How to Struggle

This morning I read Romans 15, and I became fixated on one verse in particular. Verse 30 says, “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.”

Paul is wrapping up a long letter to the Christians in Rome, and in chapter 15 he is explaining his future plans. He is going to run an offering from the Christians in Macedonia and Achaia (think Greece) east to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. Then he is going back west to drop by Rome on his way further west to Spain. Why he didn’t just wire the money I’ll never know. I digress.

Paul is a bit apprehensive about returning to Jerusalem because, well, Paul’s “betraying” Judaism and becoming a Christ-follower was generally frowned upon by the Jewish establishment, and, thus, the general Jewish population in the region. Paul petitions the Romans to, “Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed,” (Romans 15:31-32).

I am struck by Paul’s vulnerability in his prayer request. Here is the greatest missionary of all time asking those he has discipled in the faith to pray for him because he is SCARED. He knows he is walking into a volatile situation in which he could quite literally be murdered if he falls into the wrong hands. But the poor Christians in Jerusalem need help, and he has the ability to help them. So he really does not think twice about going to aide them.

However, he still “urges” fellow believers to pray for his safety. “Dangerous conditions” won’t stop Paul from doing what God wants him to do, but the reality of the danger is still enough for him to plead for prayer. It’s like Paul thinks prayer really works or something… … …

I’m also struck by the verbiage Paul uses in his request. His “urging” the Roman Christians to pray for him communicates…urgency. He has a serious task before him and doesn’t take it lightly.

But beyond that, Paul describes a) the mechanisms by which he is urging the brothers to join him, or b) the mechanisms by which he and the Roman Christians are brothers. And those mechanisms are “our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of the Spirit.” Since there were no commas in the original language, it’s hard to say which possibility Paul meant.

Maybe all Paul means is he and the Roman Christians are brothers because they all were saved by God’s love exhibited through the Holy Spirit’s drawing each of them to Jesus (option b). And as spiritual brothers, they can and ought to join in each others’ struggles.

On the other hand, if the commas are right (option a), Paul is urging the brothers to join him in his struggle via Jesus and the love of the Spirit. It would seem these are the avenues of their joining together.

Perhaps, then, Paul means that their being Christians and their possession of the love of the Spirit make it possible for the Romans to truly unite with him in his struggle. Without the commonality of being believers, maybe it wouldn’t be possible for the Romans to join Paul in his struggle? Can non-believers reallyfully join in believers’ struggles when non-believers lack the correct perspective of prayer and God?

And/Or, without the love of the Spirit working through them, maybe it wouldn’t be possible for the Romans to have the motivation to join Paul in his struggle? I mean, how fun does that sound, anyway? If the decision is left up to us selfish humans, I’m thinking most of the time we won’t be chomping at the bit to join anyone in struggles…Paul is essentially saying, “Hey, you guys? Wanna  feel this incredible fear and anxiety I’m currently experiencing? It sucks big time! You’re gonna hate it. There’s a heavy weight on my chest, I toss and turn all night, and the panic attacks are coming every hour or so… but come on over and suffer with me! I’ll put on a pot of coffee, and you bring cookies.”

At any rate. Paul tells the Romans they can join together with him in his struggle by doing one thing: “praying to God for me.” 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t pray enough. I hardly pray at all, really. I’d never say this out loud (yeah, I would; I have no shame/filter/verbal boundaries), but I feel like prayer is pretty boring and is more of a chore than a privilege. I don’t like feeling this way; I know it is wrong. But prayer is a pretty passive thing to me most the time. I rattle off some thanks and some requests while God sits by trying not to yawn in my face.

