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It was the end of a long, busy day at the end of a long, busy week. I was about to finally head to bed when I spotted blood streaks on the ottoman, then blood stains on the carpet. Our dog must have torn his claw on something and bled everywhere he stepped. In my state of exhaustion, I hastily grabbed the untested carpet cleaner and started working on the blood stains. The good news is that we got the blood out; the bad news is that our carpet now looks like this.

There are no words for this atrocity.

I was so irritated about the “clean” spots that have now ruined our uniformly dirty carpet that I barely slept that night. The real kicker is that when I found another blood stain later, I tried the Oxyclean that I’d forgotten was in our cupboard, and it worked perfectly to get the blood out without bleaching our carpet.

<insert your favorite Christian curse words here>

Why, Lord, why? Why couldn’t I have thought of that earlier, so I wouldn’t have these stupid bleach spots on my carpet! My husband claims that the spots represent the true color of our carpet, so if we just deep cleaned everything it would match again. I, on the other hand, feel like it would be a whole lot easier if we just muddied our shoes and used those spots like stepping stones to make them look like the rest of the carpet. I’m even willing to spill some coffee – cheap hotel coffee that’s been in my pantry for years, of course, not the good stuff – if that’s what it takes to avoid moving furniture to clean our carpet.

I wonder if you can relate. We don’t like spots that stand out and draw attention. It’s much easier to throw some mud on and try to look like everyone else rather than appear spotless and risk standing out. And yet, when Christ cleanses us by his blood shed for our sins, he removes our filthy rags of shame and clothes us with his righteousness. He sanctifies us, and whatever has been sanctified has been set apart as holy unto the Lord. But being set apart kinda makes us weird. We ought to celebrate our deliverance when God does a miracle in our lives, but sometimes we cover it with a rug or just keep silent because we don’t want to look different from those around us. Why do I have these spots on my carpet? To remind me that what Christ has done for me makes me different, and it’s time to stop worrying about blending in.

A few weeks ago, in front of a group in my church, I shared my testimony of God’s miraculous deliverance and provision for me over the past year. And I have never felt so weird. Church ought to be the place where we testify about God’s goodness, and yet sometimes it seems almost inconsiderate to say that God has been good to me when I’m surrounded by those who are suffering. However, when we’re suffering we need to hold on to hope that God is good and able to preserve us in the midst of suffering. How will we know that God still provides for his children and answers prayer if no one testifies that he does? I’ve blogged plenty about God’s faithfulness in my times of suffering. Now it’s time to share my testimony that God not only sustains, but delivers us to victory. So here’s my bleached-spot testimony because God deserves some glory for all his goodness to us.

Over the past year, God has delivered me from slavery to food after years of multiple food sensitivities and frustration with so-called “gut-healing” diets. After years of bowing down to food as my healer, God revealed himself to me as my healer. Even though my family still eats mostly gluten free by choice, we enjoy the freedom of knowing that God is able to bless any food to the nourishment of our bodies if he says he wants to because he’s the one who created it. In fact, he instructed me to go all out last Christmas with every kind of celebratory food my son loved while he was suffering from severe intestinal issues, just to prove to me that he is able to heal us in spite of an unhealthy diet. And he did. Because he’s God. Hear the Word of the Lord:

Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink – even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk – it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food. Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. – Isaiah 55:1-3

I find life in knowing that it is not bread – gluten free or wheat bread – that satisfies me, but the Bread of Heaven, Jesus Christ! God’s purpose in setting me free from slavery to food was part of his greater purpose of setting me free from slavery to fear – and I don’t mean little fears, like a fear of spiders. I’m talking heart-pounding, gut-wrenching, palm-sweating, panic-inducing, red-hot FEAR. My fear mostly had to do with people, so God started by dealing with my fear over my children. By the grace and power of God, I am now able to stand up to the enemy and pray mighty prayers of faith over my children because I know whose child I am and how big my Heavenly Father is. No matter how huge the obstacle is that’s facing my child, God’s answer is:

But the Lord says, “The captives of warriors will be released, and the plunder of tyrants will be retrieved. For I will fight those who fight you, and I will save your children.” – Isaiah 49:25

While I await the deliverance of the Lord in some areas regarding my children, my victory is that instead of speaking in agreement with the fears I used to have, I am able to speak words of faith, hope and courage. I am wired to react in controlling ways when I feel fear, so being set free from fear means freedom to respond in accordance with God’s will in situations pertaining to my children, instead of reacting negatively out of fear. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is self-control, and the victory God desires for me as a parent is to be directed by the Holy Spirit when I speak or react to my children. God has been in the process of rewiring my brain and changing my gut-reactions to my children so that I can now respond from a position of faith instead of fear. He has removed the chains of bondage to fear of failing as a mother, and given me this promise:

I will teach all your children, and they will enjoy great peace. – Isaiah 54:13

God has also delivered me from loneliness and slavery to the approval of people.  The day it sank in that I consider Jesus to be my dearest friend, he reached in and pulled out the root of loneliness that had been planted when I experienced rejection as a child. I realized that Jesus had filled my need for acceptance and love with his daily presence as he spoke to me through his Word, and the satisfaction of knowing there’s no need God can’t fill so permeated my heart that I was able to release others from filling my needs. Instead of caring about what people think of me, I am now free to just care about people. This is the purpose of God’s deliverance, the restoration of our relationship to him and others.

Delivering me from loneliness was not just God’s gift to me but to my husband, as well. He recently started his doctorate, which requires him to be in class or doing homework in the evenings. I am able to release him to pursue his dreams without worrying about feeling neglected because I’m no longer looking to my husband to fill what God is able to fill. I am free to love and enjoy whatever my husband is able to give without feeling desperate for attention because I know that God is able to bless me beyond anything I could ask or imagine from my husband.

For your Creator will be your husband; the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth. – Isaiah 54:5

As God set me free and began to restore relationships, he gave me the gift of rest this past winter. My oldest, whom I’d homeschooled for 6 1/2 years, went back to public school. My daughter remained at home, but directed her own learning. I was free to study God’s Word, worship, and rest. I experienced a desire for intercessory prayer like I’d never experienced before. Days would slip by as I soaked in God’s presence, and I felt like that was exactly what God ordained for me in that season. I sensed his delight in my delight for him! Out of this season of rest came a promise from God that he wanted to help us get out of debt by helping us pay off our second mortgage. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew God was going to help us because the day I asked him to confirm that promise in his Word, my daily reading happened to be in Jeremiah 29. The Holy Spirit stopped me on this verse, and spoke it over me as my promise:

I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. – Jeremiah 29:14

Seven years ago, we were unemployed and had to drain every penny from our savings and start over. During that time we learned to trust in God’s provision as he met our needs. Seven months after God gave us the promise that he would restore us financially, we paid off our second mortgage with money that God provided from an unexpected source. We are not only free of debt (except for our first mortgage), we are free from bondage to the stronghold of scarcity.

I know some of you are starting to think I’m preaching a “prosperity gospel” that says if we become a Christian, we’ll get rich and everything will fall into our laps. We are not free from debt in order to bless ourselves, but in order to bless others in need. God blesses his children so that we will share with those in need, causing them to give glory to God for his provision (2 Cor. 9:10-11). The greatest delight in being set free from debt has been the renewed ability to give to others. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says this regarding his “sheep” who listen to him and follow him:

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. – John 10:10

Rich and satisfying does not mean comfortable and easy. A rich and satisfying life comes from confidence that God is who he says he is and can do for us whatever he desires to do. The Word of God is full of stories of God’s power and ability to deliver. It is full of promises that God desires to provide for his children and bless them. Too often, we pray wishy washy prayers that lack faith in God’s ability to do what he flat out says in his Word that he desires to do for us. This isn’t about God providing for our comfort; I’m talking about God giving us victory! In some areas of my life, I have experienced deliverance – from intestinal issues, debt, fear of people – and in others, I’m experiencing the victory of joy in the midst of waiting to see deliverance.

