What to do when You’re Sinning

A lot of times when I am going through a time of not caring about much, having a “meh” attitude about life, I slip into some pretty comfortable sins. Perhaps my favorite one is not doing the good I know I ought to do, per James 4:17. I don’t use my time for His purposes…I don’t intentionally invest in people in order to encourage them toward Him…I don’t think of others more highly than myself and act accordingly (Philippians 2:3). I don’t discipline my thoughts or my mouth to think and speak things that honor God.

After a lengthy spell of this self-centeredness, the Holy Spirit breaks through and convicts my hard heart of my wrongdoing. My stubborn self probably won’t admit to other humans that I’ve been sinning, but, I know the Spirit has nailed me…

Usually, what ensues next is an internal debate about how I need to stop myself and do right, but also that I don’t really want to stop and/or I don’t have the will power to stop on my own. Sometimes the excuses win and I stay stuck in my pattern of sin for a while longer. Other times, I respond to the Spirit.

It occurred to me while studying 1 Samuel that I’m probably Jewish. Not nationality-wise, of course. Blond hair and blue eyes are not what you think of when you hear “of middle-eastern descent.” What really occurred to me is I am just like the Israelites in behavior.

In 1 Samuel the Israelites start out as a theocracy. That is, they are governed by God Himself. They have judges/leaders in place to help them through civil affairs and military strategies and whatnot, but, ultimately, those leaders are not leading Israel: God is. The prophets tell the judges what God wants them to do, and the Israelites decide whether or not to do it.

After some pretty amazing military battles in which Leader God miraculously delivers Israel from enemies and grants peace between Israel and rowdy neighbors for the first time in forever, the Israelites decide they don’t want a theocracy anymore. Rather, they want a king–i.e., a human–to lead them (1 Samuel 8:20).

Why? Because they want to keep up with the Joneses. “All the other nations get to have kings, why can’t we?” they whine (1 Samuel 8:5, 19-20, Kelly Levatino Translation).

Now, Samuel knows this is a stupid request. So you know what he does? He prays. If that ain’t a lesson in leadership, I don’t know what is. But I digress.

And when Samuel prays, God tells him what to do. Crazy right? Maybe if you and I thought that could still happen today when we pray, we’d pray more often and with more anticipation. But probably not. I digress.

Sam tells the Israelites, “Look, I talked to God, and He says if you guys want a king, you need to know that man is going to oppress the daylights out of you. It’s not going to be good, you guys,” (1 Samuel 8:11-17).

“We don’t care!” the stupid people reply, “We want a king!” (1 Samuel 8:19-20).

Samuel just shakes his head. He does’t argue with them or call them names or pull his judge card and “overrule” their decision. Instead, you know what he does? That guy prays again! He goes back to God and tells Him what happened (as if He didn’t already know), and God says, “Give them the king they want,” (1 Samuel 8:21-22).

Samuel installs Saul as king, effectively ending his own rule as judge. And as he steps down, Samuel says, “Let me tell you people something. You all have a long history of doing whatever you want, getting yourselves into desperate situations, realizing you’re in those situations because you’ve been sinning, and then running back to God crying, ‘Mea culpa!’ And you know what? Every time you’ve sincerely repented, God has been faithful to forgive you and deliver you from your circumstances,” (1 Samuel 12:6-11).

Samuel continues, “This time your sin is that you said, ‘We want a king to rule over us’–even though the Lord your God was your king,”(1 Samuel 12:12 NIV).

And so it finally dawns on the Israelites how their demanding a king has been sin all this time. When this reality hits them between the eyes, they respond to Samuel, “Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king,” (1 Samuel 12:19).

Instead of going to God themselves in the midst of their guiltiness, the Israelites ask the “senior pastor”, as it were, to pray for them while they keep their distance from the Lord they think will kill them for their disobedience (and for good reason; He does have a track record of that…).

But Samuel tells them, “Do not be afraid. You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart,” (1 Samuel 12:20).

In other words, RUN TO GOD! This is when you need Him the most! When you’re being convicted of your sin and need to make things right with Him, GO TO HIM!

Samuel goes on to advise, “Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless,” (1 Samuel 8:21).

So, not only do the Israelites need to go to God in their sinful state, they also need to stop turning to useless idols in their sinful state.

When we are caught up in sinful patterns and are convicted to repent, we have the same two choices Israel had: we can run to God and deal with it, or we can run to useless idols.