But there have been a few times in my life where a friend desperately needed prayer, and I fervently prayed for him. About a year and a half ago, for example, a friend of mine was in a car wreck. He was airlifted, had emergency surgery, was in a medically induced coma in a trauma ICU unit for 6 weeks, etc. Things were broken, breathing was inconsistent, infections arose. He almost died numerous times. Due to the emotion of the circumstances, it was easy for me to “pray without ceasing.” I “joined” this friend and his family in their struggle for life. And there was nothing passive about it. Praying for him and them consumed my thoughts most of every day. Worship songs about depending on God and trusting God came alive to me in a whole new way. I actively worshiped God as I learned how to live what those songs say I believe. I grew spiritually, my friend eventually recovered, his family made it through the worst couple of months of their lives, and God was glorified.

It kind of blows me away that we believers have this ability to actually enter into someone else’s struggle. We can actively join together with them, experiencing at least some level of the pain they are experiencing. We can suffer along with them. And, yes, at first glance, this seems sadistic. Why would anyone purposefully subject themselves to suffering, esp. on someone else’s behalf? Hmm…I don’t know, why don’t we ask Jesus?

Jesus chose to enter our world and our lives to suffer on our behalves. In salvation He takes all the suffering for us. But in daily living He enters our lives and suffers alongside us when we are hurting or scared or anxious or depressed because we still live in a fallen world. He is with us always (Matthew 28:20), even when we’re broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18). We may forget He is there most of the time, but that doesn’t change the fact that He is, and He is feeling all the same emotions of the moment we are (Hebrews 4:15). And just knowing that makes our suffering a little more bearable.

There is something beautiful about us humans loving someone else like this. When we willingly volunteer to walk so closely with someone who is struggling that we actually feel their pain ourselves, we’re showing Jesus to them. A holy communion of sorts takes place, and we come to see that joining them in their struggle is actually a privilege. And the chief way we do this is by praying for them.

  When we struggle, we are to struggle together.

Advertisements

The Perfecter

Apparently, I am becoming a monthly blogger. I’d apologize, but I don’t have time to. (And, also, I’m not sorry. Sad, but not sorry. Another post for another day…)

Our pastor preached on Hebrews 12:1-2 Sunday – that familiar passage about throwing off sin and running the race of faith and looking at Jesus. Although I’ve read it 2,964 times, that last phrase read differently to me Sunday morning.

FIX YOUR EYES ON

Usually, when I read this verse, I focus on the fact that Jesus is the author of faith – of my faith. I feel all humbled and grateful as I nod and think, “Yup, Jesus wrote my faith. He gave it to me. Wow.”

I am not hard-pressed to remember that I would not be a believer if God Himself hadn’t reached inside my heart and thawed it out toward Him. In a very real sense, I did not choose to become a Christian. He chose me first by writing faith into my soul, inserting a very foreign object into my heart, something I could not have done even if I had wanted to…

But last Sunday, for some reason, my spiritual eyes didn’t zero in on the word “author”. Rather, they continued across the page to the word “perfecter” and paused. Jesus is not only the author of faith; He is the perfecter of faith. Of all faith. Of my faith.

Perfecter is not a word we commonly go around using. We don’t typically (or ever) call people perfecters of anything and for good reason. Perfecters make things perfect – without fault and/or complete. People aren’t capable of perfecting anything because we are fallen. We make mistakes. We spill sin onto everything. We are anti-perfecters, if you will.

But Jesus. He is the Perfecter. Specifcially, He is the Perfecter of faith. All faith. Faith in general, everyone’s individual faith, and faith in specific situations. Jesus makes faith perfect – without fault and/or complete.

These thoughts rolled around in my head and my heart as I sat there Sunday. Namely, because my faith in certain things lately has been sorely lacking. Faith in myself, faith in my health, faith in my future, faith in God to resolve all those things… none of it has been perfect. Far from it. And when my faith is lacking, I just get even more critical of myself, ripping myself for lacking faith, squashing any faith that I will ever have sufficient faith again, much less perfect faith…

But this verse – Hebrews 12:2 – tells me perfecting my faith is not up to me.

I know I’m not the only one who needs to realize this.

YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR CREATING YOUR FAITH IN THE FIRST PLACE NOR MAKING SURE YOU HAVE PERFECT FAITH IN ALL THE THINGS ALL THE TIME.

