Category: How We Grow

Feeling Worthless? God helps.

On an October Sunday this past Fall, a strong negative feeling of discouragement started to overwhelm me. I felt that whatever kind of ministry I did for the Lord was worth nothing and I was a useless Christian. For a while these feelings were like a whirlpool from which there was no escape.

Too often, when I have such annoying or uncomfortable feelings, I want to quickly escape from them; trying to push them aside or shut them down as quickly as possible to escape any pain. But when I do that, I don’t thoroughly understand what’s going on in my heart and I miss the opportunity to really grow.

On this fall Sunday afternoon, one means of escape would have been to watch a good football game. But with a miserable Jets game on one channel and a horrible Giants game on the other, there was no escape. I was forced to deal with what I was experiencing.  What did it mean? What exactly was making me feel so worthless? What was God trying to show me, and how could he help me?

This is where the Lord drew me to Romans 12:3 and it came alive :For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

But you may ask, how does feeling low and discouraged mean you are thinking too highly of yourself? Here’s why: it’s thinking that what’s going on in my life all depends on me and not on God.

If I know what my true strengths and true weaknesses are before God, then I can better resist whenever there is an onslaught of negativity, a lie that contradicts God.  When negativity arises, I like how God invites us to spew out our frustrations to him:

 I pour out before him my complaint;
    before him I tell my trouble.

Listen to my cry,
    for I am in desperate need;
(Psalm 142:2,6)

I start taking my reactions to the Lord in prayer. But it’s not just me and God.

Because many who are reading this are brothers and sisters are going through the same thing. I am not the only one who wrestles with the gap between where I am and everything that God wants me to be.  In the above Psalm David continues in verse 7: Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. I love this — for I know that God will respond! By admitting our shortcomings and not hiding from them, God begins to turn around even our bad reactions to build more of Christ in us.

Mandatory donations?

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  (2 Corinthians 9:7)

In this verse we give out of thanks for who God is, without expecting or demanding to get anything back. This is different from the teaching that says, “If you give to this ministry then God will pay you back much much more money than you gave — guaranteed!”

In truth, our good God may graciously give even more back than we gave but he is good whether or not he does that. Our God isn’t a heavenly ATM machine and does not give an ironclad guarantee to make us whole like FDIC deposit insurance does! 

What is a cheerful giver like? The cheerful giver donates without being cajoled or manipulated. At our church we call this grace giving. Free grace giving gets rid of the transactional quid pro quo that often creeps into teaching on giving.

A couple of years ago we had a guest speaker at our church who took a collection. His cause was good, but I disagreed when he said, “Forget about what you planned to give — now give what God wants you to give!” But wait a minute — if someone has prayed and decided in their heart what to give, aren’t they a cheerful giver before God? Isn’t it a form of manipulative compulsion to say that the amount someone decided was bogus because it was too low? What good is it if someone gives some more because they were made to feel guilty ?

Cheerful giving gets rid of the fear of “What happens if I don’t give enough?” Some claim that it is mandatory to give at least 10% of your income to the church and they drag in some Old Testament verses to say that if you don’t give that percent then you are “robbing God.” How different that sounds from the grace shown in today’s opening verse!

 Ironically, people in my church end up giving more over the long term because we are not being cajoled, frightened and bullied into giving more! Indeed, as we grow in Christ, we have less acquisitive lives.  Note that we are not told to never spend a penny on our own pleasures but rather we see that the drive to strive to get more and more to spend on our own pleasures is toned down. As that happens, we simultaneously richly enjoy God’s provision for our own needs andwe cheerfully set aside a sizable chunk to give for the Lord’s work.

Do rules make me good?

Unlimited unconditional overflowing grace makes it less likely that we would sin; and using rules and regulations to control our behavior makes it more likely that we would sin.  How can this be?

