent. It won’t let you discipline your kids or allow them to grow up and become independent.  It will keep you from letting them encounter some hardships that develop character, because you’re always being the buffer between them and their problems.  Guilt will have you paying off all their debts (and there will always be more where that came from because they know you have deep pockets and…yes…guilt).  Moreover, it will have you raising your grandkids instead of requiring their parents to shoulder the responsibility.  Guilt will even superimpose itself on your kids…because once you are infected with guilt, you’ll use it to manipulate and control them all their adult lives.  You’ll pout and get mad when they aren’t coming around often enough to suit you.  You’ll use guilt as a wedge between your kids and their spouses, between your kids and their kids.  IF YOU ARE AN “I SHOULD HAVE DONE MORE” ADDICT, YOU WILL IN TURN MAKE UNREASONABLE DEMANDS ON THOSE YOU LOVE!

When we consider setting up boundaries of moderation, the enemy is not going to like it.  Guilt says, “You selfish thing…you call yourself a Christian and Christians are not supposed have a life.”  What a bunch of baloney!  Jesus came to give you ABUNDANT life, not an empty-shell existence.  Somewhere among the day-to-day demands of your life, He can help you find that happy medium which gets you to the other side of the season you’re in.

Difficult seasons are temporary.  They’re MEANT to be temporary.  And when you’re on the other side of them, if you truly know who you are in Christ, your self-worth isn’t going to require you being a human vending machine for the rest of your life.  After the time passes when you were under great demand, re-calibrate and learn to enjoy NOT being on call 24/7.  You really can enjoy being fruitful without being overburdened, endlessly under life-leaching pressure, and always at everyone else’s beck and call.  Don’t allow guilt to turn you into a codependent…or you’ll imprison yourself in a mode that allows others to exploit your inability to say no!

Guilt…its own reward?   You can let guilt or even the need for people to recognize “poor old noble you” drive you to play the martyr.  I’m being harsh here, but let’s face it: having people recognize you as indispensable is a cheap swap for walking in God’s best will for your life.  When guilt has its way with us long enough, we start craving affirmation from man rather than God.  Whether it’s pity or admiration we wind up desiring, it becomes the drug of choice to ease the guilt throbbing between our temples.  So we wind up trying to do even more so that people when notice our sacrificial nature and praise us for it.  Although Jesus was using a parable concerning giving alms, I want you to take this to heart:  He spoke of people who give to the poor, in ways that they could show it off to other people and be recognized by man.  He said that they already have their reward.  Did you know that if you neglect what God’s will is for your life just for the recognition of being the person no one else can do without, you already have your reward?  When I’m in up at night over interest-bearing debts, because guilt motivated me at Christmas to max out my credit cards beyond my means; or I’ve gone 3 years without a vacation because I was “too busy” to take time off; or the doctor says I’ve developed some degenerative disease because being a workaholic was more attractive than following God’s plan for discipline and balance…I don’t like the idea that the mess I’m in is actually my reward.  It’s pretty hollow.  When you’re in over your head, who really cares whether someone else admired you at one time for your lack of moderation?  Walk after the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill these pesky lusts of the flesh that are the devil’s dirty bombs designed to steal, kill and destroy!  Sometimes God is going to move you away from the spotlight, away from sowing into bad ground, or wasting your time and energy on what won’t bear real fruit…and believe me, it’s a good thing that He does this.  Listen and be obedient when He pulls you out of involvement in matters He doesn’t want you meddling in!  Only HE is omnipotent and omnipresent!

No one’s taking this away from me.  In recent days and weeks, I’ve been trying to take all these things to heart.  I’ve been experiencing burnout big-time, and God is calling me to start lightening the load.  The first things that get sacrificed when someone wants something of me are the very things that give me life.  I’ll skip exercise…and I’ve done it for years.  I’ll shorten my prayer time or try to do it on the fly.  I’ll neglect my housework and not even see the mess I’m stepping over to get to that next thing on my to do list.  I’ll deny myself recreation and travel and the solitude which is so important to the writer God has called me to be.  I will go days at a time without looking into a mirror, and when I do, I see someone I don’t recognize.  Older, not vibrant and enjoying her life.