Those are Jesus’ responsibilities, but Satan would have us believe they are ours.

Yes, there is a certain amount of personal responsibility in being willing to cooperate with the Lord (but how much we cannot know because of that free will/God’s sovereignty conundrum). But God, by His grace, enables us to cooperate with Him – to allow Him to grow faith in our hearts – so we can’t even really take credit for that.

If you’re feeling like your faith is far from perfect, throw off the lie that you have to make your faith better somehow. You can’t! But the good news is you aren’t expected to. Jesus gave you what faith you do have; Jesus increases your faith as He sees fit; Jesus is in the process of perfecting your faith, and He will make it complete.

So just take a breath, and thank Him for the unseen work He is doing in your soul and for His graciously taking on the task of perfecting your faith so you don’t have to.

Self-Sacrifice on My Own Terms

The other day my daughters and I had a conversation that struck me.

My 5 year old, whose favorite Bible story is “Jesus Died on the Cross”, randomly said, “It hurt Jesus to be nailed to the cross.”

“Yes, it did. It hurt very much,” I somberly affirmed.

Then my 7 year old reflected, “I don’t think I would have been able to do that… I mean, I would have wanted to, but I don’t think I could have…”

“Me neither,” I said, identifying with her human frailty.

There was silence for about 3 seconds as we all thought about the crucifixion. I felt so many things… mostly, though, I was floored by my 7 year old’s incredible self-insight and willingness to be so honest about her humanity.

And then the 5 year old, equally pensive and extremely serious, chimed in, “I could have done it if they had just used tape.”

Her sister and I laughed.

I had the mental image of Jesus scotch-taped to the cross. Then I decided duct tape would hold better and adjusted my imagination accordingly… after all, they say duct tape can do anything…

Self-sacrifice on my own terms
image via Mister GC @FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Rather than enlighten my sweet 5 year old that even if they had used tape, Jesus still would have died on that cross due to suffocation, I rambled on about the need for blood sacrifice, which was probably an equally over-their-heads path to take…

Later that night, as I recalled our conversation, I estimated my daughter was willing to be taped to the cross because she assumed it wouldn’t hurt. She wasn’t willing to be nailed to the thing because, obviously, that would be painful… She has just enough compassion in her heart that she would have wanted to save people if it were up to her, but, like her older sister, she has her limits. There’s only so far she’d go to save people from hell, and nails through her hands and feet was too far… so she dreamt up a less painful way she could help people…tape.

She was willing to sacrifice herself…on her terms… and the moment I put that thought together in my brain, the Spirit whispered, “Just like you…”

I had to agree. I’m willing to do anything for Jesus…on my own terms. I’m willing to do anything for my family and friends…the way I want to do it. I’m willing to do anything for the lost and for strangers and for anyone anywhere anytime…my way.

Which is fine except for the fact that that’s not how this following Jesus thing works.

We don’t get to dictate the terms of our “being a Christian” to Him, just as He didn’t get to dictate the terms of His life and death to the Father.

God the Father’s plan was to send Christ to earth to ultimately suffer heinously, die in the worst possible way, and rise again. And there were times Jesus didn’t want to participate in the plan! His plea to the Father, for example, to “take this cup from Me,” was a desperate cry to the Father to change the terms (Luke 22:42)!

Jesus was tempted, as we are, to resist the Father’s terms… but He didn’t (Hebrews 4:15). He sacrificed Himself the way the Father told Him to, according to the Father’s will (Luke 22:42).

Our emulating Christ works the same way.