Our “useless idols” may look a little different than Israel’s Baals and Ashteroths, but, essentially, they are the same. Today we run to Netflix or Facebook or ice cream or adult beverages or our spouses’ approval or overworking or helicopter parenting or spending too much time on hobbies or a million other things in an effort to not have to deal with our sin, our guilt. We indulge in distractions and/or surround ourselves with people who will tell us we aren’t that bad, hoping God will agree and the Spirit will leave us alone.

But those useless idols cannot rescue us.

There is only One rescuer.

Jesus took our sin upon Himself, in part, so that when we screw up, we can go to God WITHOUT FEAR of punishment. The only thing God gives us when we come to Him with repentant hearts is grace. He graciously forgives us and repairs our brokenness that results from our sinning. He puts us back together.

Samuel goes on to tell the Israelites, “For the sake of His great name the Lord will not reject His people, because the Lord was pleased to make you His own,” (1 Samuel 12:22).

When we go to Him, He WILL NOT reject us; He chose us–we are His.

In the midst of our sin, do not turn away from the Lord. Go to Him. The sooner the better.

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The Difference between Peacemakers and Peacekeepers 

There is a temptation for believers who find themselves in conflict to quietly keep the peace by acquiescing in the hopes of quelling the conflict as soon as possible. 

It’s unfortunate because these otherwise godly believers have been misled into thinking that their peacekeeping is biblical and conflict is to be avoided.  After all, Romans 12:18 says, “…as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

But the first phrase of that verse is “if it is possible…”, meaning sometimes it’s not. 

How could it not be possible to live at peace with everyone? If we give in to everything everyone else wants, that would make us peacekeepers, right? 

Yes. And in a lot of instances, being a peacekeeper is wrong. 

Paul says “if it is possible” because there are times he wants us to not give in. Like when keeping the peace means enabling sin. 

Keeping the peace does not trump calling out sin. The Bible is clear about this. 

  • “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.” Galatians 6:1
  • “As for [elders] who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” 1 Timothy 5:20
  • “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” James 5:19-20
  • “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” Luke 17:3
  • “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” Matthew 18:15

Now, to be sure, we are to call each other out on sin in a humble manner, knowing full well we are not sinless ourselves and that we will be on the other side of the calling out at some point in the near future if we have godly people around us.

If the person we are confronting is mature, it’s possible the confrontation will actually be peaceful. However, most of the time these things are not peaceful. In fact, they may stir up some contention. 

And that’s okay. 

Why? 

Because our calling out sin in someone else creates an avenue through which the Spirit can lead him to repentance, which will produce more peace in the body than our turning a blind eye to sin ever could. In the latter instance, we are a peacekeeper. But in the former instance, we are peacemakers

Peacekeeping when sin is involved only allows the sin to grow, damaging more and more people more and more severely (which isn’t very peaceful, when you think about it). 

Peacemaking when sin is involved calls for an end to the sin, stopping the damage in its tracks (which is true peace, when you think about it). 

James writes, “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness,” ‭‭(James‬ ‭3:18‬).

Don’t be a peacekeeper; it often leads to unrest. Be a peacemaker; when done with the right attitude, it always results in righteousness. 

Learning to Hear God

My 8 year old, Lexi, stayed home from school Thursday with a fever and cold. Apparently, her immune system didn’t get the memo that Mommy needed to be writing a 7 page paper for grad school, but that’s ok.

I took it in stride.

I.

Took something in stride.

(For an explanation as to why that is so shocking, see my previous post.)

Any who, I used the day to clean the house a little (a very little), finish reading a book, and play Monopoly for 2 hours because Lexi is addicted to it.

As we got ready to go pick up the 6 year old from school, my daughter noticed her dad and me texting. She asked what we were talking about so, I shared that our friend is going to Ethiopia next month to work with some orphans over there our family has long prayed and hurt for. Lexi said she wanted to give our friend money to help fund her trip.

Lexi asked, “How much do you think I should give? $1?”

As we got into the car, I suggested we ask the Lord what He thought.

[Note: like all of you Christian parents out there, I have recently been lamenting that I fail way too often to teach my daughters how to have relationship with the Lord. They have plenty of head knowledge about Him, but I long for them to learn what it means to live with Him, day in and day out, far past rote bedtime prayers. And, like you, I’ve struggled not only to make the time to teach them to be relational with God, but I’ve also lacked the know-how, or so I thought. How do you teach a 6 and 8 year old (read: little people who aren’t great at thinking abstractly yet) to discern the voice of God, something most adults can’t do? Well, He was about to teach me how to teach them.]