When I woke up this morning, even though I’d been busy till 3 AM and had cleared out my inbox before nodding off, it was already filling up again.  Part of me wanted to say, “You know, people will think I’m a slacker if I don’t fly right into these things for them.”  Guilt.  But you know what?  I got dressed and I got on the elliptical machine..something I wasn’t doing for myself even as recent as a week ago.  And for 30 minutes my chubby self said out loud as I sweated and panted, “No one’s taking this away from me. This is mine.”  Yeah, I’d rather have been doing something a little more enjoyable, but I’m going to MAKE myself become disciplined to set some boundaries.  And if I have to psyche myself into thinking that exercise machine is something I can’t bear to do without, I’m going to learn how to fight for my fitness time.  I’m making it my goal not to give up any more real estate in my life in areas of spiritual and physical maintenance.  God has something important for me to do, and I can no longer afford to neglect the one vehicle I’ve been given to transport me through this short vapor life.  Neither can you…I don’t care how important you are.

Jesus did not cower to guilt, and neither should we.  Remember, Jesus was moved by love, by compassion, by empathy, by the faith of others, and even a time or two, by righteous (sinless) anger…but He was never moved by guilt.  I can’t find one instance where He got out of the will of God because of someone or something pressuring Him or guilt-tripping Him into doing the wrong thing.  He got talked about sometimes, and was misunderstood by many, but He never let that manipulate Him out of His identity.  Even when Satan tempted Him to prove that He was the Son of God, He was not moved; He stood His ground.  He would not be bullied into proving Himself.  And a number of times we read where He regularly separated Himself from people to just get alone with God.  There were folks who would just had to wait on Him, but He wasn’t going to cut His time short doing what was needed in order for Him to really do what was needed!  I want a Jesus kind of restraint.  I want to be steadfast and immovable.  I want to be disciplined and balanced and have self-control that shuts out the drive to under-prepare and over-achieve. I don’t want guilt to have a ring in my nose, leading me to live in ways that compromise my health and my peace.  I only have to please God; and if I am feeling a spirit of guilt instead of peace, then I’m hearing the wrong voice.  Jesus says His sheep hear HIS voice and another they will not follow!  May we all recognize whose voice we are hearing at any given time, and discern whether that voice is to be followed, ignored, or even silenced!

“Father, help us to voluntarily remove ourselves from the court of public opinion!  May we keep our eyes and ears focused on You rather than the endless expectations of others.  Help us to shut out the voice of the Accuser which says we can never do enough, never be enough.  Conviction is Your righteous voice that will never place unreasonable demands upon us.  Conviction releases peace and never an insatiable unrest in our lives because obedience brings a finality and a reward.  Condemnation, however, keeps us walking by works instead of faith, and that’s never where You intended us to go.  We rebuke the spirit of guilt from our lives, and will stop living in the dimension of always owing and never being able to pay in full.  We submit ourselves to You and we resist the Accuser!  He must flee from us, and take all his unreasonable demands with him!  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Mirror, Mirror

It is so critical that we put our attitudes and hidden heart issues on the altar, and become so immersed in the Word that we aren’t blind to undealt-with sin and/or weights. We can have every potential to do great things—even have had prophetic words spoken over us about our gifts elevating us to leadership or notoriety—and negate the prophetic word through pride, narcissism, jealousy, or fear. Instead of being angry at those we perceive to hold us back, and instead of being envious of others who possess our same potential, we must deal with that pesky hidden man of the heart. If there are unforgiveness issues stemming back even to our childhood, or healing that needs to happen when we release those who’ve hurt us, we must do the work. If we fail to do so, we will taxi the runway back and forth but never gain the momentum to get off the ground. Still more tragic, we risk imprinting our character flaws on our children by forcefully living vicariously through them, by repeating abuses on them that we experienced, or by failing to desire success for them that exceeds our own. Even very good people can be trapped in a holding pattern, mind you…disqualified over things that could be fixed!