Jesus sets the terms: die to self, take up your cross, follow Him, love others as Christ has loved us, serve others, and go and make disciples. These are the ways we are to sacrifice ourselves. And there will be times we won’t want to! We will be tempted to resist His terms… but we can’t. Because there is no other way to truly be His.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26-27

We don’t get to choose the tape over the nails and still be able to call ourselves Christ-followers. We don’t get to choose to what extent we’re willing to sacrifice; He chooses. We’re all in, or we’re all out. We’re with Him, or we’re not. We have to be willing to sacrifice everything…

I imagine it’s a bit like jumping off a bridge, headfirst in a free fall, waiting to see if the bungee cord around your ankles really will snatch you out of death’s hands. Scary stuff not for the faint of heart. But when you spring back up, away from the ground below – when that bungee cord proves itself strong and true – exhilaration… relief… laughter… freedom… confidence wash over you. And you laugh. And the next time you have to jump, it’s just a little bit easier to do.

No more trying to sacrifice ourselves on our own terms. (It doesn’t work anyway.) Time to sacrifice the way He tells us to. Ask the Lord to help you let go of anything you hold more tightly than His hand. It will be hard. But He will help.

Us Versus Them

In any kind of conflict, we humans instinctively feel defensive. Whether it’s a tiff with a spouse, a disagreement with a friend, or an argument with a boss, we immediately adopt an “us versus them” mentality. It’s just how we’re wired.

Which would be fine if that were how God is wired too. But it’s not.

In that passage we all hate, Jesus said we’re to forgive other believers who hurt us 70 times 7 times, by which He was implying as many times as it takes (Matthew 18:21-22). Why? Because Jesus has forgiven us a million times over – there is nothing He hasn’t forgiven us for – and He wants us to offer the same grace to others (Colossians 3:13).

And He doesn’t want us to just forgive them and part ways. He wants us to forgive them and continue in relationship with them (so far as it depends on us – Romans 12:18). (The obvious exception – when abuse is involved.) I know this because that’s what He does with us. And the longer we spend on this earth, the more like Him we should become (Romans 8:29).

He also tells us Christians to love one another as He has loved us… which begs the question – how has He loved us (John 13:34)? Unconditionally. He literally died for us, and He calls us to figuratively give up our lives for one another. 

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul pens a whopper of a passage. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace,” (Ephesians 4:2-3).

Completely humble?

Every effort?

But what if I’m tired of trying? What if the other party doesn’t care? Worse, what if the other party continues to hurt me or show no regard for my feelings?

How long do I have to bear with them? Surely there is a statute of limitations… As much as my humanity would love to say there is, I don’t see one in scripture… Jesus’ “bearing with me” and all my crap doesn’t have a time limit. And neither should our bearing with one another.

But wouldn’t it be more “peaceful” for two people in seemingly irresolvable conflict to part ways? Let’s call that what it really is – to divide. Shouldn’t two believers who can’t work things out split up in order to “keep the peace”? After all, “keeping the peace” is biblical… (Romans 12:18)

As much I as I wish it did, that just doesn’t seem congruent with “keeping the unity”… Logically, how can that which is divided also be unified, simultaneously? By definition, it can’t.

Might I propose that between two believers, there ought not be such a thing as “irreconcilable differences”? By the power of the Spirit, at least one of the parties ought to be able to extend grace, humility, love, and mercy… as many times as it takes… and since we can only be responsible for our own actions in any given conflict, our choosing to be the party that makes every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit is all that’s in our control. We can choose to obey scripture, despite our feelings, and despite the other person’s choices.

But if the other person doesn’t seem to care at all about “keeping the unity”, that can make for a pretty crummy situation.

So what then? Are we to just remain in a bunch of miserable relationships – us versus the ridiculous them?

I don’t think so.

After his tall order of how we ought to behave, Paul says, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and in all and through all,” Ephesians 4:4-6.

You see, there is no “us” or “them”. At least there shouldn’t be. Not in the body of believers. We are one.

The people we disagree with – we’re one with them.

The people who hurt our feelings – we’re one with them too.

The believers who outright hurt us time and time again – one.

We must make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. The Church depends on it. The Gospel depends on it. We have to forsake the “us versus them” mentality that we reflexively assume when someone crosses us.

We believers are one, whether we feel like it or not. We should be rooting for one another to succeed, spurring each other on to love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, and encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:24-25).

