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Posts Tagged ‘Dying To Self’

white flagAs a Christian, conversion is an endless process for me, mainly because I face a never-ending challenge to become a fully submitted soul. It’s a constant battle to lay down my will, surrender my desires for the good or need or comfort of others or simply (and most importantly) put Christ and his will first in all I do. It’s not about becoming some kind of doormat or whipping post, but rather growing a servant heart, because let’s face it, surrender of my will is not my spiritual gift.

I can easily blame my self-focus on being a 150% Introvert, but let’s be honest. I’m wired to think of myself first. I always have been. It probably started in childhood when my mom felt compelled to spoil me by letting me have my own way because life around us pretty much sucked. It probably also stems from abuse that forced my will from me and robbed much from a needy little girl.

As a result, I’ve always been willful and ultra guarded of my will being taken from me, even in small things. Though this has been a long and frustrating battle, I finally realized that Jesus gets this about me. For decades, he’s been patiently challenging, encouraging and helping me lay down my will—in the right ways. Because unfortunately, I think when someone like me learns to guard our will against violation, we can create an iron will and may never experience the freedom that comes from surrendering to Christ.

Though I constantly fight “dying to the flesh”—that part of us that wants to be satisfied and fed, soothed and esteemed—I understand self denial is healthy. Vital, in fact. Maybe through denial of self, in a very small way, we can catch a small glimpse of what Christ has done for us on the Cross.

There’s a story in 2 Samuel 24 about King David whose sin had brought a terrible pestilence on his people. He begged for God’s mercy on them, so God directed him to build an altar on Araunah’s threshing floor. Araunah (clearly not struggling with the same issues I do) was pleased to give David everything he needed for the altar: the property, the wood, the oxen—the works. But David refused the gift and insisted on buying the man’s property and all the supplies he needed, saying, “I will not offer burnt offering to the Lord my God which cost me nothing.”

I’m reminded how easy it is to look at Christ’s gift of eternal life and his death on the cross without fully appreciating what it cost him. I don’t know if I will never fully appreciate it this side of heaven.

In the meantime, I lay down my will here and there when Jesus nudges me to let go or relinquish my plans or my comfort or convenience (more often now than before, so see, I’m making progress). And when I do give it up, I sense his pleasure. I also find, again and again, that though my flesh may grumble for a moment, the surrender is neither painful nor pointless. With each surrender, I find myself a little freer in my soul, a little less chained to my willful flesh, a little closer to Jesus, a little more like him.

And when you get down to it, that’s all I really want.

Q: Have you ever experienced freedom through surrender?

 

For a Similar post on Surrender, see: https://camilleeide.wordpress.com/2012/08/17/if-i-only-had-a-heart/

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Have you ever been faced with a challenge that goes against every fiber of your being?

In the story Like There’s No Tomorrow, a novel I hope to publish, a fictional Bible storybook called Daniel’s Friends Face the Fire plays a key role in the heroine’s journey. Emily is a selfless, caring young woman who has spent her life protecting others from pain and suffering, exactly as she believes God would want her to do. But as the story progresses, she learns she inherited the same disease that claimed her mom’s young life. What makes the news even more devastating is that she’s fallen in love with a widowed man, a man she has helped find healing and a renewed faith in God. A future with this man now is unthinkable. Yet he still wants to marry her. How could she? She has seen how loss of a spouse destroyed her father. She could never contemplate putting someone through that kind of pain, especially a second time.

How could God have the nerve to ask Emily to step aside and let him be God?

In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are forced to choose between standing up for what they believe and losing their lives in the fire, or saving their lives by giving in to a psycho king’s whim. I love their reply: “Our God is able to save us. But even if he does not, we still will not bow down to you.” I admire their courage to not only stand up for God, but to trust his sovereignty and wisdom in the face of circumstances that make absolutely no sense.

Because getting tossed into a fiery furnace isn’t the kind of blessing and provision we typically expect from God.

