A Prayer for the Church

God, be with our church, with those who are called by Your name. Help us to realize that You are the most important thing in our lives, and that You and You alone have the power to change people’s hearts. Help us to realize our calling to love the lost, heal the wounded, both in body and in spirit, feed and clothe the poor, encourage the broken-hearted, and in all we do, to guide those around us to You. Let us see beyond the actions, beyond the anger and the hatred and the skepticism of all who reject You; let us see as much as You allow us to of their hearts, that we may know their pain and have only compassion and love for them, as You had love for us. Give us wisdom in dealing with people and with situations in life; only You know what is to come and what is truly best for us. Let us accept Your judgments and Your answers to our prayers, even when that answer is not what we want to hear.

Help us, Lord, to ignore those things that don’t matter that we might live in peace with each other, not striving to outdo each other in any way, but striving only to serve you with all of our hearts, minds, strength, and souls. Teach us humility and contentedness, teach us patience and mercy, teach us faith and love, but first, Lord, give us the courage to pray for these things in earnestness, for we know that You will always answer prayers for things that are in Your will for us. Help us to understand Your ways, that You often teach us love by giving us difficult people to love, that You show us how to be patient by letting us want things immediately. Help us to grow, Father, that we might be closer to You.

For our church, Father, please strengthen our faith. Show us that Your Word is still alive today, that it is not void or outdated or false. Show us our sins, and then show us our hearts that cause us to commit these sins. Most of all, change our hearts that we may seek You first above all things. Help us to be different from the world, let them see that You do change people, and that what we have is something they need. Give us the strength to weather persecution, to not only endure, but to praise You when it comes that we are counted worthy to suffer for Your glory. For it is always, Lord, about Your glory, for Yours is the kingdom and the power and the honor forever.

Let Your will be done in our lives.

Amen.

11 Steps to Christian Self-Confidence, Part 1

Aside from asking God to help change your heart, there are 11 steps to getting true confidence. Here are the first 6, with the other 5 to come tomorrow. Changing how you feel about yourself is not something you’re going to achieve all at once. I say this not as a discouragement, but rather to give you hope. At the beginning, there will be a lot of backsliding into old thought patterns. That doesn’t mean this isn’t working, it doesn’t mean you have failed, and it most certainly doesn’t mean it’s time to give up. If reading the Bible once cannot make someone believe in and love God perfectly, then how can I hope that reading these posts once is enough to magically erase all the beliefs someone has built up about themselves over the years? No, thought patterns are far too ingrained for that.

These steps can take as long or short a time as you want. The important thing is to keep pushing forward with them.

1.Ask yourself how your current way of looking at life is working out. Any change has to be the result of a true, deep desire to change. Satisfaction with the status quo or a belief that change is too difficult will render all of my words ineffectual. A decision to change is a required first step before any change is possible.

Think about where you’re currently getting your sense of self-worth and ask yourself, “How’s this working out for me?” You’ve been spending so much time and energy trying to get acceptance from yourself and others and are apparently aware of the problem if you’re reading this post.

Is this really how you want to live?

If the answer is no, then it’s time to make a big change in how you view the world. Changing how good you are at certain things will never be enough because there will always be that need to perform or to change something else with every failure or rejection. There will never be a point at which you’ll feel you’ve arrived; even if you accomplish all your goals, there will always be the next goal or the fear that what you have can be taken from you.

You have a choice: either keep trying win this game or change your heart in such a way that you are no longer controlled by what others think of you, or even by what you think you should be. This choice must be made before any of the other steps matter.

2.Figure out exactly where your sense of self worth comes from currently. Acknowledge which actions are geared toward gaining the approval of yourself and others. Make a list of things you do and go through it thoroughly and with brutal honesty. There is nothing to be gained by lying and the lesson of a lifetime to be lost.

Go deep here, too. Don’t just say, “Well, I spend extra time at the office so I can get more money,” and stop there. What are you trying to earn or what purchase will these savings buy? If the goal is to buy a house, for example, what is it about owning a nice house that will make you more valuable to others? What is so important about being valuable to them? Where do these beliefs come from? It is imperative to know yourself before change can occur.

