When I was a child, I found it hard to understand God’s love and His forgiveness, even less so the necessity for submission and obedience. In fact, I didn’t like the idea of submitting to a God who very often seems far away and very strict in His discipline. It was only three years ago that I began to understand the real meaning of the gospel; the reason for Christ’s death, and the joy and hope that His resurrection brings to those who put their full trust in Him. It’s taken me three long years to understand the true meaning of His love and His blessings in our lives. And for the most part of those three years, I have felt the agony that is a result from not keeping to His laws; the guilt and the rejection and loneliness that we often inflict upon ourselves because we don’t know what it means to give all to Jesus.
But through all the anger and frustration and disobedience, I have learnt exactly that. Perhaps it is better to say, I am learning exactly that. For I know there will be many more trials to come and lessons to learn, which I will need to face with courage and the knowledge that I am not alone.
And that’s the difference. I know I am not alone. It is not just something I know, but something I know that I know. Not too long ago, I couldn’t grasp the notion of knowing that I knew (people at my church are always saying it!), but recently I have experienced a joy within me that comes from releasing my fears and my hopes, even my dreams, and surrendering all to Jesus, because I now know that whatever happens, He is in my life and there are great things to come, oh, such great things! I find myself in a position where I am not just speaking those words and knowing them with my brain, but knowing them with my heart, with my soul, with all I am; I know that I know that He is my Saviour. He has not just saved me from my sins, but He will also save me when I fall into the pits of life – the pits that are everywhere. The pits that appear when I get angry at my neighbour because she insulted me. Or the ones that open up and swallow me every time my thoughts wonder away from everything “that is noble, (…) right, (…) pure, (…) lovely, (…) admirable” (Ephesians 4:8), instead reviving thoughts of regret and anger, feeding my feelings of jealousy and bitterness. Those pits will always exist, because ours is not a “struggle (…) against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). The evil one is always looking to tear us down, and we must never forget that or disregard the power he can have in our lives: “be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8).
God’s ways are so different from ours: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8). But as I learn more about His ways, I realise that 1.) His ways are perfect, and beautiful in the most magnificent way (Psalm 18:30), 2.) His ways are pretty much mirrored to the world’s ways; in servant-hood He conquered the masters of the world; in submission our royalty and inheritance is revealed, and 3.) His love goes so much deeper than I can ever imagine, and is not dependant on my lack of sin, or my lack of good deeds, or even my attitude. My attitude, good deeds and elimination of sin are dependent on His love, however, and are a result of acknowledging it, as well as a reciprocation of that very same love.
Our sense of self-worth seems to be built around this mirroring of God’s ways. Within society, we are encouraged to boost our self-worth by improving our looks, or by being successful in our careers, by having lots of friends or by being in happy, long-lasting, intimate relationships. But this is based on our own effort, and on things that not everyone can achieve. We are told that by climbing the ladder, those who reach high will be accepted and loved. In addition, thinking lowly of ourselves is seen as being humble and as something that should be encouraged. But God’s word tells us that we are already accepted and loved, and that by descending the ladder and adopting a servant heart, we will become His children, and as a result, royalty. This offer is open to anyone, regardless of their status, or access to resources. But in order to accept it fully, we must regard ourselves highly; as a special people, ordained by God Himself (1 Peter 2:9) – not because of what we have done, but because of who God created us to be.
I guess that’s what this lesson has been all about. Because in learning what I am basing my self-worth on, and what I should base it on, I am learning what my true identity is, and all of a sudden, my past behaviour, and perhaps more importantly, my past hurt is all the more clearer. When we do not guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23), for instance; when we found our security in other people or things, we are placing our identity in them as well; wherever they are, we are secure, but as soon as they fall away, or reject us, the world we have built ourselves crumbles beneath our feet.
I am not saying that if we place our full trust in God, that we will never be hurt, or rejected, or feel an emptiness within that is sometimes so hard to bear. Because those are emotions that God gave us as humans, they are what make us human and thus fulfil our purpose in creation. Equally, our role within fellowship would not be pursued if we could not experience its importance through the pain of its absence. We were not made to live solo lives, and it would be unhealthy to try to live that way. However, sin has shrouded our whole lives, and so pain within relationships is inescapable. In fact, in processing various ‘weeds’ inside me with the help of a very dear friend, I was told that God uses our hurt and brokenness to reach others (see Matthew 5:4, 2 Corinthians 1:4, Hebrews 2:10, 2 Corinthians 12:9, Romans 5:3-4). This does not mean that we should expect and desire our lives to be full of pain, rather we should expect difficult times, and perhaps learn to be joyful in the face of affliction.
And now my challenge is made easier by this lesson; a lesson I have read many times before, but one that has only reached my heart today, following such a long time of holding on to things I was too scared to let go of. My challenge is to enjoy the joy that has found its place in my heart, without drifting away from the One who has given me this joy. When I was broken, I turned to God because there was nothing left to do other than that. Now I must learn to remain in Him in my joy, and I know that this will be so much less difficult than before, because He has touched my heart in such a way that I do not want to fall away from Him.
My bigger challenge is to be self-controlled and alert, to turn my thoughts to Him at all times, and to guard my heart, consciously avoiding thoughts of disrespect to those around me, that are destructive to relationships and to my own heart. For in the end, bitterness and envy are poison to ourselves, and deny us the beauty of the pleasures of the life we could have with Jesus, if we could only let go of the things we so desperately want.
At the end of my ramblings, I know that you will have perhaps heard similar words from many different people. Perhaps you are sceptical. Our lessons remain our own, only to be accepted when we have experienced with our hearts, not our brains. But let me challenge you about your attitude. Where do you invest your thoughts? Are they good thoughts, pure and noble? Or do they trigger ugly feelings? What are your priorities and desires? Let me encourage you as well. I once had a tiny desire to know God more. As I turned my attention to that desire, it grew and grew, ever bigger, until it overshadowed those other desires, like finding a job, or finding ‘the one’. Don’t get me wrong, those desires are still there, and they still dominate some areas of my life. But I am a work in progress, and have seen with my own heart the Living God who has answered my prayers – I wanted to be closer to Him, and in drawing closer to Him, I have learnt that His desire for us is to serve others, and so I wanted to be a blessing to others, and I have realised that being a blessing to others means letting go of everything we have – dying to self (Galatians 2:20).
Obedience and submission is not a chore (1 John 5:3). It is the most beautiful thing we can experience. And God is so good that He is not only able, but willing to turn all our pain and suffering into something magnificent, when He could have just saved us from our sins and left it at that. Instead, He will not let His children suffer for free. We were bought at a price, and even now He is blessing us in and through our sufferings.
Our journeys are very different, but our destination is the same, our troubles similar. Seek the Lord, and you will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13), be patient, for the Lord will come to your rescue (Psalm 43:5). For He is good, all the time!
“As we come to grips with our own selfishness and stupidity, we make friends with the imposter and accept that we are impoverished and broken and realize that, if we were not, we would be God. The art of gentleness toward ourselves leads to being gentle with others – and is a natural prerequisite for our presence to God in prayer.”
– ‘Abba’s Child’; Brennan Manning