In this scene in the novel, Emily and two little girls are looking at a picture in the storybook of four men walking around in the flames without being burned. Three of the men are the brave young Hebrew men. The extra man, we realize, is Jesus, standing in the fire with them. Here’s an excerpt:

Hannah looked up at Emily. “Would you be afraid?”

The fiery furnace scene lay open on the floor between them. The three young men must have been terrified, and certainly had no idea how it would turn out. All they knew was to trust and obey God without question.

Would I trust God enough to surrender to the flames and stand firm, no matter what?

God, would you really ask me to do that?

Both girls waited. A pulse-quickening urgency stole over her, as though her answer was somehow forever binding—a test.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.

Emily drew a calming breath. “I think if the Lord wanted me to go into a blazing furnace, he would—” Have to send me a text message. In all caps. “He would go with me and . . . give me the courage and strength I need to do it.”

That’s good, Em. You almost have yourself convinced.

I believe God desires to spare us needless suffering . . . sometimes. But he doesn’t promise a pain-free life. (John 16:33) What he does promise is that when the plan we’re following is God’s, he will be with us and will provide everything we need. Whether that be courage, provision, wisdom, strength, his presence, whatever. He is good, always. His ways are not always logical (to us), but they are right. Always. When we can’t see any possible good in the midst of difficulties, we must trust that he can. We may never see that good thing this side of heaven. This is where faith is so . . . FAITH. So confident, so fully trusting. That God is so good, so beyond us and our abilities. If we could understand, stand firm, or endure on our own, we wouldn’t need him.

Emily must decide if she is willing to put God to the test and surrender her worst fears to him, to take him at his word that he is truly faithful. And to truly trust him to take care of those she loves. Can she relinquish control?

Hmm, I wonder how it ends . . .

Q: Have you ever had to “put your money where your mouth is” when it comes to trusting God? Have you ever gone through a “fiery furnace” in your life and felt God’s presence and strength with you in the midst of it? Do you have a hard time believing that God can somehow bring good from suffering?

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Our baby girl is “Tying the Knot” this weekend. (Yes, I am too young to have a daughter old enough to marry, thank you for noticing.) J & M will repeat vows to one another similar to the ones you’ve heard or perhaps said yourself:

I take this man/woman to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, to love and to cherish until death do us part.

I do.

Those last two tiny words pack a wealth of promise, a lifetime of relinquishing, a commitment to ongoing surrender. It’s a vow to take on another set of sorrows and joys, victories and defeats, strengths and fears. Each person in the union lays down the right to retain his or her separate life and the whims of their previously independent (& possibly self-indulgent) soul.

And the two shall become one.

It sounds like a breaking down of the human will, this kind of surrender to another. If the vow is truly meant, it does involve some tearing down, and it can even be painful. But if endured with selfless love and truckloads of blinding grace, the two relinquished, surrendered souls shall become one, and a far stronger one combined than each one was alone. Not two weaker halves suddenly helpless without one another, but a stronger, combined force able to weather any storm.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor; If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

If two become one, what does three become?

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

This isn’t some kind of put down. It’s truth, and it’s a warning, but it’s also a promise. Being united with Christ means he vows to be our Source, our strength, our sustenance, our safe haven.

So when Christ is woven into the center of two surrendered, entwined lives, the three form an unbreakable cord, able to weather every storm of adversity, sickness, trial, poverty, or hardship—without being destroyed.

A marriage of two cords is strong; but a three-cord marriage is indestructible.

J & M: Make Jesus the Center of your marriage. This is our prayer for you.

We love you. God bless you today and each day to come.

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Does talk of Christian holiness make you squirm?

Or do you think holiness is only for the Billy Grahams and Mother Teresas? Should Christians be striving for lives that please God?

Is pleasing God even possible?

Oops, sorry. I forgot to mention there was going to be a quiz.