Lord, by Your power, may everything we do and say contribute to the unity of Your Body, the Church. We are one. May we act like it.

 

 

Why Church Membership is Important

So my last three posts – When it’s Not Okay to Leave Your Church, When it’s Okay to Leave Your Church, and What to do if You’re Unhappy at Your Church – all started with a basic presupposition: church membership is important.

Why is church membership important?

But there is an ever-increasing number of Jesus-loving people who don’t share that view. And it makes perfect sense that if you don’t value church membership, you are less inclined to feel like loyalty to your church (or any church, for that matter), is a biblical hill to die on. 

In fact, one of my readers was brave and honest enough to just say what a lot of you may be thinking:

“These last three blogs seem like a whole lot of agonizing over a non-issue to me. If a church is not for you, move on. End of story. And no, don’t feel sad or guilty about it. There aren’t thousands of separate churches. There is one true Church (as in body of Christ that we commit to), and all the separate institutions are just parts of the whole. If you don’t like your building, go to another. Loyalty to a bad/mediocre/not for you church is just silly.”

I so appreciate this comment because it clued me in to the fact that I shouldn’t assume we all value church membership. And we must value membership before we can talk about persevering in our commitments to our churches.

So, why is church membership important? After all, church membership isn’t even in the Bible…

Or is it?

It’s true, you can search for the word “membership” all day long and not find it in the Bible. But if we stop and look at Paul’s letters and other New Testament writings, we find commitment to a local church commanded ad nauseum.

Each letter Paul wrote was to a local church body – at Rome, at Corinth, at Galatia, at Ephesus, at Philippi, at Colossae, at Thessalonica. And in talking to these individual churches, Paul stresses things like unity (Ephesians 4:3, Philippians 2:1-4, Colossians 3:14) and each believer using his spiritual gifts to build up the body (1 Corinthians 12:7, Ephesians 4:12). He emphasizes serving one another (Galatians 5:13) and sacrificing personal freedoms in order to see to the best interests of others (1 Corinthians 9:12, 10:32). Paul commands Roman believers to “be devoted to one another in love,” and to, “Honor one another above yourselves,” (Romans 12:10).

New Testament books written by other people speak to the same topics as well as to believers in local church bodies submitting to church authority figures (Acts 16:4, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:5).

In other words, the majority of the New Testament is about how to do church in the lowercase c sense. And when all the lowercase churches do church the way Paul and others tell them to, the uppercase Church – as in the body of Christ all believers are committed to – is freed up to accomplish its God-given responsibilities to spread the good news about Jesus and to help believers grow in their understanding of Jesus.

Without committing to a local church body – and by that I mean doing more than filling a pew anonymously on some Sunday mornings – how do we live like the New Testament tells us to? When we church hop and/or fly under the radar of church authority by not committing to a local church (which our culture calls “becoming a church member”), it’s hard to be held accountable to live our lives according to the Bible. We have no community context in which to live out the New Testament commands.

If we leave our churches when our preferences aren’t met, how is that being devoted to one another or honoring others above ourselves or sacrificing personal freedoms for the benefit of others?

If we leave our churches every time the Elders make a decision we don’t particularly care for, how is that submitting to their God-given authority?

If we leave our churches every time we have a disagreement with other believers, how is that working toward unity?

If we aren’t committed to our church, who’s going to help us see when we are erring in our ways?

What’s more, it’s difficult (impossible?) for the Church to do its jobs when believers constantly flit from one part of the body to another – from one little c church to the next. It takes time and people to get programs that reach nonbelievers and programs that disciple believers rolling, and it takes commitment from said people to keep them rolling. If we all leave our churches every time we become dissatisfied with something, there is an “us” shaped hole in the ministries in which we were serving/participating, setting the ministries back.

Church membership is the answer to these kinds of problems. It isn’t a commitment to a building, like my friend stated, but, rather, it is an avenue through which we can be encouraged to live our lives according to the New Testament – to love one another, to work out our differences for the sake of unity, to serve others, to submit to elders – which requires a community of believers.