God is not a Santa Clause to whom we pray for the stuff we would like to fill the “stocking” of our selfish desires for a comfortable, easy life. But if there’s a promise in God’s Word that God has pointed out to me and said, “This one is yours,” then I will pray for it with every ounce of faith God gives me, believing that it is mine – even before I see it. That’s how we get victory; we believe God to be God. We take our needs to him first, believing that he is able to provide. The thief wants to kill our joy, rob us of victory, and destroy our faith by keeping us focused on our areas of weakness, our failures, our needs. But the thief can only take from us what we willingly surrender. If you are a child of God, stand your ground and say out loud – as many times as you have to in order to believe it:

God is good.
He is my provider.
He is my shield.
He is my strength.
He is my deliverer.

Yes, this world is broken. We all have areas in our lives that are broken, but it’s time to stop wearing our brokenness like a badge of honor. If we believe that God heals, then let’s take our brokenness to him and pray a God-sized prayer of belief that “by his wounds we are healed” (Isiah 53:5). If you struggle with belief, God accepts you right where you are, just as Jesus accepted the man who acknowledged, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). God has not stopped doing miracles. He still heals, restores, delivers. But like my bleached carpet spots, we sometimes don’t want to trumpet our healing, lest we make others feel bad about their brokenness. Well, here’s the truth: I am broken, just like you. But I am healed, and that’s the label I will wear to the glory of God.

What has God done for you this past year? How has he delivered or miraculously provided for you? I invite you to leave a comment and give him praise. Let’s stand out as bleached spots together, giving God all the glory for his goodness and provision!

 

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As soon as I stepped out my door to go on a walk, I could smell my favorite pumpkin spice candle. As strange as it may sound, the comforting smell alerted me to God’s presence. He had invited me to take a walk with him along the canal by our home on this very difficult day, and the wonderful aroma ushered me into a time of prayer.  Several things had happened that morning to trigger my familiar sorrow that the life I had envisioned for my son was not to be. It’s not that his life is bad in any way, really, it’s just not the one I would have chosen. The death of a dream can cause grief like any other death. I knew it was time for me to let it go and accept that God’s plan was also good, so I began praying a prayer of release and trust in God through my tears.

But then God utterly surprised me. As I walked past a bouquet of dead flowers that were in the middle of my dirt path, God whispered, “Pick those up. We’re going to hold a funeral for your dream, and those are your flowers.” So I picked them up and walked for a while in silence. Then God gently said, “Tell me your dream as a eulogy.” For the rest of the walk, I clutched those flowers and slowly released my dream for my son while I verbalized every aspect of it as though he had lived it, from childhood through adulthood. While delivering this eulogy, I realized that much of my dream for him involved my dreams for myself as a mother, so there was an added layer to my grief that I hadn’t realized before. When I finished describing every detail of the plan I had subconsciously pictured in my mind as I’d held my baby boy in my arms so many years ago, God simply responded with, “That was a lovely dream.” It was a good dream. I had good plans for my boy, and God honored them that day. He did not scold me or shame me for having my own plans; he simply listened and validated my good desires for my child.

I ended the funeral with the usual statement at the end of Christian funerals, that death is not the end. Because of Jesus, we have hope in a better life yet to come. I threw away the dead flowers as I laid my dream to rest. At the same time, I committed my son to God and asked him to show me his good dream. God had listened to mine, and I was ready to listen to his. The next day, I reversed my route and walked a little farther than usual. As I was about to turn the corner to head home, I saw a huge bush of the same dead flowers I’d carried on my funeral walk, only this bush was alive and growing along the side of the dirt road. I’d never seen it before. It wasn’t growing out of someone’s backyard, but seemed to be planted in the dirt among the weeds.

This is God’s dream: my son will thrive and blossom while planted in the dirt among the weeds. My dream may be dead, but God’s is very much alive!

God reminded me of the bold – but naive – prayers I’d prayed sixteen years ago, while carrying my son in my womb. I’d asked God to pour out his Spirit on my child and make him shine God’s light in dark places. I’d asked God to set him apart and make him bold in his faith so that he would make a difference in God’s Kingdom. Oh, the things we pray when we have no clue of what we’re asking…

Over the past month, I’ve begun to see glimpses of how God is using the very qualities that frustrated me as a mother to make my son bloom in the dirt. God is answering my bold prayers by giving me a bold son. The child who argued with me nonstop for years is now the teen who is not afraid to stand up and defend his beliefs. When asked to give a speech that describes him for speech class at school, he boldly proclaimed that he is a Christian, and that God is a huge part of his life because God has helped him through some difficult struggles. He declared that in front of a room of sophomores in a public school without even considering the possibility of a negative response. I used to joke when he was a child that he had two volumes: loud and louder. I now believe that God is going to use that loud voice and boldness to testify to God’s goodness in the most unlikely places, among the weeds.

My son has never cared much about what people think of him, which seems like a good thing, except that it made attempts at behavior modification challenging when he was little. While I recognized the dangers of my own people-pleasing bent, the fact that he didn’t have one at all was often frustrating. And yet, this character quality may be the very thing God uses for his glory. The child who could not be manipulated to do anything – through threats, punishments, or rewards – is the teen who will not bow down to peer pressure. I continue to marvel that he will not do things he believes are wrong or take shortcuts just to fit in. He is content to do his own thing rather than follow the crowd or try to be anyone other than who he is. Instead of responding to my pleas that he would just fit in, God has chosen to answer my prayer that he be set apart. Set apart for what?

God woke me up at 4:30 a.m. this morning to reveal to me that the very hardships we experienced when he was young – emotional struggles, gluten intolerance, learning challenges – were all part of God’s plan to set him apart for God’s purposes. We eat differently. We did school differently for 6 1/2 years as we homeschooled and prioritized character development over academics. Nothing about our lives has been “normal,” but every one of the struggles we’ve faced as a family – the things that didn’t fit into my plan – have shaped my son’s character and trained him in compassion.

  • The child who cried tears of frustration when things didn’t go his way is the teen who tenderly reaches out to a foster girl on the bus who is struggling with financial needs, and offers to help.
  • The child with whom I repeatedly pleaded to own up to his mistakes and take responsibility for his life, is the teen who brought a rebellious teen on the bus – who’d thrown a rock at our door at one time – to repentance with his kindness, and was sent by that child to seek our forgiveness.
  • The child who struggled with materialistic desires and learned to depend on God’s provision during our year-and-a-half of unemployment is the teen who joyfully comes home from selling items at the Farmer’s Market because now he can buy the Lego set he loved as a little kid for his younger cousins, just because he wants to share his joy.

I believe that God is sowing within him seeds of compassion for others so that he will not only be willing to be planted in the dirt among the weeds, he will want to be there because that’s where people most need to be loved. (At one point, when he was tired of being harassed by some kids on the bus, I offered to pick him up from school. He said, “I’d really like that…but I think I belong on the bus.”) The life he is living is the answer to my bold prayer for God to set him apart for his Kingdom; it just didn’t happen the way I envisioned.

I’m sharing my story with you not to bring glory to my son or myself, but for two reasons. One is to give hope to parents who are discouraged over what they see as the death of their dream for their child. I want to encourage you that God sees your good plans and may even agree with you that they are good. He’s not trying to rip them from you. However, until we lay down what is dead, we won’t see where there is life. God has a beautiful dream, too, and wants to open our eyes to see it so that we can enjoy watching our kids fulfill God’s plan for their lives, and rejoice with him. The very quirks that drive us crazy may be part of that plan, which is why we need God’s vision.