When I was younger and I knew everything, grace was alien to me. After all, someone as wonderful as I was certainly did not deserve punishment!  But thankfully, God didn’t let me remain in this mistaken belief.  He shocked me by showing me  that yes, I did deserve punishment — but also that he provided me a way out of what I deserved :  to my great relief, I had my eyes opened to see that Christ took on the punishment that I deserve. I learned a good acronym for grace — G.R.A.C.E —- God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

But even so, I did not really understand grace very well.  So instead of a heartfelt and deepening trust in and thankfulness for what Christ did, I fell into an unfortunate error: I had to follow the rules to stay in Christ’s good graces. If I did enough, then I could stay on God’s good side. But if I didn’t do enough, God might be ticked.

Sickeningly, that put human rules and regulations measures in control, not the Lord.

And when I see human rules, I want to break them. Indeed, in the book of Romans, Paul says that the law shows me what a rebel I am.

Did you ever not care whether you did something or not, then someone told you not to do it and then you wanted to do it? If you saw the trail sign above, wouldn’t you at least be tempted to enter and see what’s happening on the trail? I know I would. That is how the law works! And then once I snuck down the trail, I would feel that I had to do enough good to try to pay back what I owed by disobeying the rules.

Now, Jesus did say “Obey my commands.” But guidelines and commands can’t be viewed as being mandatory rules to get God to approve of me. No, God showed his approval of me outside of anything I ever did by permanently sealing me in Christ. So following wise guidelines and commands may help me to keep reflecting God’s loving glory — but they do not earn anything!

Knowing I can’t earn approval from God, I am free to live a grace-driven life instead of a rules-driven life.  Freed by grace, secure in God’s approval, I can finally start to do some genuinely loving deeds.

You even put up with that?

You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely. (Psalm 139:3-4)

My first reaction to this passage is to say uh-oh, you know all my ways? (Sometimes I am not too proud of them!)

But on closer thought I’m glad God has this knowledge. Because God is a loving Father who wants to use that knowledge for my own good. If God were not driven by love, then I would be fearful of being smitten because I have had (and still have) some ways that are not admirable.

But the Lord who drew me to Christ is a loving Lord who wants to forgive me when I screw up and to change me. It’s this Lord who knows everything about me throughout the day. And that’s something for me to welcome instead of dreading.

This friendly familiarity that God has with me helps me be honest with him. Since there are no secrets between me and the Lord, when I am groaning, I can express that to him. So, rather than stewing inside and letting my dissatisfaction slowly eat away at me, I can bring my discontent out into the open. Look at what it says in Psalm 142:2.

I pour out before him my complaint;
before him I tell my trouble

This is something great about the Psalms: How often the Psalmist pours out heart and soul —sometimes in praise and sometimes in complaint.  We love to express joy but what about a day where we lack joy? We can be brutally honest when something has us annoyed or even boiling with anger. We do this not to justify ourselves but rather as part of a plea for God to act.

We can look at how the Psalmist’s complaint gets handled:

I cry to you, Lord;
    I say, “You are my refuge,
    my portion in the land of the living.” (Psalm 142:5)

And rather than dwelling in the bondage of complaint the Psalmist asks with confidence:

 Set me free from my prison,
    that I may praise your name.  (Psalm 142:7)

Now, God may or may not fix the situation we are complaining about. I love it when he does set it right! But, at the very least God gives us a positive attitude adjustment in the middle of whatever we were whining about.

He Preserves Us

The book of Philippians begins with “To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus.” I think of us being God’s people when our men’s Battleground group gathers on Saturdays. Philippians continues in 1:6 by saying being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus, and reassures us by saying that it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (2: 13)

Last week our Battleground lesson was about control and many of us expressed how that idol shows up in our lives. I mentioned how I react when we receive a bogus bill and my wife says these five words: “Why are you so angry?”

Indeed, I need to confess what happened when we got a bogus bill early this year from our cable company. I ended up yelling at the representative on the phone. When I calmed down, I apologized for yelling at him, and he said, “No problem, that is what I get paid for.” Well I don’t think the yelling honored God but perhaps the apology did.

Scripture says that perseverance is especially important in our Christian life. But I have often failed in my perseverance. Does that mean I am doomed? That I might not carry on? Does it all depend on me? The Lord says no!