3.Find out who the Bible says you are. You are the son or daughter of Christ, an heir to the kingdom of heaven, and someone God has loved enough to die for. God has called you His friend, not His slave. You have been redeemed, made holy as though you’d never sinned. There is no position higher than this.

Think of the Greeks and their mythology. Who was deemed higher: a king of men or a son of the gods? Who had more power? Who is more often the focus of legend? If a son of the gods had more power, why hold to the idea that kings on earth have more power than you do as a literal son or daughter of God? Not to say you can order them around, for God has given those in power on earth their power to rule, but we hold to the idea that rich, powerful, or good-looking people are better and they’re not. All of that means nothing compared to the value we have by the Creator of the Universe creating us, choosing to love us, and valuing us above His own Son’s life.

4.Believe it. This sounds closely related to #3, but they are, in fact, worlds apart. I knew most of what the Bible said about me for years. It didn’t help. In fact, knowing without believing actually hurt because it made me think God didn’t want me to have anything else and so He made me lovable by just Him, and then only if I pleased Him enough. I felt like God loved everyone else and that somehow, based on something I had done, it didn’t apply to me at all. I was going to heaven, but couldn’t expect anything else from God. Feeling He didn’t love me personally, I sought love elsewhere. It was only when I started believing what He thought about me (Psalm 56:8 changed my perspective quite a bit) that I was able to finally believe I had value outside of what I could do or who I was with.

This belief is not going to come instantly. It’s been a few years since I first realized this and I still sometimes consider myself intelligent more readily than I consider myself a child of God. This new identity is really what I’m trying to help you grow with these steps. The purpose of this step is not to merely believe it and change your life forever from that moment. Rather, it’s choosing to believe it even when it sounds ridiculous. Whenever frustrations and self-deprecation start rearing their ugly heads, you’ll start to think, “This doesn’t matter because this doesn’t determine my value. My value is already set in stone and written in blood.” And then stop thinking about it. It will probably be hard at first, to either stop long enough to have this thought or to stop thinking about it afterward, but as you make the conscious decision to believe it, the actual belief comes much more easily.

5.Stop criticizing yourself. For years, I told myself I was a failure, that I would always be alone and never amount to much because I was worthless.

It was never true.

I’ve never felt better after criticizing myself. I’ve also never felt as motivated by being mad at myself as I have by being excited and happy about something. I have done a bunch of things out of anger at myself, but most of the projects I’ve started in such a state have not been finished. I stop them as soon as I’ve calmed down and never get back to them. Criticizing yourself is not worth the misery it causes. It never has been and never will be.

Also, don’t take it to heart when others criticize you. If what they say has merit, you can choose to change if it is a problem, but here’s the truth: nobody ever has been or ever will be able to make you think you’re worse than you already fear you are. Any time anyone has insulted you and caused your self-hatred to well up, they haven’t really done anything but feed your fears. Even if they pointed out something you weren’t aware of – such as a mistake on a project or some physical flaw – if the comment stung, then you already feared being a failure or being unattractive. Without a fear of rejection, that rejection would not hurt.

Now reread that paragraph, several times if need be. The problem with your self-confidence is not and never has been other people. It is self-confidence. It is your problem and yours alone. It doesn’t matter what others say, it doesn’t matter whether it’s true or not, and it doesn’t matter what their motives were. Self-confidence is only affected by what a person believes about himself, which is precisely why it is so important to stop cutting yourself down.

6.Forgive yourself and others. One of the hardest parts of getting confidence was realizing I had to forgive myself. For everything. For being 30 and single, for not having figured this out back when I was 18 or 19, for all the time I’ve wasted playing games or burying myself in work and avoiding my problems. For all the opportunities I passed up because I was too afraid to reach out and grab them. For all the people I’ve hurt along the way. For rejecting God so many times. I have to start completely afresh with myself, just as God starts each day with me (Lamentations 3:22-23). I can and should endeavor to learn from my mistakes, but I cannot keep bringing them up every time I make another one, neither can I fear the consequences of my mistakes to the point where I blow them out of proportion.