“Church membership” may be a modern term not used in the Bible, but the concept is one of its main themes. The idea that one can be committed to the capital C Church without being actively involved in a local lowercase c church is a myth at best and a lie at worst.

You may love Jesus, and, by His grace, you may be going to Heaven, but the Bible is clear that you can’t live a New Testament life without being committed to your lowercase c church. God desires us to live in accordance with His word because it’s in our best interest to do so and because He is glorified when we obey.

And that, I believe, is a biblical hill to die on.

What to do if You’re Unhappy at Your Church

The fact is there are lots of awesome church people out there that have decided it’s not okay for them to leave their churches because they don’t really have biblical reasons to do so.

So they are staying. Right where they are. And, truth be told, they are miserable. They find it difficult to be at their churches. They aren’t happy, and unhappy people have difficulty connecting with others and with God.

What then?

Are they obligated to stay at their churches and be miserable?

No.

God doesn’t want you  miserable at your church. Barring any unbiblical things going on, God wants you happy at your church. 

Read that again.

God wants you happy at your church, not at a new church. 

How do I know that?

a) God loves us and wants us to be happy (Psalm 68:3). God is a compassionate God who weeps with us and rejoices with us and is able to relate to every emotion we have (Matthew 14:14, John 11:35, Hebrews 4:15). He desires for us to feel happy, but that is not the end all be all of our existence, and if our happiness and our growth in Christ are at odds with one another, God will choose to attempt to grow us every time (2 Corinthians 3:18).

b) If there is one thing the New Testament stresses to the church, it’s unity (2 Corinthians 13:11). When people leave their church bodies in search of personal happiness in a new church body, whether they intend to or not, they effectively stress fracture their former body. Whether they leave quietly or recruit loudly as they go, they weaken other believers in that body by taking away their services (assuming they were serving in the first place) and by causing other believers to wonder if they should leave too.

When the body gets multiple stress fractures from multiple people leaving, it becomes so weak it breaks. And when the body breaks in multiple places, it hurts. A lot. For a long time. Ministry is crippled, to some degree, among the remaining church members as they are left to try to salvage the body. Energy and resources have to be focused on healing the body rather than on what the church should be focusing on: spreading the Gospel and discipling believers.

c) Every time we feel like our happiness is at odds with an opportunity for us to grow, we aren’t viewing the situation how we should (James 1:2-3). We need a heart change quick. We should value above all else our conformation to the image of Christ. That should be our chief source of happiness, and being miserable at your church affords you the perfect opportunity to grow. Rejoice.

So, if you’re unhappy at your church, can I gently challenge you to stop waiting for the things around you to change to suit your preferences and to start changing yourself?

If you want to feel happy about going to your church, stop the self-focus – “What am I not getting?” – and train your mind to focus on others (Philippians 2:3-4) – “How can I serve others here today?” If you’re not serving, start (1 Peter 4:10).

Now, the tricky part is we can serve until we’re blue in the face and still feel unhappy about our churches because our hearts are still focusing on ourselves while we go through the motions of serving others. Psalms says God doesn’t value that kind of external sacrifice, he wants our hearts (Psalm 51:16-17). When we serve with the motivation to honor the Lord, others will experience the love and truth of Jesus, and we will gain joy knowing the Lord is happy with us (Ephesians 6:7). 