Father, help us not to be our own worst enemy. You are fully-aware of even what we don’t see about ourselves–those damaged, flawed, or underdeveloped matters of character that we haven’t yet recognized or owned-up to. We will stop blaming others for our lack of success and begin to look inwardly, with humility and a quick-to-repent heart, for what needs purged from our character. Even if we don’t aspire to promotion of some kind, coddling wrong attitudes and negative emotions is a behavior not pleasing to You; and as badly as we want not to feel like a failure in our destiny, we want to find favor in Your sight even more. As David prayed after his hidden sin bubbled to the surface, likewise create in us a clean heart and renewed right spirit. See if there be (expose) any wicked way in us; and after the diseased element in our hearts is purged, restore the joy of our salvation. May we bear good fruit—30, 60, 100-fold, unhindered by toxic emotions, attitudes, and behavior.

You discipline those whom You love…and we know You love us too much to leave us messed-up. We don’t want to be those Your Word speaks of whose neck becomes hardened from having to be chastised often. Help us get it right, to learn and be willing to change. Remove the blinders, and after we’ve seen ourselves without the wax coating, make us whole—perfect and entire, lacking nothing. Give us courage to allow ourselves to be overhauled from the inside out. We ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Vagabond Spirit

ghostThere are a lot of paranormal shows and books that talk about ghosts being the wandering souls of the dead who still seek closure. Though I’m not blogging today to argue the existence or nonexistence of ghosts (smile), hold that thought about wandering spirits. I’m really going somewhere with this.

All around us (perhaps even a few are reading this post) are millions of living people who walk around with a spirit of restlessness that they’ve not been able to shake; this spirit sabotages everything they set their hands to. That’s a haunting far scarier than the things that go bump in the night—being stuck with an inability to commit or to find satisfaction in our already-blessed lives.  So these persons are constantly changing careers, in and out of relationships, church-hopping, changing college majors a dozen times, moving from state to state, and in general, never able to just unpack all the boxes and sink roots.

I’m speaking both figuratively and literally here.  And while I realize the nature of some vocations, ministries, and dreams involve being flexible and open to frequent changes, many people simply have issues with “stick-to-it-iveness.”  One foot is planted firmly while the other has the sprinter’s shoe firmly laced up and ready to bolt.  One eye is on the spouse or fiancé while the other is scanning other options, just in case the relationship fails to remain exciting and new.  And church membership?  Seriously?  That person has a laundry list of every pastor who has hurt him or her, of every church that’s failed to be stimulating enough to earn permanent home status.  Ask where he or she is connected and you’ll get an uncomfortable stuttering of, “Um, I’m kind of in-between churches right now.”  I bet you know at least one person like this…and I hope for your sake that person isn’t staring back at you in the mirror.  If he/she is, don’t be discouraged or feel condemned!  We are going to talk a little about this issue and pray together.

There is nothing wrong with God-ordained change.  Moses was getting up in years when God had him switch from herding flocks to herding people.  Sometimes we even make bad choices that warrant change.  Outside factors can leave us trying to find a new job, requiring us to move.  I’m not talking about these types of occasional milestone situations; I’m addressing the curse of never being willing to commit—truly sell out for a cause–that can rob an entire life’s sense of accomplishment and fruitfulness.

The existence of a vagabond spirit  is just as prevalent in seemingly-stable environments as it is among people who abandon their families and go live under bridges. Oh, it may not manifest as being the same thing, but the end results are not so dissimilar.  Person can’t deal with mundaneness of stability, so person exchanges stable environment for a possibly unhealthy, unfruitful lifestyle of hobo-esque wandering.  And sadly, the very thing which the person overtaken with a vagabond spirit is hoping to gain is the thing he or she forfeits in the name of freedom.  Yeah, just like a ghost…wandering aimlessly in search of resolve.

There is hope for the wandering soul.  It lies in submitting ourselves totally to God’s will; reading His Word, talking (and listening) to Him, disciplining ourselves, and admitting we have need of deliverance from the fear of commitment.