You also have to forgive others and let go of any grudge you have against God. Others must be forgiven because God commands you to forgive in light of all that He’s forgiven in you and because it’s a sign that their wrongs don’t diminish your value. You can’t forgive God because He’s never sinned against you, but you must let go of your grudge against Him (and do this before you forgive yourself or others) because it’s impossible to want to grow closer to someone when you’re angry with them. That grudge will put a barrier in the relationship that will only let you get so close, yet you need to be very close if you’re to have the confidence He wants for you.

NOTE: Because forgiveness is such a complex topic and is one of the biggest barriers to getting true confidence, I am devoting all of next week to talking about it.

When God Loves Us Enough to Hide From Us

hide-and-seek12Sometimes, it feels like we’ve been waiting on God for years. Even though we’ve been here just over three months, looking for a job has taken its toll on us. Our financial reserves are running out and our faith feels battered and worn down.

It feels like God has hidden Himself from us because, though we’re doing what we believe is His will, we aren’t getting clear direction. The only direction we’ve seem to have gotten is, “Not this job,” which tries our faith still further. We don’t know exactly where we’re supposed to be focusing our efforts, when or from where the money will come, or why God had us move here in the first place.

And yet there’s a small part of me that says that we’re here to learn to trust in Him. We’re here to learn to love Him more than the things of this world. He’s hidden Himself that we may seek Him.

After Elijah called fire from Heaven to burn his sacrifice, thus defeating the 400 prophets of Baal, Jezebel threatened him and he ran for his life. God sustained him, then he went to a cave in Horeb. There, God told him to stand on a mountain. When he did, a mighty wind broke rocks, but God was not in the wind. An earthquake came, and then a fire, but God was in neither of those either. Finally, there was a still small voice.

It was that voice that was God and Elijah had to be quiet to hear Him.

Too often, we seek God’s thunderous voice and the earthquake to shake up our world or, worse, try to create our own earthquake. Sometimes, when it feels we’ve been waiting on God, it’s because He’s waiting for us to seek Him.

Why Loving The Creator And Not The Creation Is Not Just Wrong, But Impossible

I’ve heard Christians say before that they don’t love other people. I’ve been one of them. As an introvert, I don’t get excited about parties and meeting new people like extroverts do. As someone who has struggled with judgmental tendencies, I’ve found myself frustrated with humanity when people knowingly do things detrimental to themselves with no apparent benefit. (Case in point: Joseph Randle, a Dallas Cowboys player recently arrested for shoplifting $123.50 of merchandise. Randle makes $495,000 a year.)

Yet how am I supposed to react when I hear things like this? When I hear of people complaining of how unfair it is that they slept around, but got pregnant or caught an STD? When I hear about people bashing “the system” or “the man” when they work only hard enough to not get fired?

With love.

Always with love. 

And the reason is simple: God loves us, even when we’re that foolish. You can pridefully say you’re not, that you haven’t stolen anything, that you’ve taken few risks and accepted responsibility for the ones you’ve taken, and that you work hard every day. All of that may be true, but none of that matters. Every time any of us chooses ourselves over God in any way, we’re at least as foolish as anyone we tend to point our fingers at. How else could we choose to harbor a grudge even when our mountain of sins has been forgiven? How else can we explain getting angry with God over His refusal to give us what we want?

It’s impossible to be angry with someone to whom you don’t feel superior in some way. A little humility, however, in realizing that we’re all fallen, lost, and, yes, foolish, will take out all that sense of pride, which is probably the most foolish thing we can have.

I’m no better than anyone. Were God to look at me and Hitler side by side, without taking into account Jesus’ sacrifice, we’d be equally worthy of Hell, just as Moses, Peter, and Daniel would be.

If you want to love others, first realize that you’re no better than they are. 

Second, remember what God has saved you from. Imagine for a moment your greatest fear, and then your second greatest fear being added to it, and your third. For me, this would be something like being on a tightrope stretched across the Grand Canyon, with scorpions all over me while being lit on fire. Then multiply the pain and agony and fear as far as you can in your mind and imagine that this is no mere nightmare, but an eternal torture that will never improve, never slacken, and that you’ll never get used to. You still won’t be close to what Hell is like because we can fathom neither true hopelessness nor eternity. We can’t fathom knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that there is a God more glorious than we can imagine, but Who is not coming to our rescue because we’ve rejected Him.