The second reason has to do with something surprising I read during my Bible reading this morning. (Hang in here with me. I promise this will tie together eventually!) While reading John 7, which takes place during the Festival of Shelters, I happened to glance down at the footnote in my Bible pertaining to Jesus’ statement that all who are thirsty should come to him.

A water ceremony was held each day during the Festival of Shelters, with prayer for God to send rain in the late autumn. The final day, called “the great day,” was the climax of the festival, when the ceremony was repeated seven times. Water was poured over the altar as Levites sang Isaiah 12:3. (“With joy you will drink deeply from the fountain of salvation!”) [By saying] “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me,” Jesus fulfilled an essential element in the Festival of Shelters. He himself is the source of living water, available to anyone who believes (NLT Illustrated Study Bible).

Some Christians believe that God’s appointed festivals, as outlined in Leviticus 23, were meant as rehearsals for future appointments on God’s Kingdom calendar. The spring festivals were when Jesus was crucified as the “perfect lamb” (during Passover), and when the Holy Spirit was given (during the Celebration of the First Harvest, also known as Pentecost). The fall feasts, like the Festival of Trumpets and Day of Atonement, are rehearsals for Christ’s second coming “at the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:52), when he will return to bring judgment and reward. So where does the Festival of Shelters, a celebration of the last harvest, fall on the Kingdom calendar? I can’t say for sure, but it just may be right now.

After googling it, I discovered that tomorrow, October 5, is actually the beginning of the week-long Festival of Shelters, according to the 2017 Jewish calendar! Just as the Jews in Jesus’ day enacted a water ceremony and prayed for the autumn rains, I believe that God is calling his people – the Church – to pour out our prayers for his reign to come in these last days. Revelation 5:8 and 8:3 tell us that our prayers are collected as bowls of incense that are offered on the altar before the throne of God in heaven. Like the water poured out on the altar, our prayers are offered to God. Jesus has already fulfilled the prayer for rain by standing before the people at the festival and proclaiming:

Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, “Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.” (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him.) – John 7:38-39

We no longer pray for physical rain, but for God’s Spirit to be poured out during this festival of the autumn harvest. God’s Spirit doesn’t just rain down on the earth, it is poured into our hearts and intended to flow out of us, spreading the good news to everyone around us that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

So what does this have to do with my son and the clash of my plans with God’s? Everything! I believe God is calling his people to pray for his Holy Spirit to rain down in order to increase the harvest, but if I want God’s river of living water to flow from my heart and through my children, it may require breaking down some dams. If God is going to raise up the next generation to help bring in the harvest, we have to release them to God. Jesus said that the wheat and weeds would grow side by side in the field until the final harvest (Matt. 13). If we, as parents, expend all our energy trying to uproot our “wheat” and transplant them into a field of wheat where we perceive they will be “safe,” we may be working against God. Like those flowers growing in the weeds along my path, God may purposely plant our kids among the weeds so that they will bring others to Jesus. That is God’s dream, and it is my prayer as I ask him to “send the rain” and use us for his glory. That is a prayer I am confident he will answer. That is a dream I believe will come true.

Are you thirsty for some living water that will satisfy you more than any good thing this world could offer? Come to Jesus and discover that “with joy you will drink deeply from the fountain of salvation!” (Isaiah 12:3). Would you join me in echoing the prayer prayed in Jesus’ day at the climax of the fall Festival of Shelters?

God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.

And let it begin by your Spirit flowing through me.

The Smoke Screen of Fear

After a rough morning of trying to calm my hysterical child’s fears, I dropped the kids off at school and started praying for them on the drive home, like I usually do. But something just felt off today. I had a hard time concentrating, and felt like my prayers weren’t getting off the ground. I got home and started thinking about the things that had upset my daughter, and caught myself engaging in imaginary arguments on her behalf. I looked at what was on my calendar for today and quickly decided to reschedule a creative activity for another day when I had more energy. I felt sapped. Blocked. Oppressed. “What is going on, Lord?” I cried out in desperation. I looked outside and immediately knew the answer; it’s the smoke.

In case you live elsewhere in the country and are unaware, pretty much the entire Northwest is currently filled with smoke, and much of it is on fire. I live in a valley where smoke from surrounding wildfires tends to settle and linger every summer, but the thickness of it right now is almost like fog. Fog and smoke are oppressive. The heaviness of the atmosphere can lead to a heaviness of the spirit. But it wasn’t just the smoke that had brought me down, it’s what the smoke represents: fear.

Sometimes smoke is a sign of danger nearby, but sometimes it’s someone else’s fire that is causing smoke to blow our way. My daughter’s fear was like a smoke screen that blocked out the sun and any ray of hope that she might be able to get through the day without disaster. I tried to reason with her and help her overcome her fear, but in the end, I succumbed to it. The smoke that clouded her vision hovered over me, temporarily clouding mine. Smoke can make it seem like the sun is not shining. Fear also lies to us about our surroundings, making it seem like there is only darkness and no light. Both smoke and fear can cause a false sense of panic. The only way out is to rise above the smoke screen and speak the truth.

I took this picture in the nearby mountains where you can see blue sky above the smoke.

The truth is that the sun is shining above the smoke, and God is still on his throne. The truth is that there is no actual fire nearby, so the smoke in my neighborhood is only a threat if I’m out exercising and breathing it in deeply, allowing it to fill my lungs. In the same way, fear can only hurt me if I immerse myself in it and allow it to saturate my mind. I can stay in my home, where the air-conditioner filters the air, and be safe from smoke. Likewise, I can invite God to filter my thoughts, and trust the peace of Christ to guard my heart and mind (Philippians 4:7). The Bible is the filter through which I distinguish truth from lies.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
– 1 Timothy 1:7

To put it plainly, when I am filled with fear – whether for myself or someone else – it is not coming from the Spirit of God. I mentioned that I “caught” myself engaging in imaginary arguments. The Spirit of God gives us the self-discipline to take our thoughts captive and bring them under the authority of Christ.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:5

When the smoke of fear is heavy all around us, it’s easy for fearful thoughts to slip in. We’re not under condemnation for feeling fear, but as mature believers we need to exercise the discipline of bringing our fearful thoughts to God and asking him to speak the truth over them. This self-discipline is God’s gift to us through his Spirit that resides in us.

God’s Spirit gives us power to overcome fear and temptation. The best way I know to exit the Highway of Fear is to get on the Scenic Byway of Worship. Whether it’s through singing praise songs, reading and agreeing with passages of Scripture that point to God’s majesty and sovereignty, or just praising God for all the ways he has delivered us and helped us in the past, worship expels the darkness and illuminates us with the light of God’s truth. Exalting God places our problems or fears in their proper place: at the feet of Jesus. And when I worship God, thanking him for his love for me, his perfect love casts out my fear (1 John 4:18).

The sun is shining, no matter what the smoke would have me believe. God will guard what I have entrusted to him (including my children); therefore, I will not give in to fear. It’s going to be a beautiful day, not because of my surroundings, but because I refuse to let the enemy rob me of my joy with his deception. Fear is just a smoke screen. I can rest in God’s provision of power, love, and self-discipline, trusting that he will always be with me and equip me to handle whatever comes my way. And that’s the truth.

 

 

In just a few days I would be releasing my sweet little girl, whom I’d homeschooled since first grade, into the giant pond of public school for eighth grade. She was ready, but was I? After hours of tossing and turning, unable to sleep, I decided to get up and read for a little while. Suddenly, I remembered a promise I’d made to myself that I would read my junior high diary before sending my daughter to junior high school (in order to empathize with her and, no doubt, humble myself). Well, it’s now or never, I figured, so I uncovered the carefully hidden window to my past – that I’ve instructed my husband to BURN if I should die – and began reading. Yes, reading the thoughts of my superficial, boy-crazy self was as eye-rolling as I thought it would be, but then something unexpected happened. I found myself getting sucked into the exhilarating thrill of adolescence.