Father, break the “ghost syndrome” off Your people, we ask in Jesus’ name. We were not meant to be in a perpetual state of limbo in our lives. You began a good work in us and will finish it; and You designed us to walk in completeness. You have assignments for us–jobs, families, churches, life plans, goals, callings–that were meant to have a victorious, finished outcome. When we are faced with hardships, help us not to abandon our posts in continual hope that the pastures are perhaps greener somewhere else. Sure, it’s easier to quit, to lose by default; but why should we not instead…win?

Help us not to have chronic detachment that never allows us to stay and see things through. Help us to be people of covenant, people of our word, people of principle. When You end a particular season in our lives (and on occasion You do), it’s never left in chaos and confusion; that’s not how You operate. No, You have right order and a peace that accompanies every change that You orchestrate personally in our lives. Give us tenacity—the kind that sets us up for favor, promotion, and utter blessing. Give us an ear that hears the voice of the Good Shepherd and is keener to His voice than even to the sound of opportunity knocking. Not every knock is something or someone sent by God! We won’t open doors You don’t instruct us to open. We will be neither unable to commit, nor too stubborn to obey when You order change.  We will be balanced; we will be able to be in a fixed place/circumstance for as long as You ordain, without being attached to the world and things of the world.  We will find joy in the assignments You give us; and instead of being driven to find the next big thing that fuels our adrenaline, we’ll linger long enough to rest, reflect, give thanks, and enjoy the work of our hands!  Bless us with a deep appreciation of commitment that makes having variety and mobility safe instead of destructive to Your best for us.  We will bring the fruit of finishing to You instead of leaving a littered path of abandoned missions.

By allowing You to establish borders in our lives through accountability and covenant relationship, we poise ourselves to be fruitful and multiply. We prove ourselves fit, through our faithfulness in a few things, to be made rulers over many. Thank You, Lord, that Your children are being loosed from the “ghost” mentality.  Thank You for casting out the vagabond spirit that denies us satisfaction in commitment.  We are alive in You–and we are not aimlessly wandering souls!  In Jesus’ name we ask and give thanks for answered prayer!

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Obedience Above All

Years ago when I was just starting out in my young adulthood, I acquired a secondhand hot plate that had only one temperature:  wide open.  It was this Frankenstein monster of a thing—big, heavy, and depending on what you needed, handy—well, handy perhaps if you were planning on smelting iron ore.  You didn’t dare turn your back on it for a second if you actually desired to EAT what you were cooking.  It was a dumpster dive contraption that served a very temporary purpose, and I was so glad to retire it at the earliest possible opportunity…before I burned out the whole neighborhood and not just the scrambled eggs.

Sometimes we as believers are a lot like this old hot plate.  We mean well; but we have no thermostat, no discipline to read, listen, and obey.  And for that reason, God can only use us for very limited purposes.  If we’re stubborn enough long enough, we may find ourselves completely disqualified for the Master’s use…still saved, but not submitted; still rescued, but restricted.  We may be offended and affected by anything that has the ability to tip off our emotions; so although our zeal for the things of God may be genuine, it’s all over the place…instead of targeted where and to what extent God actually wants it.

The Church in the Wilderness had a lot of testing to endure; but it was as much a mercy as it was a proving ground.  There were mindsets to change in between liberation from poverty and the stewardship of promise. God had to prove He could trust them for destiny.  Oh, He fully knew their capabilities, but their very survival as a people—HIS PEOPLE—would depend upon how well they listened and obeyed.  He wasn’t setting them up for failure:  no, to be certain, the try-and-try-again course they were on was setting them up to succeed.  He loved them; He was qualifying them for where He would take them, but He also required their allegiance.  He was aware that some would simply refuse to be obedient—further validating what He already knew about the incompleteness of the Law.  We would need a Savior.  Even then, however, with a Savior, we would still have to choose to be followers and not just freelancers!

James gave us the perfect example of how serious rogue Christianity can be:  But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. (James 1:22-24)  It’s very possible, if we just hit-and-miss with our time in the Word and prayer, to go away and forget who we are and why we’re here.  Our carnal impulses begin to render His commandments powerless in our lives because there’s no discipline to hold to the purity of obedience.  We become religious rather than submitted; self-righteous rather than humble and attentive to His every instruction.  James says we deceive ourselves at that point.  The knob is ripped off and we run wide open, so therefore God can’t trust us for a second.