My daughter whispered a prayer asking God how much He wanted her to give, and then I instructed her to listen. She said she didn’t hear anything, so I told her what I heard. I heard God say, “I love Lexi. I love her caring heart and that she wants to give. I would love it if she gave $1.”

Lexi responded, “I keep thinking of the numbers 9, 2, and 3, but I don’t have $923…”

I told her we should ask the Lord what He means with those numbers, and as we began to pray, my phone rang. It was my husband, so I put God on hold. (I was very polite about it and said, “Excuse me, Lord.” He understood completely. At least that’s what I’m telling myself…)

I told my husband what Lexi and I were doing, and he suggested God might mean $9.23. I told Lexi when I hung up, and she quickly dismissed the idea of giving her version of a small fortune. Since she was sure that’s not what God meant, I told her we should pray some more and ask Him to make it clear. She said she didn’t hear anything, so I told her what I thought I heard, “I want Lexi to give $9.23.” I reported this to Lexi, but she was still hesitant. She suggested $1 again, so we prayed and asked the Lord how He felt about $1. She didn’t sense anything, so I told her what I heard Him say, “No, I want her to give $9.23 exactly.”

I decided it was a good time to show Lexi how to determine if we are hearing from God, making things up ourselves, or hearing from Satan when we pray. To be clear, I don’t think we can corner the market on this exercise. We can and should have a rule of thumb, like anything we hear in prayer that goes against scripture is not from God. But I think, for the most part, we have to take things we think are from God with a grain of salt, unless something we sense He says is directly backed up by scripture.

In this case, there is no Bible verse that tells Lexi to give or not to give $9.23 to the Lord. So I told her about general giving verses and how the Bible teaches we are to take care of orphans (James 1:27), and we are to give with cheerful hearts (2 Corinthians 9:7), so God is definitely for her supporting our friend’s trip. I suggested to her the amount she gave was inconsequential; it was the spirit behind the giving that God cared most about…unless she felt very strongly that He told her to give an exact amount…then she’d better obey Him.

We decided we’d ask the Lord to confirm the amount He wanted her to give, and we’d keep our eyes and hearts open the rest of the day to see if He did. I told her not to be surprised if she started to see 923 different places. She got excited at the thought of it, and so did I.

I prayed silently all the way to our destination that God would visually confirm His will for her immediately. When we pulled into the parking lot and got in the car line to pick up her sister, we found ourselves behind this vehicle.

IMG_6126

I asked Lexi to tell me what numbers were on the license plate. She didn’t understand at first, but then she realized the three numbers she thought God was showing her – 9, 2, and 3 – were right there on the plate.

I said, “Huh, there are your three numbers… but they’re not in the order we expected to see them, are they?” Her face lit up, “Do you think God is trying to tell me to give $3.29?” I said, “Maybe.” She texted her dad a picture of the license plate and her theory, and he agreed he thought she was right.

She smiled at me and said, “Good – that’s a lot less than $9.23!”

I smiled as I watched this little girl learn to hear from God while continuing to struggle with her humanity all at the same time.

She is not perfect. Her heart will always have selfish leanings. But they pale in comparison to the amazing goodness and obedience and delight in Him that God is growing in her heart. So I rejoiced.

And as I finish this post, God is reminding me that is exactly how He feels about me. I may be 32 years old, and I may have been a Christian for 16 years, but I am still His little girl, learning to hear from Him while continuing to struggle with my humanity all at the same time. I am not perfect. My heart will always have selfish leanings. But they pale in comparison to the amazing goodness and obedience and delight in Him that God is growing in my heart. So He rejoices.

How to Survive Depression as a Christian

I’ve probably read about 30 articles on depression and suicide since Monday night. From the well-known writers and publications to the amateur bloggers, it seems every writer has an opinion on the subject, and most are saying the same thing: depression and suicide are complicated, and those who aren’t familiar with them need to learn a thing or two… quick.

I’ve never cared to be a social commentator – at least not on the internet, because, let’s face it, a medium devoid of facial expressions and inflections can turn good intentions into culture wars (and do so, more often than not) at the speed of Wi-Fi. No, thank you.

No, my shtick is to speak from my personal experience in the hopes that you will see yourself somewhere in my story and be motivated to step a smidge closer to Jesus Christ as a result. So I’ll stick with that purpose.

Now that my preface is out of the way, on to the point of this article: how to survive depression as a Christian.

Hello. My name is Kelly, and since I was 12 years old (which was 19 years ago, if you must know), I’ve shared my head space with an unwanted “house” guest: depression (dysthymia and double depression, to be exact).