May 10, 1989
Today was cold and rainy and I looked like crap. After school I was standing against the wall when Billy Bob (names have been changed to protect the humiliated) very casually dropped his bag, then leaned up against the wall and said to me, “Hi, Brenda, will you go out with me?” I felt so dumb! I just looked up at him and said, “What?” He laughed kind of embarassedly and said, “Well?” Joe Cool and Donna Dippy were laughing, and I didn’t know what to say. So I asked him if he was being serious. He said I could take it however I wanted. Then there was a pause for what seemed like forever when neither of us knew what to say. I kept repeating the question and he kept avoiding it. I had to make a decision. He kept pressuring me for an answer and I kept stalling for time because I didn’t know how to avoid looking like an idiot.

If that doesn’t make your palms sweat, you must have repressed all your junior high memories. I obviously knew how this Shakespearean tragedy ended, but I found myself captivated by the drama and transported back to a time when the ups and downs of adolescence heightened the experience of being alive. I felt the feels again, and discovered that even the gloriously awkward ones punctuated the monotony of daily life with excitement. Just like a roller coaster, the bigger the ups and downs, the more thrilling the ride. As I closed my diary, I realized that I was actually excited for my daughter to begin her journey from childhood to adulthood and write her own story – awkward moments and all.

Only one thing stood in her way: me.

The challenge I faced when transitioning my son from homeschool to public high school as a freshman was overcoming all my fears for him. God, in his mercy, has helped me do that and has shown me that he will finish the good work he started in my son. But the challenge I face with my daughter is not my fear; it’s my pride. I think we can all acknowledge that anyone who writes a blog obviously thinks she has some valuable insights. Who better to benefit from all my smartypantsery than my own daughter? We’re so much alike that surely she would want to hear all my insights on all the things all the livelong day. Fear is what makes us keep hanging on tight when it’s time to begin letting go of our kids, but our pride (expressed through endless monologues and critiques) is what will make them cover their ears and try to squirm away.

As a teenager, I lived my own life, separate from my parents. I was driving by myself at the age of 15, going out with friends on my own, making mistakes and learning from them as I went. Reading my diary revealed that I wasn’t as fragile as I had previously thought. As a teen, I was learning how to stand on my own and also lean on God. I want my kids to know they can depend on me, but it’s more important that they know they can depend on God. When my love gets tangled up in my pride, I act as though the most important thing I can give my kids is the benefit of my wisdom so they won’t make the same mistakes I did, or so they’ll make the good choices I did. But my journey was for me to learn from. I must trust God to teach my kids just as he taught me, and acknowledge that he may not use me to teach them at this stage.

When our children were little, we were the ultimate authority on everything. We taught them how to walk, talk, tie their shoes, say please and thank you. It’s only natural that 13 years of practice would make us experts in…being experts. But when our kids enter adolescence, they are hardwired to begin to pull away and make their own decisions. We may think we know what’s best for them, but at some point our agenda is going to clash with theirs. How we handle those moments can make or break relationship. If they make bad decisions, we may fear that their future will be ruined, and fear drives us to tighten our grip. Likewise, our pride may be fueling our need to remain in control because we can’t imagine any other future for our kids than the perfect one we’ve envisioned. God dealt with me on this issue last winter when he cautioned me against going with my son to the Engineering program information night because God knew that was the future I’d been clinging to for my boy. Instead, I went with my son to the Automotive program orientation where I saw a light come on in my son’s eyes that was fueled by his passion for cars. I needed to let my dream fizzle out so I could get behind my son’s dreams. Our children’s future belongs to them, not us, and the only way we will remain in it for years to come is to focus on strengthening our relationship – not enforcing our vision.

If we will humble ourselves before God and trust him to guide our kids, then the door to relationship remains open. If our goal is to turn out perfectly behaved, high achieving, popular young adults, we may be able to control them with our myriad instructions and threats, but we will likely shut the door to relationship. However, if our goal is to build a solid relationship with our kids by supporting them when they face the natural consequences of their decisions, it is through that open door of relationship that kids will come to us seeking counsel and advice (instead of assuming they already know what we’re going to say because we’ve expounded on our views every chance we get). How can we take such a risk with our most precious treasure when the world is such a scary place?

Jesus gave us a picture of how our Heavenly Father treats us, his children. When we hear the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we tend to focus on the father’s gracious response to his errant child who returned home after squandering his inheritance. But what I find fascinating is the father’s response to his foolish son in the first place. When the son asked his father to give him his share of the inheritance now, rather than wait until after the father’s death, the Bible doesn’t tell us that the father set a bunch of conditions, or gave his son a lecture on how to live wisely, or even argued with him. It simply says that the father “agreed to divide his wealth between his two sons” (Luke 15:12). Let that sink in. The father took a huge risk by letting his son go and make the biggest mistake of his life. He could have said no to the request and tried to force his son to make good choices. But would they have been the son’s choices?

The truth is, our Heavenly Father loves us so much he sent his only son to die for us, and yet he does not force us to obey him. He gives us free will to respond to his love or shun it. He speaks to us in gentle whispers, but doesn’t force us to listen. God has all manner of wisdom and help for us in his Word, but it’s up to us to read it and seek his help. When our selfish plans blow up in our faces, he doesn’t lecture us or say, “I told you so.” Like the father in the parable, he welcomes us home with open arms. Sometimes, the only way we will learn a lesson is by pursuing something foolish and learning from our mistake. If God is willing to take that risk with me, I know he can help me give my kids that same freedom.

The key to giving this kind of grace to my kids is to remember how much grace (and patience) God has shown me. Titus 3:2-7 has some good instructions for all believers that I’m personalizing for myself as a parent:

[Parents] must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone. Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. But—

When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.

I think the reason I felt prompted to read my diary, that night, was to remind myself that I, too, was “foolish and disobedient” at times. I was certainly misled and made a lot of dumb decisions. BUT – God, in his mercy, never let me go. He patiently waited until I was done pursuing my selfish desires and ready to live completely for him. It is by his grace that I am made right in his sight – not because I always made good choices (which I didn’t) or because my parents made sure I went to church. Yes, I need to stay involved in my kids’ lives and support them by providing a stable home that is a respite from the stress of school, a compassionate ear, and an assurance that I will invest in their dreams no matter how different they are from mine. What they don’t need so much in this stage is my mouth.

My prayer for myself, this year, is a paraphrase (with many extra words because I have many extra words) of James 1:19.

Lord, help me to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and…

  • slow to say something critical
  • slow to insert my opinion
  • slow to make a situation about me
  • slow to pass judgment
  • slow to offer unsolicited advice
  • slow to argue my point to the death
  • slow to freak out over stupid stuff
  • slow to assume that my child’s current feelings/opinions are forever
  • slow to shut down an idea
  • slow to make my children’s problems my problems
  • slow to point out mistakes
  • slow to react to situations that require prayer
  • slow to become angry.

And when I fail to do this, I will fall at the feet of Jesus and thank him for being so merciful and gracious to me in my failings. Perhaps then I will have the proper posture of humility to address the failings of my kids. Perhaps then I will choose to show grace to them because of how gracious God is toward me.

Jesus, give me wisdom and grace toward my kids or give me laryngitis. Amen.

 

 

“Hurry up or we’ll be late!” How many times have I uttered those words in agitation? Or “Hurry up and finish so we can ______.” All parents struggle with this on some level, because kids don’t necessarily operate on our time schedule, but some kids in particular are just…s   l   o   w. There is no rushing them. They will get there when they get there, and no amount of yelling, bribing, threatening, and pleading will hasten their arrival. If you have a child like this, you are keenly aware that activities that can be accomplished in 5 minutes by one child, take your child 10 minutes. It takes FOREVER (it seems) for your child to tie his shoes, brush his teeth, do an assignment, eat dinner – pretty much ALL THE THINGS.