God winked at (tolerated) our ignorance initially, but He’s calling us all to repentance now. Change must come.  We are in critical times where one misstep, one wrong “my way or the highway” attitude on our part can completely abort a mission, defer an entire movement.  His merciful, extended testing time offers us daily opportunities to grow, to strengthen, and to prove ourselves as fit wineskins to hold His anointing; or we can go around and around the same dumb issues in our lives, unchanged and burning everything entrusted to our care.  At some point, regardless, we must decide whether to follow Him wholeheartedly or be left in on the sidelines.  God won’t entrust His harvest to those who’ll let it be left in ruins while they bicker about who’s in charge, who gets credit.

While He’s pruning us for fruitfulness, you can be sure He’s going to test us by changing up our plans to see whether we’ll accept His will as the final call, or whether we’ll pout and get in strife.  I’ve seen it (and had it happen to me) time and again.  Work toward a particular end—maybe have a new song rehearsed and ready to use in the worship set—just to have the Holy Ghost show up and shut it all down for a different direction entirely.  When it happens, can we joyfully handle submission, or will we instead defy Him by trying to “get ours” while we’ve got the chance to do so?  How you and I respond in these these testing moments either adds to or depreciates our stock value!  Can God trust us?  Is He REALLY Lord of all?

In my prayer time last night, God gave me the perfect example of how critical our obedience really is.  Imagine a “SWAT team” trained for duty, who’ve rehearsed every scenario and know every drill.  But someone on that team is overzealous for a chance to use that newly-acquired skill.  Frustrated.  Impatient.  Chomping at the bit.  In a hostage situation where lives are at stake, that drive to break bad can override the Commander’s instructions; and the undisciplined desire to ACT can result in unintended casualties–maybe even among that rogue member’s own unit.

We are in the spiritual world war of the ages; and if there were ever a time to be with our faces to the ground seeking God’s instruction, it’s now.  Captives are in peril and He’s calling us to pull them from the very jaws of death.  Many are in vulnerable, volatile situations.  It’s just as important to recognize and obey the command, “stand down,” as it is the command to “open fire,” because our spotter has a better vantage point than we do.  If we go by merely our own driven-ness and instincts, we can even forget who the enemy really is.  We then stop engaging in heavenly warfare and just turn on anyone earthly who appears to oppose us and what we preach.

If we crucify our tendency to run wide open all the time (some things go out only by prayer and fasting), we can come out of this with more than just ourselves intact; we can rescue lives.  If we have the attitude of “Don’t tell me to pull back, Lord.  I came here to git-er-done and I’m not going to waste all this adrenaline on waiting and patience and doing it Your way,”  however, then we forfeit His ability to use us in those very ways we long to be used.

Remember, God will always choose the most obedient, least ego-driven to carry out His will and establish His kingdom. Believe it or not, obedience will prove to become the greatest skill in your arsenal of spiritual warfare.  Your qualification to open the valve all the way in those appropriate times will be determined by your willingness to hold a controlled, unambitious grip during the slow-and-steady maneuvers.  If you can contain all that power but handle it with delicate precision that hears only one Voice calling the shots, God will entrust you to complete great exploits in His name!  Remember, obedience above all.  Master it.

Foolishness: The New Wisdom

silhouette-boy-pointing-finger“But God’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth. But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand.”  Romans 1:18-23 MSG

Remember in the children’s book, The Emperor’s New Clothes, how an entire kingdom of people got caught up in an important social figure’s delusion because those folks didn’t want to be judged in a negative way?  The pitch to this con was that, only the wise, intelligent people in the kingdom were able to see the clothes.  In wearing them, the emperor could separate the educated from the fools.  And out of fear for their reputations, their positions, the people pretended to see the imaginary fabric.  They went right along with the whole charade, and even applauded, ooh-ed and ahh-ed as their proud hero paraded down the street in nothing but his skivvies. It took an innocent little child to call out the absurdity of the situation...”But he’s not wearing any clothes!” If you’ve never read it, you should. The storyline is shockingly parallel to the hour in which we live.