If you are among the minority of church members who do serve and are others focused, but you still feel unhappy with your church, there is one other area that needs to change.
Consider that everything your church does is not for your benefit. If you’re a seasoned believer, the outreach arm of your church is not trying to make you happy, it is trying to reach unbelievers and new believers and welcome them into the church so they can come to know Christ. What’s more important than that? (Matthew 28:18-19)
Knowing this, seasoned believers should approach outreach times not with an “I’m not getting anything out of this” attitude but with a rejoicing heart that the Gospel is being preached and non and young believers are getting exactly what they need – small doses of scripture and basic truths (1 Corinthians 3:2). Your jobs during outreach, seasoned believers, is to bring non and new believers so they can grow and to pray for the Spirit to move. Rejoice that seekers are being introduced to Christ at your church!
Likewise, if you’re a young believer, the intensive Bible studies that are way over your head are not trying to make you happy, they are trying to help seasoned believers go deeper in their relationships with the Lord (Hebrews 5:14). If you’re in one of these classes, and your eyes are glazing over because you don’t care about the original Greek, your job is to pray that the Spirit would move and grow these other members in their walks with Him. Rejoice that seasoned believers can grow at your church!
This is the kind of perspective change – to value others more than ourselves – that is called maturing in Christ. If you church-hop in this moment, you lose. You lose the opportunity to mature in your faith (Ephesians 4:15). You lose the opportunity to be apart of others coming to know the Lord.
If none of this is helpful, you need to call your pastor, schedule a meeting, and have an open, honest discussion with him about how you’re feeling. Tell him that you are unhappy and that you don’t want to leave, but you don’t know how to get happy, and allow him to speak to the sources of your unhappiness. Some of the very things that cause you the most trouble could be simple misunderstandings. Or they could be legitimate problems that your pastor needs to be aware of so he can redirect the church.

Hope in the Struggle

I was all set to write an article about how there’s no such thing as a “good Christian.” It was going to be all about how oxymoronic that phrase is – none of us are good, that’s why we need Christ in the first place.

Except I didn’t actually write the article. I just thought about it a whole lot. I never made the time to sit down and hammer it out. So you know what happened? Someone else beat me to the punch.

A friend who knew nothing of my latest blog idea shared an article called The Myth of the ‘Good Christian Girl’ on Facebook. And aside from the fact that my article wouldn’t have been gender specific, this article said a lot of what I was thinking, and it said it much better than I imagine I would’ve said it.

Good writing, for me, always has to have a fresh phrase that sticks with me days later for it to be worthy of the adjective “good”.

This piece had this little nugget in it: the “real you/me/us” is a “struggling saved sinner.”

I love the phrase because each word depicts a part of me in a unique way.

I struggle. I struggle to discern right from wrong. I struggle to get this rock of a heart to choose right on a consistent basis. I struggle to flee temptation and pursue righteousness. I struggle to make sense of pain and evil. I struggle to understand what I struggle with.

But just because I struggle doesn’t mean the offer of salvation and relationship with God is revoked.

I am saved. I have asked the Lord for grace through Jesus, and He gives me more than I can stand. I am saved from eternal damnation, but I am saved for so much more than “just” Heaven. I am saved for living, breathing relationship with the God of creation. I am saved for interaction with God this side of Heaven. I am saved for the pleasure of the One who says to me, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life,” (Isaiah 43:4). (For us AD folks, substitute Jesus for “men” and “people”.)

Just because I am saved, however, doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is so. Why?

Because of that last word – sinner. I am a sinner. It’s what I do. I was born sinning, and I’ll die sinning. There’s not an hour that goes by where I don’t choose selfishness over service (Matthew 20:26-28), or laziness over the good I ought to do (James 4:17), or think curse words instead of blessings (James 3:10).

Just because I am saved doesn’t mean I don’t sin. But just because I sin doesn’t mean I am not savedThe author of Hebrews tells us, “[Jesus] is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them,” (Hebrews 7:25). Completely!

I am a constantly struggling, completely saved, carnal sinner.

And I hope you are too.

Because the only other option is a constantly struggling, completely lost, carnal sinner.

I was that once.

Do you want to know the difference, besides all that Heaven/Hell business?

Hope.

Being saved allows me to have hope for the now as well as the future (Romans 15:13, Titus 3:4-7).

Being lost left me devoid of any reason to believe this life mattered at all or that it could get any better, and there was no “next life” to bank on (Ephesians 2:12).

I hope it’s clear I’m not promising roses and sunshine to you if you choose Christ today. The world will still be broken and so will you, making for some pretty rough days. But with Jesus, there is hope in the struggle.