In my last post, One-Sided Romance, I offered some cheeky dialogue between a Bride-Groom and his less-than-fully-devoted bride. I sure hope this isn’t the bride Jesus sees in me. But I must confess it wasn’t hard to come up with some of those cheeky lines.

Last week, I attended a memorial service for a Christian brother unlike any I’ve ever known. Val and his wife Laura are humble servants who don’t own anything. They follow God’s lead, traveling from place to place, serving people in any way needed, whether it’s finishing a fence, cleaning gutters, stacking firewood, roofing a house, babysitting—whatever needs done. Graciously and cheerfully, without asking for anything in return. They live each day obeying whatever the Lord asks with sincere hearts that desire to please him. They don’t always know where they will sleep or where the next meal will come from, but they trust God to provide. Someone said that for a guy without anything, Val was the most generous man he’d known. If all Val had was one cracker and was starving, he would find a hungry person to share it with.

And yet, one of the most inspiring things I heard at Val’s funeral was that even this doggedly obedient, selfless saint struggled on occasion to obey. There were times he had to ask God for a willing heart because he just didn’t feel like obeying.

Know the feeling?

I obey God—when it’s comfortable and doesn’t infringe on what I feel/don’t feel like doing. But then, there are . . . those other times. I confess: it’s not in my nature to be generous, hospitable or sacrificial. To offer my coat also when someone asks for my shirt. Go out of my way for a stranger. Forgive people’s idiotic driving. I mean—turn the other cheek when wronged.

It’s not my nature to be like Jesus.

So… is my “natural” bent for willfulness an excuse for giving in to it? I’m pretty sure Val didn’t say, “Look, God, I’ll do what you ask when it’s convenient, but sometimes I’m going to be stingy with my time and energies. It’s how I roll. I’d rather go relax after a long day at work instead of taking groceries to a stranger on a scorching hot day with no AC. You understand, right?”

I don’t know exactly what Val prayed, or why he struggled to obey (probably not out of selfishness but rather some disagreement with the way God was handling something), but I believe he recognized the stubbornness in his heart at those times and asked God to line his heart up with God’s. Why? Perhaps he knew God would love to answer a prayer like that. Perhaps God knew others would hear of this humble servant struggling with obedience and be encouraged. I know I was. I was not only encouraged, I was reminded that I have also prayed for the willingness to do God’s will instead of my own, and he gave it to me.

For a whole day.

*sigh*

If becoming a 100% obedient, deeply devoted saint isn’t something I can picture myself becoming overnight, that’s okay. All I need to worry about is today. God can give me a willing heart and the strength to follow through. Like manna in the desert, one day at a time.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Ezekiel 36:26-27

Striving to be a more obedient Christian isn’t about meeting somebody’s standards or proving that I’m holy. It’s about responding to the unwavering love and costly grace God has given me with a heart that longs to please him, out of love.

No, it’s not in my nature to be like Jesus. But it is his nature to empower me by his grace to become more like him. And he’s totally okay with me asking for help being willing to obey.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24

Oh, for a heart that longs to please You, Lord. And the willingness to follow through.

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I’m working on a novel in which a woman was recently jilted by a handsome young lawyer. Then when her mom suffers a life-threatening injury, she must help with her care and shoulder the burden of the family business. In the process of all this, she meets a man who shakes her world again for a disturbing reason: he likes her. For who she really is. Not the picture-perfect woman she works so hard to portray to the world, but the frizzy-haired, cosmetic-less, messy life real her. But her real problem is that she only lets people partially into her life. She loves that the new guy likes her—crazy hair and all—but realizes something’s wrong. It turns out she lost the last guy because she never fully “engaged” in the relationship out of fear of exposing an ugly part of her no one knows about.

 

Do you know without a doubt Jesus loves you? I hope so. The Cross speaks of Christ’s fierce love so completely, so beautifully. But do you, like my novel character, have trouble “engaging” in this “sacred romance”?