We live in a 21st Century realtime version of the Emperor’s New Clothes, where no one wants to admit that the status quo is out of hand. How we want the acceptance of others, so we choke down any and all ridiculous demands that a few make in order to garner favor.  If you disagree, you might even be sued by your government and lose your business license.  The issues splattered across the headlines as we speak would be funny if they weren’t so tragic. Oh, it’s not popular to contradict the absurd ideals fabricated by our pop culture…no doubt I’ll be met with some shrapnel for saying so. But not even our culture sticks to its own ideologies for longer than a season or two, or until they get bored because it’s not obscene or unreasonable enough. Our appetite demands that our movies be increasingly filthier, our language coarser, our crimes more violent, our rights more invasive of other people’s rights. Our “emperor” of the modern world isn’t a man or woman; it’s the desire to dominate the majority; to win the argument, to create the illusion that our ideas are more relevant than truth itself. It’s a thought system and it stinks in our Creator’s eyes because we reject truth for a lie and we do it without batting an eyelid.

Today’s shameful headlines will be upstaged by tomorrow’s stunts by the popular and powerful, and folks will go right along with outright lies to keep from being labeled closed-minded, bigoted, or archaic. Just so you know, I’m not talking about prejudice, hate crimes, civil rights, or social injustice here…I’m talking about the most basic, common-sense standards that have been flipped on their ear. And the crowd cheers “Bravo! Beautiful! Amazing! Superior thinking!” Hey, if celebrities are touting these far-fetched ideals as relevant, true, and not to be questioned, surely it’s got to be right…right? The fabric is only invisible to the intellectually-inferior. Plus, if you won’t concede to their logic, then you’re not only an opposing view–you are now a bad person. You lose sponsors. Others sever ties out of fear of losing popularity or status. Businesses pull contracts and relocate to get away from association with you. You may even wind up in court or on the unemployment line.  This isn’t really a demand for respect, for acceptance…it’s our twisted society’s way of saying, “You WILL do what we want, and you WILL like it.  Or else.”  And it’s being endorsed by our leaders just so they can garner more votes.  There, I said it.

We don’t even realize we’re going along with it just to appease someone else’s demand for the last word, (and to save our own reputations from ridicule). We’ve gotten so good at playing along that we even think we see the emperor’s imaginary clothes. And somewhere off in the distance, the “spinner” of the imaginary covering is laughing all the way to the bank. Will it take another child, oblivious to modern society’s uber-relaxed ideas of propriety, to blurt out the truth and wake up the deluded masses?

Pray for our nation. There are no words to describe some of the things that have elevated themselves to even be issues among us. Said cautiously and with love…but as honestly as I know how. I’d be really faking it right now if I pretended not to see how embarrassingly exposed we have become as a people. God, please snap us out of our blinded condition. It’s beyond humiliating; it’s becoming dangerous.

File Thirteen: The 490 Principle

IMG_4775“Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!”  Matthew 18:21-22 (New Living Translation)

I’m going to share a personal insight on the above Scripture that may or may not get a round of applause from seasoned theologians; but for those of you who struggle in this area, it may be what you need to help set you free.

I went through an ordeal once where, for about 5 years, I was done terribly wrong by someone very close to me.  I was hung in an endless loop of hurt and self-permitted abuse, and one of the biggest tethers which had me bound was my own inability to let it go.

You see, often when we deal with a deep-seated or long-term hurt, it becomes as much our “friend” as it is our enemy.  Our hurt becomes our identity, something we nurse and justify and protect.  Without it, we no longer know who we are…why, what would we have to talk about with others if not for “it?”  Without it, on whom or what could we blame the weight gain, those pesky gray hairs, or that once-in-a-lifetime dream gone down the tubes?