And yet, while we are still on this earth, we have the ability to choose Him and not just be spared this torture we earned countless times over, but be allowed to spend eternity in God’s presence, glorying in Him. Streets of gold, never dying, no night, no sickness or ailments – absolute perfection in all things forever. All as a gift for us, all of us who believe in Him, regardless of our pasts.

Third, know Him. Even though we’re created in God’s image, you can’t learn that much about God from spending time with people instead of Him. But by knowing Him, you’ll learn His heart for other people because you’ll learn His love for you.

You cannot have His love in you without it flowing out of you toward others. Just like a pitcher must be filled with clean water before it can pour out clean water into glasses, you must be filled with God’s love for you before you can love others His way. It is impossible to be full of this clean water and pour out dirty water or nothing at all.

Are you carrying your god or is your God carrying you?

Remember the last time you carried something heavy? You want each step to be your last so you can set down whatever you were carrying. Or, if you were carrying it for exercise, you were thinking about how much stronger you’d be after this. Either way, I’m betting you didn’t enjoy carrying it. Even if you were holding a baby (and all the women went, “Awwww…”), that bundle of joy and drool would get heavy. We don’t like carrying things.

So why then do we so often insist on carrying our gods?

Isaiah 46 talks about the uselessness of idols, telling how people would weigh out silver and gold, then take it to the goldsmith, who would fashion a god from it. Then they’d bear that god on their shoulders back to their home or temple and set it on a base, from which it wouldn’t move.

Why worship a god that can’t even move? What good is a god whom you have to carry?

People don’t worship Babylonian gods anymore, but we make gods out of money, relationships, sex, and jobs. Money can get you out of some trouble, but only be decreasing your store of it. And it can be useless when you have certain diseases or are suffering heartbreak. Plus, making lots of it requires sacrifices of your time and potentially of your health. Also, if gods are supposed to be above us, why make a god of something you have control over?

Some people stay in damaging relationships because they’re afraid of being alone. Others give their hearts away readily only to get them broken time after time. Those in relationships often base their worth on what their partner thinks of them. While your spouse should be with you in hard times, there is only so much they can do and they can and will let you down at times. Sex and jobs likewise have high potential costs.

In all of them, there is a trade. You give up time to make money so you can buy a nice home, so time = home. Or you sleep with someone knowing there’s a chance of pregnancy, which may not be desirable just yet, or disease, so sex means a risk.

With God, there is no risk, even though there is far more to lose. 

God’s not very good at this whole fair trade thing. He gives His Son for dirt that He had given life to, dirt that He’d created with just a word and could easily create more if He wanted. He forgives us our sins against Him if we forgive others’ sins against us. He offers us the eternal paradise of Heaven for believing in Him and knowing Him. And, as if that’s not enough, He patiently works with us every day to get us to be more like Him. That may sound like something we’re giving up because it means the changing of certain habits for a lot of us, but He gives us far more in the peace of knowing and trusting Him. Yes, you may be called to give up possessions, career, and even your life, but for a surer hope than your possessions, a life calling, and eternal life, what a deal!

Our God is dynamic. Omnipotent. He carries us when we’re weak, lightening our burden rather than becoming one Himself. And you will never have to carry Him.

A Gift or a Trade?

We humans are pretty bad at giving gifts. We want something in return, even if that something is just a strengthening of the relationship or a thank you. We rarely give anything away in the true sense of the word. We volunteer at church, but often want some sort of thank you from the person leading it or the people being served. We give Christmas presents, but want a thank you and often hope for a commensurate gift in return. We give money to the church and to charities, but we want a receipt for our gifts so we can get a tax deduction. Always something in return, even if that something isn’t worth what we gave.

We have a hard time with unconditional love. We don’t understand it and so it’s hard to accept it, and I don’t know if we can give it without learning to accept it first.

