Monday, March 30, 2015

 Droughts, Doubts ad Down Spouts

“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:3

It started at a church service.  That’s not typically where you’d think a downward spiral would start, but that’s what happened.  Let me explain.  My husband and I were visiting a friend’s church and while there I ran into a woman that I hadn't seen since I was a child.  During the course of our conversation and while catching up on the years, we discovered we were both passionate about women’s ministry.  In fact, she was thinking of starting a woman’s conference in a nearby town.
I have spoken a few times to groups of women and love to do so every chance I get. So, we exchanged information and soon began talking and meeting to plan for the conference.  One morning in early October, during my morning quiet time with the Lord, He laid on my heart the topic He wanted me to speak about at the women’s conference: being imprisoned by “The Law”.  If you have no idea to what I am referring when I say “The Law”, I am talking about trying to earn God’s grace and favor by our actions. The scripture I felt God wanted me to use was Isaiah 61:1-4 (Isaiah 61:1-4).  Tears streamed down my face as I read the words of those 4 verses. They say that I was a prisoner and that Christ came to SET ME FREE. He came to bestow on ME a crown of beauty instead of ashes. 

I was excited and pumped to start chewing on that scripture and tearing into it to learn and prepare a message for the women attending the conference.  After my quiet time was over I went downstairs and shared with my husband what God had spoken to me and we began praying more fervently for the women that would hear the words God was preparing for them.  That is when the switch got flipped…

For most of my life I have been prisoner. I thought I had to perform to earn God’s approval.  I went to church regularly, read my bible, prayed, got involved in ministry leadership and surrounded myself with other Christians. Instead of doing these things OUT of love; I was doing them to GET love. 
 Through much prayer, fasting, scripture, great books and some counseling, I now have a much better understanding of my identity in Christ and how His grace covers me. I am a “recovering Pharisee” - a term my pastor uses for those who come from a life of hard core legalism.  Sometimes, right when I think I understand grace, legalism whips out the chains and puts me in a prison of my own making.   I have to remind myself almost daily that I do not have to perform for God to love me.  It is a subconscious battle though; legalism is so ingrained in me that I don’t even have to THINK to act legalistically.  For instance, I usually get on my knees to pray because it is a posture of humility and surrender of which God deserves, but there was a time when I thought God would honor my prayers more and hear me better if I were on my knees.  It took me a long time to be able to pray face up and eyes open.

Back to my downward spiral.   Once my husband and I began praying more and more for the women’s conference, something in my spiritual life changed.  First Peter 5:8 says “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.”Thoughts that I hadn't entertained for so long came creeping back into my mind.  Thoughts like: “God doesn't really care about you”; “You are just a face in a crowd of much better Christians”; and the one he uses most often, “if you’d be a better Christian God would love you more”.  Now before you go thinking that I’m saying “the devil made me do it”, let me say that I am aware that it is my choice to believe these lies. At first I recognized them as lies and tried to shake it off, but then some other things in my life began to unravel.  Everything seemed to line up with the lies. Why was God letting these things happen if He REALLY cared?  Why doesn't He DO SOMETHING?

I wish I could tell you that I was a super Christian and in no time I was back in the game “fighting the good fight”, but that’s not remotely close to the truth.  After the morning God revealed Isaiah 61:1-4 as the verses He wanted me to speak from, I struggled for almost 5 months with each day feeling further and further from God.  I tried everything during that time to make God feel real again. I prayed more and cried out to God. When that didn't work I gave God the silent treatment (as if I thought THAT was going to make things better). Then I all but stopped reading my Bible.  My soul felt empty and bone dry.  It felt like God was giving ME the silent treatment.  Nothing spoke to me; nothing in the Bible, not even my favorite podcast preachers.  I was ready to throw in the towel. So I did.  I quit.  I quit trying to please God. 

In an act of utter despair I crawled into a ball on the floor one morning and said, “God I’m giving up.  I can’t live my life without Your presence.  Please restore my soul. I need to know you care for me.”  That was all I prayed.  Still I felt nothing. 
A few days later I attended a service at the church that agreed to host the women’s conference.  I wasn’t expecting anything except to hear a sermon, meet some people and go home, but God had brought me there to restore my soul.  The sermon I heard (from Revelation of all places) was about the Bride of Christ.  We, the Church, are His bride and He is coming back for us.  The pastor went into detail about how a groom loves his bride and how God’s love for HIS Bride was so much more.  He also talked about how God made us pure.  Revelation 19:7 says:
“Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—

My sin makes me feel so ugly and unworthy, but God does not see me all covered in my yucky sin.  He see me as bright and pure, as on the day of the marriage of the Lamb.  On that day I will truly be sinless; but here on earth I am “hidden in the righteousness of Christ” (Colossians 3:3).  I love that word picture, don’t you? 

When I played hide and go seek as a child I would find the best hiding spots!  They were the spots in which none of me could be seen.  It’s the same when we accept Christ as our savior. God no longer sees our imperfections; He instead sees the righteousness of His own Son (Ephesians 2:13;Hebrews 8:12). Because we are in Christ, God sees Christ’s righteousness covering us.

Once I let those truths soak into my soul it was like God turned on the downspout of His presence, love and acceptance.  I felt free!  Trying to earn God’s love created a barrier between God and me, but that afternoon it came crumbling to the ground.

I know I don’t have legalism whipped.  In fact, it will probably always be a something I struggle to overcome, a thorn in the flesh so-to-speak, which keeps me running to God.  I’m thankful for this last battle for it has taught me to run to Him sooner instead of drowning in my performance- based -grace mindset.