 

It’s great to wake up knowing I’m completely loved by God. What a wonderful, incredible, awesome feeling. But to be honest, which I must, I find it easy to soak up God’s love and go about my day with a wave and without a backwards glance.

 

 

Picture a bride getting up one morning to find her adoring Groom already awake.

Groom: Good morning, my precious. I love you so much!

Bride: Aw, thank you! You just made my day! I’m going to go post that on FaceBook right now.

Groom: Right now? But I’d like to spend some time with you, without any distractions.

Bride: Oh, right, but I gotta run, so just hold that thought. But you do love me, right? 

Groom: Yes, more than you could possibly know.

Bride: Oh! I just love hearing that! I feel so special right now. Like I could do anything. I’m going to go make plans right now to realize all my biggest dreams.

Groom: Um . . . your dreams include me, right?

Bride: (pouty frown) Well . . . some, but you don’t really expect me to include you in everything I do, do you? I mean, come on. I do have my own life. It’s not like we’re attached at the hip.

Groom: Not only the hip, but at your very core. I’m part of you. You’re part of me. I am the Vine, you are the branch. Apart from me you can do nothing.

Bride: Yikes! That sounds kind of controlling, don’t you think? I’m going to go check Pinterest for new posts about how you love me without any strings attached. I love looking at those.

Groom: Remember the day you said you were giving yourself to me? It was a very touching moment, so beautiful. You couldn’t hear it, but all of heaven broke out in spontaneous song.

Bride: Aw, that’s sweet. Yes, I gave myself to you, but that was to secure my future. You don’t actually expect me to hang around with you all day give up doing what I want to do? I thought you said you loved me. Didn’t know you were going to be so demanding.

Groom: My only “demand” is that you love me. Is . . . that a problem? This is a relationship . . .

Bride: (puffs out a slow breath) Okay, look. I don’t know what you want from me. I talk to you sometimes, don’t I? It’s not like I can spend all my time hanging around with you and talking about you. Everyone would think I’m a freak.

Groom: So you don’t want people to know about us?

Bride: Well . . . (smiling suddenly) Yes! Actually, I like telling people how much you love me. I do it all the time!

Groom: Yes, I’ve noticed . . .

Bride: Wait—you hesitated just now. You’re not having second thoughts, are you?

Groom: No. I love you so much I made the ultimate sacrifice for you. You are more precious to me than you know.

Bride: Oooo! Say it again! I just love hearing that!

Groom: Yes. I know.

Bride: In fact, I’m going to go Tweet it right now!

Groom: (sighs)

Bride: And don’t worry, I’ll be sure to tell someone how you just want me to be happy, although I hear about it everywhere. Those cute little Facebook memes, at the hairdresser’s, on book covers. So I guess most people already know that.

Groom: I want your ultimate happiness, but right now, not everything you go through is about happiness. I want what’s absolutely best for your life, the life I rescued at a tremendous cost. One day, you’ll be blown away by how much happiness I have prepared for you. I am going to knock your socks off—forever. I promise. But for now, I’m asking you to trust me. Watch my lead, follow my footsteps. Come when I call. Sit with me when I invite you. Listen to me; memorize the beat of my heart. Give yourself completely to me and to what I have planned. Will you do that for me, my beloved?

A relationship requires both parties to be fully engaged. He wants this kind of relationship with us. He wants our time, attention, devotion, and obedience – not because he’s self-centered and demanding, but because spending time with him is for our ultimate good. It’s a two-way relationship, not a one-sided, life-long pampering session.

He gives forgiveness, righteousness, love, provision, peace, blessings, wisdom, protection, help, healing, favor, strength through trials, and so much more. What am I giving him? Not out of duty, but of gratitude, of delight in him?

 

Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Q: Is your relationship with God sometimes a one-sided romance? How do you “delight yourself in the Lord”?