When I moved to Colorado Springs, I gave up a fair bit. I was in northern Virginia, one of the highest-paying places in the world, and could have gotten my CPA activated and been making a good salary again. I had a number of close friends there, a fairly active social life, a relatively cheap place to live in which I liked my roommates, and connections to the job market when I wanted to get back in it. I gave all that up to move to Colorado because God told me to and I got a wife out of it (best deal I’ve ever made).

Then we moved from there to Houston and we both gave up a bit. She gave up her family and best friends. I gave up a job offer in Tempe that was a promotion from the temp job I had. The company had good benefits, I didn’t mind the work, and I liked my bosses, who were all moving to Tempe. Recently, God had me withdraw my name from another job for which I was being considered, so we’ve both given up the things that gave us a sense of security.

This morning, in a good imitation of Peter from Mark 10:23-31, I reminded God of how much we’d given up for Him. Basically, I was holding out my hand and expecting some sort of payment for all the sacrifices we’d made. Then the thought hit me that if the reason I gave up these things was to get a reward, I wasn’t making a gift, but a trade. A true gift seeks nothing in return because a true gift is based on unconditional love.

It’s true that in the above passage, Jesus promises a hundredfold return on what we give up for Him, but I personally believe we only get that return if we truly give these things up. When you make a deal with someone, say to buy a used car, and you show up with a cashier’s check, you expect to be given the keys, the title, and the car. If you’re not given all of these or if the car has been damaged between when you took it for a test drive and when you arrive to pay for it, the deal is off. You haven’t given up on the money until you get something in return for it.

For my part, I know I’ve been treating God this way. I haven’t truly given things to Him, merely obeyed Him in order to get a blessing. He gave me an amazing blessing in Leah, but I think I was more willing to give up my friends than I have been our financial security. So far it’s been more of a trade.

In reality, it’s foolish to trade, because I’ve already been given immeasurably more than I could ever give up. I just haven’t accepted fully what I’m getting: the pure, passionate, endless, and personal love of God. 

I’ve told Leah before that she has given up so much for me because I’ve taken her away from her family, friends, financial security, and a job watching two little boys she loves almost as if they were her own. She keeps telling me she’s gotten far more than she’s given up because she loves me so much.

We need to be more like that with God: willing to make sacrifices just to be with Him because we love Him so much. And when we are, we won’t feel like we’re giving up much at all.

What You May Be Waiting For

Leah and I are sometimes impatient people. We have a lot of patience for each other, but our patience with God can wear thin. We tell ourselves that we’re learning how to follow Him, how to have stronger faith, and other lessons, but I think we may be missing the most important lesson of all:

That we’re meant to enjoy depending on God.

Ever wish you could be a little kid again? I sometimes do. No real responsibilities, summers off, no concerns about money or looking for work. Yeah, I had homework and some chores, but those are comparatively light to the responsibilities I now have. I was able to depend on my mother for providing for us. It was on her to get us food, pay the rent, get us clothes, and take us where we needed to go.

I was a little precocious, but I didn’t fully appreciate the burden on her until I got married. A lot of people don’t want to depend on others because they don’t want to be subject to the rules of these others. When you live at home, you’re subject to your parents’ rules. Independence means freedom, but it also means that it’s on you to provide for yourself.

The problem is that the things you need most you can’t get for yourself. I don’t mean a car and a house and a retirement account; I mean a strong faith and the earnest desire to be good because you love God and not for any reward. I mean a love for people that doesn’t depend on how someone in your past or present has treated you. I mean a heart that yearns for God.

I was thinking about why Leah and I are still waiting and then the thought hit me that we may not have money simply because our need of it is what God has been using to grow our faith. 

I think God withholds things from us sometimes not just because granting us these things would take us away from Him, but because granting them might stunt our growth. If we were to inherit $10 million tomorrow, we’d praise God and tell people how He came through for us and believe more strongly than ever that He provides when we don’t expect it…but then the joy would fade as the money became taken for granted and, though we’d still be Christians, we’d have less reason to seek after God.

He wants us to seek Him as a child seeks his father, not just for His blessings, but out of love for Him. Leah and I are learning a lot in this time, but we haven’t yet learned how much we need God outside of money. We’re getting there, but He is not yet our Father in all areas, neither do we trust Him enough to depend on Him for everything, even when we have all of what we think we need.