Today I want to bless you to know that there is nothing wrong with your child. And there’s nothing wrong with you, either. Your child is simply wired differently by his Creator, and happens to live in a society that does not match his inherent values. However, this does not spell doom for the slow-paced child if you can help him understand those differences and see the benefits of society’s values that sometimes conflict with his. But before you can do this, you need to first understand and value what makes your slow-paced child tick. What God revealed to me – after much time on my knees, pleading for understanding – is that my slow-paced son is endowed by his Creator with the following gifts:

  1. A sense of pride in work and desire to be the best in everything he does, which means he works to please himself more than others.
  2. Total focus on whatever the work is in front of him, which often precludes an awareness of time.
  3. A drive for craftsmanship in every endeavor, stemming from an innate desire for creative expression.
  4. A capacity for deep thinking and desire to fully engage in something that is mentally stimulating.

These are all things to celebrate! Because of these unique qualities, he operates on a different time-table than the rest of us. God-gift #1 causes him to be careful and conscientious in all he does, which means he takes his time to do things well. (“Well” simply means it meets his standards, not necessarily mine.) Some kids are negatively labeled as a “perfectionist,” but this is insulting to the child who takes pride in a job well done. It seems contradictory to tell a child to “do his best” in one breath, then say, “Just hurry up and finish – it doesn’t have to be perfect!” in the next because if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well in his eyes. A job well done – or at least done to his satisfaction – is very important to the child, and this value carries the weight of a moral high ground. To surrender this high ground is to betray one’s very self, in the eyes of the child. So the first step in helping your child to function in a fast-paced society is to recognize and appreciate why he moves so slowly, and not devalue his good intentions. Before he will listen to your desires, you must respect his.

God-gift #2 means that he needs to shut out all distractions in order to do his best (which we established in gift #1 as not being optional). Not only does this child need a distraction-free zone to work, he wants to be fully engaged in his work and not limited by time-constraints. As we’ll see later on, this can be managed through strategic planning, but it is essential that this child feels like his need for an environment that is conducive for concentration is respected (even though it’s not always possible to accommodate).

God-gift #3 is a driving factor in the slow-paced child’s life because creativity is his life-blood. He is compelled to express creativity in all he does – whether the job demands creativity or not. My husband – who is cut from the same cloth as my son – could never just dash off a spelling sentence when he was a child in school. Every sentence had to be a creative masterpiece, so homework took a looooooooong time. Today, he can’t just send a quick email without multiple edits and creative expression. But you know what? He’s an awesome writer and it’s one of the reasons I fell in love with him! If creativity is in your child’s blood, it’s important for you to value that and delight in it. Yes, it means everything will take longer because every assignment is an opportunity for creative expression, but that very creativity may one day be the gift that changes the world. Don’t quench the fire – fan the flame!

Why? Because stairs.

God-gift #4 contributes perhaps the most to the slow-paced child’s challenges because mentally-stimulating activities and deep thinking are incredibly satisfying. You may be raising a scientist or philosopher who is driven to ponder and work out complex ideas. This can present itself as an attention deficit, but it’s because the child is wired to pay more attention to the thoughts within him than to what’s being presented around him. The slow-paced child likes to take time and work the thing out fully – whatever “the thing” is – because the working-it-out part is what brings him satisfaction, not the completion of the job itself. These kids derive pleasure from the process of working on something mentally stimulating, not turning an assignment in. These are all good things. But they cause stress because we live in a world in which:

  1. There are time constraints on almost all activities, and the expectations are based on the time the job takes to be completed by someone who works quickly and likely gives the least effort.
  2. Most employers will say they value quality work, but in actuality, they value quantity of output more than quality because of the time constraints mentioned above.
  3. Not every activity is innately creative, so investing creative energy in every activity is wasteful in terms of productivity, and productivity is valued more than creativity in most places.
  4. Not every activity is mentally stimulating, so those that aren’t get avoided by the slow-paced child and put off in favor of more interesting activities, and this procrastination leads to additional stress as work piles up.

So what can we, as parents, do to help our kids function in a world that does not line up with their values? First, we respect their values. Then – and only then – are we in a position to explain why society’s values can also be beneficial. Ask your child to consider what the world would be like if we all operated on our own time-table instead of functioning within schedules. Chances are, he will jump at the opportunity to think creatively and ponder this scenario, so let his imagination fly! Help him to see that there are benefits to pleasing teachers and bosses – but focus on the direct benefits to him because these will have the most power to motivate him to change his behavior.

Once he has a desire to work within the constraints of someone else’s system – whether that’s a school or place of employment – you can discuss the following strategies that have proven helpful for us. I used these strategies to design the flow of our homeschool day – and this method was the only one that worked of the dozens I tried. Now that my son has successfully transitioned to public high school, we still use these strategies to organize our approach to homework or big projects. As a word of caution, though, these strategies are still not going to make him move any faster than he’s able to move, so you are still going to need to adjust your expectations for how long a particular activity should take, and adjust your schedule to accommodate your child. If he’s in public school, you may need to work with his teachers to find compromises, as well.

School/Homework/Work Strategies for the Highly Creative, Deep Thinker

  1. Make a list of all regularly occurring tasks. Categorize your tasks according to your employer/teacher expectations as either highly important or less important. (Talk to your boss/teacher to help you do this, if necessary.)
  2. Then further categorize these tasks as either requiring creativity, mentally stimulating, or neither of the above.
  3. Look at your schedule and block out what you think is a reasonable amount of time for each activity, allowing the least amount of time for the things that are not creative or stimulating. Don’t just look at the day’s schedule, but look at the week because some days are full of activities, and others are not. The goal is to accomplish everything you need to do in the space of a week – not a day – so that you can spend your weekend doing fulfilling things (even if that means work projects you happen to enjoy) instead of boring work that has been put off through procrastination. Also consider the environment when making a schedule. For instance, don’t plan mentally stimulating tasks for the same time as little sister’s trombone practice!
  4. Set a timer and then try to accomplish as many boring tasks that are important to your boss/teacher as you can during that block of time. The goal is to just get ‘er done so you can move on to something more interesting. The timer is important because it forces you to stay focused and keeps the end in sight. (If you use any rewards for motivation, this should be the only time to use them. Creativity is internally rewarding, so only offer admiration for creative projects. Physical rewards like my son’s favorite motivator, an M&M for every 2 math problems completed, are usually needed to motivate a child to just plow through boring activities.)
  5. Next, set a timer according to how much time you can reasonably afford to spend on a creative activity that is a high priority, then work on it until your time is up. Doing something creative is a reward for finishing the boring activities, and also energizes the highly creative person. However, you must still set a time limit because otherwise, you won’t want to move on.
  6. Set a timer for a small amount of time and then tackle some of the low priority, boring activities. Then do the same for low priority creative activities, etc. If you run out of time to complete them, they move up into the “important” category the next day. This keeps the little tasks from piling up as long as you commit to doing them as quickly as possible, according to the standards imposed by your boss/teacher (and not your own standards of perfection and creative expression).
  7. Lastly, reward yourself by allowing the last block of time each day to be spent on a mentally stimulating activity. If it needs to be a big block of time, adjust the amount of time you spend on the above activities accordingly. If you run out of time, jot down notes and plan to finish your thought later in the day. If you have a lot of important activities, you may need to wait until the weekend to do mentally stimulating activities, so you can give them your full attention and a larger block of time. Mentally stimulating activities are important because they keep you motivated and satisfied in your work, so block out a good chunk of time for this. Putting it at the end of the day or week means you don’t have other things hanging over you, and can fully dive into to the task with less pressure from time constraints.