It took me 7 years and a few good friends to agree to talk to a counselor about it and to go see a doctor that could prescribe medication.

Since I was 19 years old, I’ve taken most of the antidepressants you’ve heard of as well as those you haven’t. I’ve seen a multitude of counselors and physicians and a psychiatrist. My house guest has come and gone with no rhyme or reason, but he never goes far… at most, he steps out on the porch of my mind for a cigarette break, and then he’s right back at it again, disheveling the rooms of my brain.

I became a Christian when I was 16, which may seem like a misplaced detail at this juncture of my story, but, I assure you, it’s not.

I was depressed before I became a Christian; I was depressed after I became a Christian. And no amount of spiritual maturing on my part changes the fact that I continue to wrestle depression for control of my “home”.

So what do I do about it?

As a Christian who has depression and is still alive, I suppose I’ve learned a few things about how to survive this illness. The things I’m going to suggest work for me, and by “work” I do NOT mean they pull me out of my depression. There are no silver bullets for chronic depression. I simply mean these tactics help me endure the dark hours and days and weeks until the light chooses to dawn again.

  • Go to a Christian psychologist or counselor. I know, going to a “shrink” makes you feel like you’re only validating that you are crazy. You aren’t crazy; you’re depressed. And talking to someone actually takes more strength and humility (both good Christian virtues) than staying home all day in your pajamas, sullenly wishing Taco Bell delivered. (Not that I’ve done that… today…) Not only will talking to someone with some training help you feel understood and less alone, working with a professional who understands the truth about our souls as well as our brains gives you an essential added dynamic to unraveling and surviving depression as a Christian. Non-Christians don’t correctly understand God, and we are made in God’s image, so it follows non-Christians cannot correctly (and/or fully) understand human nature. It’s true, Christian therapists are limited, too (they are finite and fallible, after all), but they are much more likely to understand more accurately a larger portion of the puzzle that is the human mind/spirit combination than non-Christian therapists, in my opinion.
  • If your type of depression warrants it, take medication. Hear me, Christian. You are not a second class person nor a second class believer if you happen to need an antidepressant to help your brain function correctly! I spent 7 years in misery because I was too embarrassed to admit I might need medication. A loving friend finally convinced me to see a medical doctor by explaining chemical depression is no different than diabetes – they both require synthetic medicine, and neither need is shameful. Your counselor can tell you if she thinks you may need medication. If there is any reason to believe you might benefit from an antidepressant, go see a psychiatrist. I cannot emphasize this point enough. I wasted too many years (10!) relying on my general practitioner and OBGYN for my meds. They know a lot about…other things…but brain chemistry is not their specialty. I know, the side effects are annoying. I know, you’ve tried a lot of medications, and none seem to work. I know, some can be expensive. Take them anyway. My counselor told me it can take 6 months to a year, on average, to find the best medication at the best dosage IF you’re willing to work faithfully with a psychiatrist. Invest that time and money. Honestly, life isn’t going to feel worth living if you don’t, but it might if you do.
  • Get a little help from your friends. I know, relationships are difficult and exhausting when you’re depressed. I know, you don’t feel like you have any friends. I know, you’re scared to show your frailty to anyone. But you must – not to everyone, just 2 or 3 folks that are safe to be transparent with. Surround yourself with a handful of people that are willing and able to remind you they love you just as much (if not more) when you are at your lowest as they do when you are at your best – people who will simply be with you physically and/or emotionally when you need to feel less alone. Pick people you know will pray for you, not just people who will say they will but don’t. Pick people who speak God’s grace to you when you speak self-condemning thoughts to them. Pick people who acknowledge you feel like there is no hope and there will be no end to the darkness while they simultaneously remind you, ever so gently, that light will come again. Pick people you know you can text or call any time and they will inevitably respond with a listening ear and an empathetic spirit. Pick people who don’t succumb to the societal pressure that makes them feel like they need to “fix” you but instead focus on the task of making you feel loved.
  • Keep communication open with God. I know, you don’t feel like He hears you. I know, you’re angry with Him at times. I know, the scriptures aren’t comforting when you read them. I know, the commands to “be joyful always” only serve as catalysts to heap condemnation on yourself. Tell Him all of this. Whatever you’re feeling about Him, about the words you’re reading from the Bible, be straight up with God. He is listening, even though we may not sense Him responding (Psalm 34:15). If you don’t know what to read, go to the Psalms. And not the happy Psalms, but the depressing Psalms (ex. 42, 43, 55). It’s yet another way to feel less alone when you read people in the Bible felt depressed, too, and most of the depressing Psalms end with the depressed person praising God, an example we could learn from. And don’t let Satan grow those feelings of condemnation in your mind! Jesus understands how depression limits our ability to be joyful always. Frankly, even optimists with perfect brain chemistry can’t uphold the commands to rejoice all the time. We’re all on an even playing field with this one: try, and let Jesus’ grace cover the shortfall.
  • Rest. Depression is tough. It sucks the energy right out of you. So say no to all the good church (and life) activities that others want you to do. I know, they need someone to work in the nursery. I know, they need someone to pass out the fliers. I know, they need someone to greet at the door. Save the limited energy you have for one or two church things that really contribute to your mental health instead of detract from it (might I suggest attending a Bible study?). Hear me, though. I am NOT saying retreat. If you drop out of everything at church and hole up in your house, you’re not “resting”, you’re “retreating”, and you’re going to sink deeper into depression than you ever have before because that’s what happens when you’re alone all the time. You don’t have to go be Mr. or Ms. Socialite, but force yourself to attend something once a week and to speak to at least one person beyond, “Good morning.” Then go home and take a nap. Even if it’s only 11 AM. You’ve done well.