During this season of my life, I was faced with a crossroads and not much time in which to choose.  On the one hand, I had a lifetime ahead of me to continue carrying that overloaded briefcase of offenses, stuffed haphazardly with the file folders of my memory.  I might be humpbacked from straining and dragging it behind me, but at least I’d never be alone as long as I had my hurt!  I’d never have to reinvent myself because at least I recognized and had learned to co-exist with the long, pitiful face staring back at me in the mirror!

On the other hand, there was a clean slate and a pure conscience; there was love and opportunity and peace of mind waiting through a narrow passage…only I couldn’t squeeze through that passage with my knapsack stuffed with past hurts.  What if I got to the other side and missed being able to thumb through the pages and pages of things gone wrong?  What would I have left if no one else were made to remember the martyr I’d been for having gone through all that hurt?  What glory was there in people suddenly forgetting my sacrifices and longsuffering?  What IF?!!!

Perhaps I’m being overly illustrative, but I truly was struggling and I wanted desperately to do the right thing.  Deep in my heart, I was tired of being sad, and tired of having an excuse for not rising above that series of incidents which kept me stuck in first gear.  It was at this point that in my prayer time, God began to not only edge me toward a new level of maturity, but He also began to reveal something simple yet profound enough to help me actually want to be free.  He’s a really merciful Father…He loves us too much to allow us to stay the way we are!

I had read the Scripture many times about forgiving 490 times in a day, and had a whole different idea of what it meant.  Although my offender at times came pretty close to meeting quota by my estimation (smile), I never actually had to release 490 separate sins committed against me in one day EVER.  But, this Scripture came to life and began to grow with greater revelation when I suddenly made the course-altering move to speak the words that very first time, “I choose to forgive.”

I had thought all my life that, once you forgive someone, you forgive…and the forget part comes automatically.  Well, eventually perhaps, but not always.  For situations like what I overcame, and what you’re getting ready to become free from, there comes “File 13.”

Beginning today, I want you to set a goal to get out from under that one hurt you’ve babied and protected.  Jesus had your situation in mind when He commanded to forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven–or–as often as it comes to your mind.  Our memory can be pretty active when it comes to instant replay, and unless we discipline ourselves to shut that button off, we can consume entire days with reliving hurts over and over.  What a waste of a perfectly good life!

Get serious about this thing, because not only is it toxic to your spirit and to your physical body, but if you want to receive forgiveness from the Lord, you’re going to have to learn how to dish it out.  Right now, say out loud with me, “I choose to forgive __________ (name).”  That person can be dead or alive…doesn’t matter…you’re doing this in obedience to God, and you’re doing it for YOU.  You need to let him or her off the hook more than your offender needs to be let off!

It will feel almost like a self-betrayal at first–and your carnal side is going to kick and scream for retribution and that proverbial pound of flesh–but stick to your guns!  Oops, you just now thought of it again…so say it again:  “I choose to forgive _________.”  Don’t be surprised that, since thoughts seem to travel at warp speed, you may have the occasion to forgive the memory of one act 490 times in a day.  Your mental trashcan will probably have wadded up papers flowing out on all sides.  Keep confessing forgiveness and tossing the offense into the garbage.

Know this:  if you have to re-do the act of forgiveness, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you didn’t truly forgive in the first place.  That doesn’t make you a failure any more than having to die to sin each new day makes you unsaved.  Don’t give up and say, “I just can’t forgive!”  You CAN—with work.  It’s as much a process as it is an action, and sometimes you have to speak with your mouth and then let your attitude follow your intention.  The power of life and death is in the tongue, and you’re in a battle for the quality of your life!  You may not even feel your heart 100% in what you’re saying, but keep saying it anyway.  Trust me when I tell you that for every time you say it with as much faith as you can muster, that hurt has less and less a hold on you.  Eventually the day will come when you really will forget to hurt!  You may not forget the incident, but you will forget to let it control your life. That’s freedom indeed.

I’ll never forget an object lesson Debra Catron taught on a Wednesday night at our church several years ago, when she recounted a difficult season in her own life.  She said, “There’s a little trunk of painful memories in the attic of my mind.  Now, I can open that trunk and go through the contents at any time, or I can leave it locked.  I simply choose not to go there anymore.”

©2011  Lisa Crum.

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