Following this format, the highly creative, deep thinker should be able to get through tasks in a reasonable amount of time in a way that is still satisfactory because he is directing the most time and effort to the things that really matter to him (creativity and mental stimulation). It helps him to identify and acknowledge which things don’t require 100% in order to still be good enough for his boss/teacher. “Good enough” is a hard pill to swallow for those with an internal drive to excel, but so is stress, anxiety, and never having free time to do things that are truly enjoyable and satisfying.

As I’ve talked with my teenage son about how he will approach his job someday, I’ve tried to remind him that the goal of man is not to have a mentally stimulating job; the goal of man is to have a full life. Life is more than work. Life is work, relationships, recreation, and rest. If you try to satisfy all your needs through work, then work will take all your time. But when work is no longer the sole means for creative expression or mental stimulation, but more of a means to that end, then less time can be given to less important activities in order to make time for needs to also be met in relationship, recreation, and rest. It helps to see the bigger picture in order to embrace the small sacrifices he must make in his approach to daily tasks so that those tasks don’t take up his whole life.

It’s not easy raising a “square peg” in a world of “round holes.” But God has often reminded me of the verse he gave me for my son:

[He is] God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for him to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

Every aspect of my son’s personality was intentional in God’s design. God has a plan for his life, and he is uniquely qualified to do those good works. My job is not to “fix” him, but cooperate with God in helping him be who God created him to be while functioning in a less-than-ideal environment. And the result, so far, has taken my breath away. When my freshman son left 6 1/2 years of homeschool to enter the public school system, I watched my square peg willingly fold in his edges and slide himself into that round hole. Glory to God! Let’s bless our kids to be all their Heavenly Father created them to be, and allow God to change our perspective to His.

God has been prompting me to earnestly pray for revival in the church for the last few months, but I have felt like there’s a block in my prayers, so I asked God to show me what it is. This series is God’s answer to me. There is so much shame in the church that God’s people have become numb to the voice of the Holy Spirit. God isn’t shaming us for failing to be perfect because, as I showed through scripture in Part 1, he has already made us perfect even as we are in the process of being made holy (Hebrews 10:14). But we have not believed in the power of the Holy Spirit to make us holy, nor have we trusted the Holy Spirit to make others holy. So we take up the chains of outward holiness through self-examination and determination to work harder.

However, as we discussed in Part 2, we cannot be holy and do good works apart from remaining in Christ and being filled with the Holy Spirit (John 15:4-5). Christians continually feel shamed for not measuring up to the admonitions in scripture whenever they’re invited to examine their lives to see where they fall short (because we will always find fault with ourselves when grace is not offered). But the description of the holy life as outlined in the Bible should cause us to rejoice that the One who calls us to be holy has promised to keep us blameless until he returns, and equip us to do good works as we remain in his love (1 Thess. 5:23-24)! Yet we feel like we are still under judgment because we have not believed that God can cleanse our conscience by Christ’s blood, so we continue to judge others by pointing out their faults and holding them to our standard of holiness – even though Jesus warned that if we judge, we too will be judged. Our judgment of others and unforgiveness are the true root of our shame issue in the church, and we need to be set free from this captivity so that the Bride of Christ will, once again, fall in love with the Bridegroom. 

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1-2, NIV)

The enemy knows that we are not to judge, so when we judge others – especially those in the church who fall short of our personal standard of holiness – he will harass us with shame. (As children of God, the enemy cannot possess us on the inside, but he can oppress us from the outside.) We know that judgment has brought us into enemy territory when we feel toxic emotions, like shame, because the enemy’s work produces fear-based emotions. When we feel rage, malice, shame, greed, lust, jealousy, these are all based on fear (that God’s grace, sovereignty, and provision are not enough) and show that the enemy is at work. But God is greater than the enemy, and has the perfect weapon to drive out our fearful thoughts and emotions: his love.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18, NKJV)

Until we allow the love of God to cast out our fear, we will continue to be tormented by the enemy, which is why the greatest commandment is: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). When we love God and are filled with his love, there is no room for fear! The first step to exiting enemy territory is to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over all of us and lay down our judgment of one another. This requires us to love the Lord with all our mind and strength – our will – because it does not come naturally. Loving God with our will means that we follow the example of Christ, who prayed:

Not my will, but yours be done. (Luke 22:42)

Jesus continually submitted his will to the Father, and remained in the Father’s love. He asks us to do the same. “When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love” (John 15:10). This means that we will God’s will toward others. We remain in his love so that his love will be expressed through our lives. We don’t need to accept every negative and judgmental thought that enters our mind! As we remain in Jesus and his words remain in us through the infilling of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered and equipped to take negative thoughts captive and speak truth to the lies of the enemy.

We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV)

How do we know when we need to take a thought captive? When we are tempted to judge, we will recognize that the tempter is at work because we will feel ugly inside. We just feel…off, icky. This is our cue that we need to release judgement to the Judge, so that we don’t open ourselves up to guilt and shame. We thank God for his grace and receive it, so that we can extend it.

In this series, I’ve been focusing on shame because the church has (unintentionally, I hope) historically embraced shaming and judgment as a way of motivating good works and outward holiness, which has caused people to withdraw from God and point fingers at others, rather than lean in to God and receive grace. (I say this not to judge church leaders, for whom God’s grace abounds, but to shed light on why so many in the church feel under condemnation, so that healing can take place.) The Apostle Paul warned against this type of religion, saying,

They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that! (2 Timothy 3:5, NLT)

The power that makes us godly is the infilling of the Holy Spirit through remaining in Christ, not our attempts to appear holy through conformity to rules! We need to recognize that a continual feeling of shame after one has already repented and been forgiven of sins is a stronghold of the enemy. But shame is not the only stronghold the enemy can have over us. A stronghold is any area where the enemy is holding you captive. But God has equipped us to demolish them by his power!

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. (2 Cor. 10:4)

So how do we demolish the enemy’s stronghold of fear and shame? The way out of fear-based emotions that allows God’s kingdom of peace to rule our hearts is simple – but by no means easy. In addition to releasing judgment and aligning our will to God’s, we must love God with all our heart and soul. We must surrender the very seat of our emotions to him. We must invite God to tear down the walls of fear and judgment that we put around our hearts as a form of self-protection, and allow his love and strength to be our fortress instead. How do we do this? With the most powerful weapon God has.

FORGIVENESS.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14-15)

We all know that we are supposed to forgive because Christ forgave us, but the reason why forgiveness is the primary weapon we will use to tear down strongholds is that it is our unforgiveness that can allow a stronghold to take root. If we have felt judged and shamed in the church, and allowed a bitter root of unforgiveness to form a wall of resentment around our hearts, we must forgive those who (again, hopefully unintentionally) wronged us. Otherwise, our hardened heart will be hardened to the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (who refused to show mercy by throwing in prison the one who was indebted to him after being forgiven an even greater debt):

“Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart. (Matthew 18:33-35)

When we refuse to forgive those who have sinned against us, we allow a jail cell – a stronghold – of our own making to surround us. The enemy knows we have been instructed to forgive, so he has legal grounds to torment us (v. 34). If we want to break free from the enemy’s strongholds in our life – fear, shame, lust, greed, jealousy, pride, addictions – we must learn how to forgive “from our heart” so that we can walk out of the jail cell and torment for good!