And that’s about it. These are the things I do as a Christian both to keep depression at bay as well as to endure depression when it descends upon me. Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don’t. There are no silver bullets.

My psychiatrist would tell me I also need to add eating better and exercising 30 minutes 5 times per week to my list, both of which would be Christianly ways to survive depression on account of the whole we ought to take good care of our bodies thing (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). But those are really hard things to do when you’re depressed. So I’m still eating Taco Bell on my couch on a regular basis.

My pastor suggested he anoint me with oil and pray for healing per the directive in James 5:14. I haven’t done it yet, but I plan to, and I invite you to try it, too, even if you’re uncomfortable with it. He’s done this for me twice in the past in regards to different health issues, and both issues resolved, albeit several months after the fact. I don’t know that the anointing and prayer had anything to do with it, but I don’t know that they didn’t either. So it’s worth a shot, in my book.

If you’ve read this far, it’s likely you’re either a depressed Christian yourself or you are close to someone who is. Drop me a line in the contact box below, and I will pray for you. I will stop everything and pray for you. Also, if you’ve discovered anything else that helps you survive depression, share it in the comments section to help others.

 

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.

Developing Self-Discipline One Frame at a Time

On the heels of my last post, there are some things I feel like I can’t choose to do. I just can’t seem to will myself, to discipline myself, to do and/or not do various things.

And all you optimists are saying, “Well, that’s obviously a lie. We are in total control of our own choices.”

And you’re mostly right, but we realists don’t feel like you’re right, so it doesn’t matter.

The only time the statement, “I can’t make myself _____,” is true is when the statement is actually, “I can’t make myself feel ______.”

I can’t make myself feel like cooking.

I can’t make myself feel excited about cleaning.

I can’t make myself feel like not sinning in my favorite way.

And you know what I’m learning? That’s okay.

It’s okay to have the feelings we have. It’s okay to feel what we feel, and we can’t change our feelings.

Where the lie creeps in, though, is when we start to believe we must act a certain way in relation to our feelings. If I feel _____, I must do _____. If I don’t feel ____, I can’t do _____. As if we are powerless over our emotions and hopelessly enslaved to them.

Lies.

Lazy lies.

For years my out has been, if I do something I don’t feel like doing, I’ll be a fake. And, honestly, I don’t have the emotional energy to pretend like I enjoy something when I don’t. Nor do I respect people who are phony.

So I took those thoughts and came to two false conclusions: if I can’t get excited about something, I shouldn’t do it, and, if I am excited about something, I have a right to do it. 

Turns out that’s quite a problematic approach to “being an adult”.

But there is a solution for those of us that operate this way. And it’s not what you think.

The answer is not to learn to get more excited about things we dislike. Hell can freeze over, thaw, and refreeze again, and I will never get excited about cleaning my house. Or eating quinoa. Or not eating pizza daily. Or resisting the pull of my favorite sins.

The answer is not to develop an affection for things we just don’t have an affection for or to somehow rid ourselves of the affections we have for things that are bad for us. The answer has nothing to do with how we feel or don’t feel about the areas in which we lack self-discipline.

The answer lies in re-framing our situations.