I am thankful that he gives us another word that starts with “P” that is even better than perseverance. It’s preservation. It’s Jesus who sustains me and preserves me.

Yes, God preserves us to allow us to take the next step after falling flat on our faces. And along that line, let me tell you how God has a sense of humor and timing.

After talking about my reaction to bogus bills at that Battleground meeting last week I got home and the postman rang our bell delivering a certified letter that said we were being fined by our homeowner’s association. It was punishment for something we did not do !

For a change, I wasn’t fuming and stewing over the unfairness of it all. My wife said I wasn’t handling this perfectly but I was handling it much better than I did with the cable company. Anyway this time I sent a polite but firm email to our association property manager protesting the fine and explaining why we did not owe it.

I said, “It’s in your hands, Lord.”

And early this past Monday an email came from the property manager apologizing for the misunderstanding and saying we did not owe the fine. Yes, God engineers circumstances to grow us and test us in our commitment and gives the grace to achieve it.

We really do spur each other on, broken vessels who nonetheless are growing in grace. I conclude with some words from Keith Getty and Stuart Townend’s song In Christ Alone which remind us how it does not depend on us:

Till He returns or calls me home-
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.

Patient ? I Don’t Have the Time To Be Patient!

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Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.  You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.  Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! (James 5:7-9)

We believe that Jesus is coming again. That’s been the hope of the Church since Bible times. But when we take our eyes off the hope, then it’s easy for crummy attitudes to slither in. Today’s opening passage warns that when we are indifferent to Jesus’ coming our grumbling increases.

That’s why Scripture often reminds us that the Kingdom is not far away — indeed, Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2 ESV).

It’s been 2000 years since today’s opening verses were written and Jesus is still standing at the door.  Does that seem like an overly long time to be waiting? Well, we need to think of God’s time scale: What is 2000 years compared to eternity?

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  (2 Peter 3:8-9)

Note that we have two passages today that use the word “patient,” but in two separate ways. The first passage is how we need to be patient and the second is how the Lord himself is patient.

God is patient because he wants to give us time to repent of crummy attitudes. And since God is so patient with us, he asks that we echo his patience by being patient with each other. But if we impatiently whine and complain about each other, we test God’s patience with us.

As we learn to be as patient with each other as God is with us, then our worry about the warning of judgment fades.  Instead, our love for each other increases as our grumbling about each other decreases. We flourish as a church and look forward to Christ’s return with hope and not fear.

Growing Like Wildfire?

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,  filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

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Paul urges abounding love. Growing in this is not quick and it is not easy. But trust God and praise God, it does happen!

Some people grow in Jesus like wildfire, and never really stop. You hear of someone who comes to believe in Jesus, a week later they know they are called to be a pastor, and for the rest of their life they walk strongly and keep growing.

But what about the rest of us who aren’t always growing like wildfire?

Over the years, I have hit some major rough spots.  God was gracious to rescue me from them, but overall growing in “depth of insight” has taken me decades. God sure has been patient and faithful during that time! It’s good to remember that this is what God is like — because the devil will mess with how long we have been Christians and twist it to be used against us: What? You still have doubts??  OR Look at how much growth brother so-and-so has. You are such a waste!

One way I love to counter the devil’s attacks is to be encouraged by honest stories, featuring lives of pilgrims who have both victories and defeats!

I’d like to put in a plug for my men’s group which is named Battleground ; here you have men who love Jesus but who have good stories about how patient God has been with their foul-ups ; and instead of scorn for  those weaknesses and flops, there is joy at how God has given repentance, forgiveness, and (steady if sometimes slow) growth over time!

I can’t get over how patient God is with us, when it takes so long to get what he’s saying through our thick heads.

Yes, I have fallen short of the glory of God. Maybe you have, too. But God calls us to a life of repentance and forgiveness, rejoicing that his kindnesses are new and fresh each morning and that he really does view us as pure and blameless because of what Jesus achieved for us.

God loves to help us see what is best, so that we can lead a fruitful life for him. Then we can truly say, thank you for filling me with more of your love.