How can we forgive from our heart? I chose to post this on Good Friday, the day we remember Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross, so that we would look to Jesus’s example of how to forgive as he hung on the cross, crucified by the very ones he died to save. Jesus prayed,

Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing. (Luke 23:34)

Learning to pray this is how Jesus has set me free from the enemy’s stronghold of fear and shame. I was tormented by insecurity and anxiety around people for almost 35 years. It began with bullying in elementary school, and brokenness from girls led me to seek my security from boys – which is about the dumbest thing a girl can do because what teenage boy can meet a girl’s need for security? – leading to even more brokenness. Wounding led to more wounding and a victim mentality that could send me into a panic with any fear trigger. Continually hearing messages highlighting how I fell short of Christian perfection in my behavior led me into a stronghold of shame. Surely God was as disappointed in me as I was in myself, I thought.

But then I fell in love with Jesus. I learned to recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd, and he did not speak words of shame. His words brought life and peace. He began to renew my mind with scripture as I loved him with my mind through studying his Word. As I worshiped him out of love for his sacrifice for me, he filled me more and more with his love through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would then bring his words to mind when the enemy attacked, so that I would learn how to fight lies with truth. This went on for several years.

Then one day I prayed the prayer that would change everything. I had forgiven those who had sinned against me and caused wounding before, but only as a victim who laid down her right to press charges. One day, I felt led by the Holy Spirit to pray a prayer of repentance on behalf of those who had sinned in the past, causing destruction in my life. (I later discovered the power in this kind of prayer in Daniel 9.) I then prayed that God would forgive them – that his forgiveness would flow through me to them – for they did not know what they were doing. I forgave those in my ancestry who allowed the stronghold of insecurity to be passed down to me. I forgave those in the church who unknowingly taught me to question my security with God and doubt that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been given to me. I forgave all those who led me to broken behavior out of brokenness of heart because they couldn’t possibly know the consequences of their actions. In doing so, I stepped out of the victim’s chair and became the attorney for the defense, pleading with the Judge to have mercy on them as he has had mercy on me. I prayed for those who had persecuted me with full faith in my good Father to work in all things for my good.

And my chains fell off.

I no longer have a victim mentality because I have stepped out of that role. The enemy no longer torments me with fear, shame, rejection, or loneliness. You know who is my BFF? Jesus! The day he showed me that he is my friend who satisfies every longing, I literally felt the hand of God reach down into the pit of my soul – the seat of my emotions – and pull out every ugly, fearful emotion the enemy had tortured me with nearly my entire life.

I
AM
FREE!

I am free to love God with all my heart and rest in his love for me. I am free to see and love people as Christ sees and loves them – and I love people like I have never loved before, free from the need for them to love me back. There have been times when the enemy has tried to suck me back into fear, but God has taught me to immediately take fearful thoughts captive and speak the truth of God’s Word over them. It’s like being coated with petroleum jelly so that the enemy can’t get a good grip! As I daily remain in Christ through worship, prayer, and receiving his love and wisdom through the Bible, he shows me how to sidestep the enemy’s attempts at captivity by refusing to read/watch/listen to that which feeds fear.

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise...Then the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)

But what if someone did know what they were doing and is intentionally harming you? Forgiveness does not mean that we have to allow people to continue to do evil to us. In the same chapter he talks about forgiveness, Jesus also instructed us to confront those who sin against us – privately, if at all possible – and try to work out a solution so that relationship will be restored. After exhausting every peaceable option, we turn to the courts, if it is a legal offense. But then he immediately reminds us that we are to forgive – even as we seek an end to the injustice – so that we are not tormented over it by the enemy.

Friend, I know you’ve been hurt – we all have. Some of us have been hurt by the church, but as we cling to unforgiveness, we hinder the Holy Spirit’s ability to restore us to the kingdom of peace. When we forgive by simply dropping our right to prosecute, we can secretly hang onto the hope that God will still get them in the end. We still cling to vengeance; we just step aside and hope that God will avenge us. That’s why Jesus said to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, so that we will remain in his love at all times. All emotions that flow from God are love-based. As God’s forgiveness and love flows through us, the natural result is that we will his love toward others, and the Fruit of the Spirit is developed in us. Willing love – not hate – toward others, and releasing all judgment to the merciful Judge, is what shuts the door on the enemy. When we are obedient to dwell in God’s love, yielding our will to his will that none should perish but have eternal life, the enemy has no grounds to harass us. That is how we live in continual victory, free from strongholds, free from fear!

There is no hurt worth hanging onto if it keeps you from full victory in Christ. I don’t say that flippantly. I know it’s hard to release judgment and forgive the way Christ forgave because I’ve done it, but he is The Way, The Truth, and The Life (John 14:6). A life of fear and torment is not the life Christ died to give us. It is for freedom that we have been set free. So how do we walk in freedom? By allowing God’s forgiveness to flow through you, because it is only by his power and grace that we can forgive. Here is how God is teaching me to continually walk in peace and freedom:

  1. When a toxic, fear-based emotion surfaces – or you feel like your soul is not at peace – ask the Lord to show you what is causing it (a memory, a person, a particular circumstance), and where it began. If it is a circumstance that is causing you to fear, yield it to God by saying, “May your will be done. I release judgment and ask You to cast out my fear with your perfect love.” If a person is involved, ask God to show you who it was that wounded you or failed to meet a need you had. (Addictions and other toxic emotions like lust, insecurity, or greed can take root when a legitimate need for love, protection, or provision wasn’t met.)
  2. If you have put up a guard over your heart to prevent feeling hurt by that person or memory, ask God to remove the wall so you can feel the emotion and be healed. (Sometimes we just feel “off” because we’ve trained ourselves to not feel any emotion in that situation anymore.)
  3. As soon as you feel the root emotion, ask God to heal and cleanse your wound as you release forgiveness.
  4. Pray “Father, forgive them, for they did not know what they were doing,” and ask God’s forgiveness to flow through you to them. (Even if they intentionally tried to hurt you – just like those who crucified Christ – we can assume they did not know they were in danger of the wrath of God who demands justice. God is still the Judge and may, in fact, be already dealing with them for their wrongdoing, but because you are obediently choosing God’s way, he will bless you with peace. Forgiveness is about gaining your freedom, not theirs.)
  5. If the toxic feeling is shame or regret, you may need to first ask God to forgive you. If you have already done this and forgiven others involved, then thank God for his forgiveness, which is a way of praying in faith that if you have asked God for forgiveness, he remembers your sin no more (Hebrews 10:17-18). However, the person you may still need to forgive is yourself. Allow God’s forgiveness to flow through you to cleanse you from your own self-condemnation.
  6. If you feel like God was the one who let you down, forgive God and ask him to show you how he was acting on your behalf during that season of wounding.
  7. Receive God’s healing in this area until you feel at peace or feel led to pray over a different issue. (He may bring several to your mind, if the root goes deep.)
  8. If a lie was introduced at the time of emotional wounding, ask the Holy Spirit to show you what it was and then speak God’s truth over the lie. Whenever you are confronted with that lie, take that thought captive and make it obey Christ, the Truth.
  9. Continue in an attitude of prayer until you feel the peace of God guarding your heart and mind in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).

This was a time-consuming process, at first, but I have learned to live in continual victory by doing this quickly whenever I do not feel at peace. I can’t begin to tell you what a difference it has made in my life to shut the door on the voice of condemnation, and be empowered by the Holy Spirit to step into the life of love God has called me to live. It has affected my marriage, my parenting, my friendships, my finances – every part of my life as I yield it all to God.

In Part 4 of this series, I will review the spiritual weapons or tools God has given us that enable us to walk in continual freedom. Yes, it is possible to be free from strongholds – even generational strongholds. Yes, we can live at peace with others as we draw near to God and allow his forgiving nature to become our nature. Yes, we WILL do good works as we remain in Christ because he promised that he would equip us for love and good deeds by the power of the Holy Spirit that resides in us. To Him be all glory and honor and praise!