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Ever make life plans and then wonder when God will exert a little elbow grease and shoulder some of the load?

Come on, be honest.

I woke to find a blog post entitled Man Plans While God Laughs by author Athol Dickson in my mail today and had to laugh. I have no doubt it’s politely sitting in my inbox by a quiet (and amused) act of Providence.

How odd is it (but sadly typical) that I would tell God what I’m going to do with this life he redeemed, the life I “gave” him when I “accepted” Christ as Savior, and then wonder why things aren’t falling into place as planned.

This is not rocket science.

I’ve headed in the direction I think he’s leading me in and smacked my face into a closed door, then rubbed my nose and looked back and wondered if I took a wrong turn. Wondered if I’m knocking at the wrong door, or if I’m supposed to stand on the porch and keep knocking.

Or if I’m nuts.

In his blog post, Athol said:

“Man plans; God laughs” as the old Yiddish saying goes. It’s so easy to forget the way of things, so easy to ask God to bless my plan, instead of asking him to reveal the blessings he has planned.

Are my plans just that—mine? Or God’s? How much of what I am striving for has eternal significance? And how much of it will be torched upon exiting earth?

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. 1 Corinthains 3

Maybe a closed door or a seemingly lifeless dream is a God’s way of offering us an opportunity to trade in some wood, hay and straw for gold, silver and bronze, the stuff that will go with us into eternity. Maybe.

Q: Have you let a closed door or what seems to be a “Dead On Arrival” stamp on your dream make you question your dream, your plans? Or have you looked at it as an opportunity for deepening your trust in God’s grander, unseen, eternal plan for you? When is a closed door actually a gift, the chance to gain deeper trust, hope, a fully surrendered heart—that valuable stuff of eternal significance?

For a similar post, check out And Of Course God Is Nowhere In Sight

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The Fourth of July came and went for us this year without explosives. Not even a sparkler. My husband and I just don’t get excited about fireworks anymore since our three kids hit their 20s. (This will likely change when we get some impressionable grandkids.) But with or without explosives, I don’t know if we have ever spent Independence Day giving a lot of thought to our freedom.

In fact, I had to do a little surfing to refresh my knowledge of Independence Day and remember that our colonial ancestors were angry over taxation without representation in Parliament. It wasn’t so much about the taxes, but the principle. The tyranny. The bully who insisted on taking and giving nothing in return.

I appreciate the freedoms we enjoy in America today, and am very grateful for the many who have sacrificed family, health, and lives to make freedom possible. Freedom from tyranny is a good thing.

Freedom from condemnation is also a good thing.

Romans 8:1-2 says:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Because of what Christ did for us, it is possible to be in right relationship with our Maker, and for that I’m very grateful.

I am proudly tyranny free,

thankfully condemnation free,

and reluctantly sugar free.

But there’s one freedom I wish I didn’t have . . .

It’s the freedom to go my own stubborn, selfish way. I often take God and his amazing grace and fresh mercies for granted. I ask, plead, seek, then get an answer and go on my way. Or worse—ignore him altogether and just wander around doing as I please.

Until something goes terribly wrong, or until I’m faced with something I can’t handle on my own . . .

The author who penned the old hymn Come Thou Fount knew exactly what I’m feeling. It’s such a beautifully honest testament to the frailty of the human heart. I’ve included the song on a video below. Take a moment to listen and let the words soak your heart with truth.

I love the last verse. In fact, I am this verse:

O to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be!

Let thy goodness like a fetter

Bind my wandering heart to Thee

Prone to wander Lord I feel it

Prone to leave the God I love

Here’s my heart Lord, take and seal it

Seal it for Thy courts above

Ah Jesus, how quickly I can wander off and lose sight of You. It’s not in my frail-yet-stubborn nature to stick close to Your side, not without Your Spirit’s kind, persistent help. Please bind my wandering heart to You, by Your goodness and sweet grace.

Amen.

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