Developing Self-Discipline One Frame at a Time
image via foto76/freedigitalphotos.net

For example, I can’t wait until I feel like exercising to exercise. That day will never come. But I also can’t force myself to exercise while cursing the whole time and expect myself to develop a lifelong routine of exercising. When I don’t exercise, I hate exercise. When I force myself to exercise, I hate exercise. And thinking about how much I hate exercise all the time isn’t productive.

But you know what I do like? Playing soccer. Well, that’s not true. I like playing soccer when I’m fit. If I’m not fit, I can’t physically do what I know I would be capable of if I were in shape, and then I hate playing soccer.

So I can take this idea that I want to be fit so I can enjoy playing soccer again, and I can attach it to exercise, which I still hate, mind you. And I can tell myself, it’s okay to hate exercise. But I’m going to exercise anyway so I will be in shape (and, therefore, enjoy) playing ball next month.

See what I did there? I re-framed exercise. It’s still an annoying piece of my daily routine I feel negative about, but I choose to do it anyway because it’s a necessary means to an end I do get really excited about. I’m not getting tripped up in my feelings anymore. I’m choosing to act independently of my feelings.

And we can do that – you and I, resident pessimists – we can learn to re-frame any number of situations in order to develop some much needed self-discipline. 

Ann Voskamp says, “You only begin to change your life when you begin to change the way you see,” (The Greatest Gift).

It’s true.

What situation do you need to re-frame today? Ask Him to help you. And shoot me an email if you want to talk about it. Unless it’s about cooking. Then I can’t help you.

“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:4)

Does God Ever Give Us More Than We Can Handle?

SufferingI shared an article on my Facebook wall the other day in which a pastor makes the case that God does give us more than we can handle. I happened to agree with this suffering Christian. However, a friend of mine who loves Jesus and the Catholic Church and knows Scripture took issue with the article.

(Note: you need to have Christians – and by that I mean Jesus-following and Bible-loving folks – who don’t think like you in your life. I joked with my friend, “As iron sharpens iron, so a devout Catholic sharpens an evangelical Protestant.” It’s a joke, but it’s also true.)

The dialogue with my friend helped me get to the bottom of why I agreed with the pastor’s sentiment and what he could have done to be more clear about his statement that God gives us more than we can handle (assuming his intent was to be biblical).

Go read the article for some background if you want. I’ll wait.

While my Catholic friend brought numerous disagreements to the table, his main beef was that, through Christ, we can handle anything (Philippians 4:13), and, if we believe in God’s sovereignty, we are to believe that whatever is happening to us is God’s will (Ephesians 1:11). That fact alone should give us reason to rejoice (Philippians 4:4) and embrace the burden (James 1:2), motivating us to stand up and endure. Not to mention, my friend pointed out, that God loves His people and would not “burden us past our capability”.

(I told you this guy is sharp.)

Clearly, I couldn’t refute my friends thoughts. I agree with his Bible-supported statements, although I could take issue with his assumption about how a loving God would and wouldn’t act, per his last thought. On the whole, my friend’s arguments are right.

And, yet, I still agreed with the bulk of the article stating the (seemingly) exact opposite: God does give us more than we can handle at times.

After some thinking, I realized the discord between my friend’s correct assertions and the author’s correct assertions was due to a lack of clarity on the author’s part.

The author wrote with an unspoken presupposition in mind that made a subtle appearance toward the end of the article but should have been more prominent. Because it wasn’t, my friend jumped on the lack of clarity and assumed the author to be off his biblical rocker.

The major distinction that wasn’t made clear is this: when we operate out of our own strength, what God gives us is often more than we can handle. But when we operate in total dependence on Christ, He will supernaturally enable us to handle anything. 

So, you see, both my friend and the author are right.

We have to get to the end of ourselves – we have to be broken, unable to bear anymore in our own strength – before we learn what it is to fully rely on Christ. God knows this, which is why, I believe, He does allow us to experience more than we can bear IN OUR OWN STRENGTH. We won’t turn to Him if we can bear it all alone.

Because He loves us and out of His desire for us to be drawn into closer, more dependent, and, simultaneously, more powerful relationship with Him, He allows/causes our burdens to accumulate when we aren’t depending on Him enough so we will depend on Him enough. He lets situations become too much so we realize how much He is – enough.

So, per the article’s point, don’t tell someone who is suffering that God won’t give them more than they can bear. Instead, tell them God gives us more than we can bear so we learn how to bear all with Him, and encourage them to use their suffering to, “Seek the LORD and His strength; seek His presence continually,” (Psalm 105:4).