In Part 1 of this series, we looked in depth at the truth that Christ’s blood has the power to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and has already “forever made perfect those who are (in the process of) being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14). We do not need to embrace words of shame and condemnation over our mistakes as we walk with the Lord because if we are his children, he has cleansed us from a desire to sin, even though he must continue to address and heal the broken parts of our lives that lead to broken actions.

Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God. (1 John 3:9, NLT)

Therefore, we do not need to anxiously examine our lives for sin, feel shame when we make mistakes while God is in the process of making us holy, or embrace a theology based on works in order to gain God’s favor. So how do we balance that knowledge with all the scriptures that admonish us to do good works and behave like Jesus?

Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if we don’t feel guilty, we can come to God with bold confidence. And we will receive from him whatever we ask because we obey him and do the things that please him. (1 John 3:19-22)

I believe most Christians interpret verse 19 as saying “our actions should show that we belong to the truth,” as if God is shaking his finger at us. But it actually promises that if we belong to Christ – The Truth – our actions “will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God”! Even if we feel guilty – not guilt from God, but our own self-condemnation – God’s love should be trusted more than our feelings because he knows exactly what broken part of you caused you to do that thing that doesn’t line up with Christ’s character, and he already has a plan for how and when he’s going to address it and restore you. Glory to God! If we don’t feel guilty, and can trust God’s patient love for us, we will ask bold things of God and do good works because we’re confident that we are obeying him to the best of our ability (which is always growing in grace). This is exactly why the enemy wants us to fix our eyes on ourselves through guilt and shame, because it keeps us from bold faith and contains us. He wants to roll a stone of shame to seal you in a tomb of regret and hopelessness, but we serve a God of hope who rolls away stones! Hallelujah!

In Part 2 of this series, I want to look at how we can live a life of obedience that is yielded to God, but free of shame:

  1. By learning to be less focused on the “cross we must bear” for God, and more focused on the cross he bore for us.
  2. By embracing the requirement to remain in Christ as the key to obedience and “bearing fruit.”
  3. By rightly understanding the roles and power of the Holy Spirit who is essential to our obedience.

Most of us are familiar with Jesus’s words to his disciples that if they are to follow him, they must deny themselves and take up their cross. We often treat this as though it’s a prerequisite of discipleship, but it is simply the natural progression that as we serve Christ out of love and become more like him, we will naturally follow in his steps – steps that sometimes take us to difficult, painful places. But in those places we are never alone! We must always keep the cross of Christ first and foremost in our minds because when my eyes are fixed on myself and “my cross that I must bear,” I open up my life to the Accuser to:

  1. cast blame over the areas where I’ve fallen short of perfection in the eyes of men,
  2. introduce the lie that God is only pleased when I am suffering for him, and
  3. inflate pride over the areas where I’ve been “suffering for Jesus,” which leads further into legalism and is toxic to my relationship with Christ.

But when I keep my eyes fixed on Jesus who, according to Hebrews 12:2, is both the author and PERFECTER of my faith who endured the cross “for the joy set before him,” I am overwhelmed by the love of my Savior who endured the cross, scorning it’s shame, for me. Jesus began my faith and he is in the process of perfecting it, so I do not need to look within and focus on that which is not yet perfected in my eyes. I need to look up so that I am receiving his perfect love that has the power to transform me. You and I were “the joy set before him” as he hung on the cross. He died and rose again so that you and I could remain in his LOVE forever! And this causes me to fall down and worship him in gratitude as his sacrifice becomes greater in my eyes than my own. When we bow down before Christ’s cross, we are in a posture of worship that enables us to receive God’s love and return it. Worship opens the door to the infilling of the Holy Spirit and shuts the door to the enemy. All Jesus asks is that I remember to keep HIS sacrifice before me (through the sacrament of communion) and remain in his love.

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)

We remain blameless by remaining in Christ. Shame makes us keep working harder to do good works because we assume fruitfulness means busyness, when simply remaining in relationship with Jesus may reveal that God’s will for you in this season is to rest in him.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Yes, if we love Jesus we will obey him, but his burdens are light because we are yoked to him and equipped to do everything he asks of us by his power. Sometimes obedience means laying down some of the stuff we’re trying to do for him out of guilt (and outside the yoke of his provision), so that we can make room in our schedules to spend time with him and remain in his love. Sometimes obedience means going off to a quiet place to pray, like Jesus did. When we are yoked to him, he decides when we move and when we rest in him; what goes on the calendar and what gets taken off. The more we remain in Christ through worship, prayer, and reading scriptures with a yielded heart, the more we will bear fruit: the Fruit of the Holy Spirit!

The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

The Fruit of the Spirit is the very character and nature of Christ. It is the first and most important fruit God wants to develop in us because it is from this inward fruit that all of the outward fruit in ministry is produced. We only become like him as we spend time with him, which is why we can do nothing apart from remaining in him. As we remain in him we learn to recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd and distinguish his from that of the Accuser.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. (John 10:27-29).

When we confidently know God’s voice and trust that he is able to keep us securely in his mighty hands, then we can read admonitions in scripture regarding holy behavior with joy instead of shame, because we know we have already yielded our heart to Christ and have received the promised Holy Spirit who empowers us to live a holy life to our Father’s glory!

When the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid (John 14:26-27).

One of the reasons why Christians feel troubled and afraid is that they do not rightly understand what a big deal the gift of the Holy Spirit is, but Jesus knew. He told his disciples not to worry about him leaving them because he was going to send them an even better gift, the Holy Spirit! In fact, he warned them not to leave Jerusalem until they had received it because he knew they would be powerless to carry out his commands without the Holy Spirit. And so are we. The gift of the Holy Spirit:

  • frees us from condemnation by setting us free from the power of sin (Romans 8:1-2)
  • reminds us of what Jesus – the Living Word of God – has said; operating as The Counselor, he helps us recall the scriptures and promises of God at the time we need them (John 14:26-27)
  • equips us for spiritual warfare the way Jesus fought Satan’s temptations (Matthew 4:1-11), helping us wield “The Sword of the Spirit” as we speak God’s Word with efficacy against the enemy’s plan for us and pray in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:13-18)
  • gives us the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:15-16) as we read God’s Word by showing us not just God’s promises for all men, but specific words for us from the Bible that will help us discern God’s will for our lives (Romans 12:2)
  • guards our heart and mind with peace as we trust in God alone to meet our needs (Philippians 4:7)
  • manifests the character of Christ in us, the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
  • enables us to do that which God calls us to do (1 Corinthians 12:4-11, Philippians 2:13)
  • empowers us to live a blameless life and dwell in God’s Kingdom of peace by sanctifying us, and so much more!

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)

The same power that raised Jesus from the dead has been gifted to us so that we may become like Christ as we are filled with his Spirit, and do his good works through the anointing of his Spirit. Remaining in Christ means that I remain open to the infilling of the Holy Spirit, respond with a yielded heart to whatever and wherever the Spirit leads, and trust that in doing so I am kept blameless. We don’t need to search ourselves for faults and open the door to the Accuser to cast blame. Instead, we pray the prayer of David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart,” trusting that the God who knit us together and knows everything about us is faithful to fill us with his Holy Spirit and lead us into all righteousness (Psalm 139).

If we do not feel empowered by the Holy Spirit, we don’t need to try harder or pray harder for God to give us what is already our spiritual inheritance (Ephesians 1:3-13). We need to recognize that the enemy is doing everything in his power to contain us through shame and keep us in his kingdom of fear so that we will doubt God’s power in us. But “the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world” (1 John 4:4). It’s time we pick up our Sword and ask God to roll the stone away! You and I have the power of the Holy Spirit to shut the enemy up as we remain in Christ.

In Part 3 of this series, we will take a closer look at how we stray into the enemy’s kingdom of fear, and how we can get out and stay out by using the weapons God has given us to tear down strongholds.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:4-5)