Feeds:
Posts
Comments

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.

 

 

Advertisements

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)

I made a statement in my Sunday School class, recently, about how I used to always feel worse about myself after church than I did before I went in. As I looked around the room, heads were nodding up and down, so I know I am not alone in this experience. I have always had a tender heart toward God from the time I was a little girl, and I remember going to the altar weekly as young as first grade, which is likely when I gave my heart to the Lord. As a teenager, I responded to every altar call to “recommit” my life to God, and was always aware of how I fell short as a Christian. I desperately wanted to live the holy life that was preached from the pulpit, but it seemed so elusive, and I felt certain that I was a constant disappointment to God. Every time I was admonished to examine my heart I found fault and was certain God did too. I felt shame, condemnation, and hopeless that I would ever be good enough to not feel a guilty conscience in church. (But before I go further into my story, let me say I have no condemnation toward my pastors or teachers because it was not their plan for me to feel this way; it was the devil’s, and he is the enemy in this series, not church leaders.)

My family is currently reading through the Bible, and as God’s timing would have it, we have landed in the book of Leviticus during Holy Week. Let me just say up front that it does not bless my 12 and 15-year-old to read about ritual cleansing of infectious skin diseases and grotesque sacrifices. But we are reading it anyway because otherwise it’s too easy to forget the sacrificial system that Jesus replaced through his death on the cross. In order to appreciate the second covenant and understand what Jesus did for us, we must study the first. The sacrificial system had no power to keep God’s people blameless. In fact, the Levitical laws (pertaining to ritual cleansing and sacrifice) were meant to make us aware of how we fall short of God’s holiness. The sacrifices were needed in order to make atonement for sin, but they had to continually be offered day after day, year after year. God set up sacrifices to even cover unintentional sins (Leviticus 5:17-19). Try to imagine how discouraging it would be to see an animal slaughtered for your sins that you didn’t even mean to commit, but once you have become aware of your guilt you must pay the penalty. “The gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper” (Hebrews 9:9). Imagine knowing that God is so holy you have no hope of being righteous, even if you followed every command to the best of your ability.

Actually, most of us can easily imagine this because even as Christians under the new covenant, we still act like we’re under the old. Why? The enemy has blinded us to the fact that we have been sprinkled by the blood of Christ – the perfect sacrifice that put an end to the old sacrificial system – and have been made holy in the eyes of God.

The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:13-14)

The old sacrificial system could only make people outwardly clean, but the new covenant through Christ’s blood shed for us has the ability to cleanse our conscience. However, we have to receive this cleansing. Unfortunately, many of us in the church are convinced that what God wants from us is outward cleansing. So we stand just outside the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven, trying to wash ourselves off with the hose of guilt over our shortcomings. We believe the lie that if we just keep scrubbing and cleansing ourselves on the outside, we can finally be good enough to be accepted into the Kingdom. But the King has already invited us to enter through the Gate, Jesus Christ. He desires to cleanse us from the inside so that we are set free from a guilty conscience. However, the enemy has ensnared God’s people in a trap of guilt and condemnation because he knows that once our consciences are cleansed, we will “serve the living God” (v. 14).

The devil wants us to believe that Christ’s sacrifice for our sins was not enough to keep us right with God. Oh sure, we can be saved by grace, but he wants us to believe that grace is only sufficient for salvation and cannot keep us blameless. If the enemy can keep Christians focused on ourselves and our failings by encouraging us to look within and feel shame, he knows that we will:

  1. Never experience the full joy and freedom of victory over sin through Jesus, or even believe it’s possible
  2. Never live up to our full potential and effectiveness in our work, family, and church
  3. Trade the life of peace God offers for one of continual works that keep us exhausted and burned out
  4. Run from God when we make mistakes, instead of drawing near to God for restoration
  5. Become numb to the Holy Spirit because we can’t distinguish God’s gentle voice from our own harsh criticism
  6. Live in fear of God’s judgment, rather than peace in God’s Kingdom (and we’ll discuss later in this series why fear and peace cannot coexist in our lives because fear takes us into the enemy’s territory)

The devil cannot take away our salvation, but he can try to limit our effectiveness by keeping us focused on our guilt within. That’s why it’s so important for God’s people to understand what Christ’s sacrifice means for us, and the power that Jesus has over the enemy, so that we’ll stop agreeing with the Accuser and start agreeing with God!

Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time. Then he sat down in the place of honor at God’s right hand. There he waits until his enemies are humbled and made a footstool under his feet. For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:11-14)

The enemy knows the day is coming when he will be humbled and made a footstool for Jesus, so he is hard at work trying to trip up God’s people and make them feel like they need to be saved again and again. God’s sacrifice for your sin and mine was once and for all – all our sins, even the unintentional ones we commit in our weakness. If the old covenant provided sacrifices for unintentional sins, why do we think the new covenant is powerless to cleanse us from guilt over our failings? By that one offering, Jesus “forever made perfect those who are being made holy” (v. 14). Let that sink in. Jesus’s one sacrifice makes us perfect forever in God’s eyes, even as we are in the process of being made holy. And how does God make us holy?

“This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day,” says the Lord:
“I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he says, “I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.” And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices. (Hebrews 10:16-18)

If we are made perfect and are being made holy, we do not need to continue in a life of guilt and shame, trying to earn God’s favor through determination to work harder and be a “better” Christian. When God writes his laws on our minds through time spent in his Word (Romans 12:2), and on our hearts as we yield to the gentle leadership of the Holy Spirit in prayer, there will be times when we will become aware that we need God’s grace and power to perfect us in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). This is how we are “being made holy,” as we immediately agree with God and yield to the Holy Spirit within instead of yielding to external guilt and shame. There is no condemnation as we are in the process of being made holy (Romans 8:1), only continual grace and restoration as we gradually become more and more like him.

God is not impatiently waiting for you to hurry up and get sanctified. Believe it or not, he enjoys the process of making us holy because this holiness happens as we are in relationship with him. And that’s the purpose of Christ’s sacrifice for us, to restore us to relationship with our Creator. God does not require more sacrifices from us – continually going to the altar to “recommit” our lives to God – just continual relationship with Jesus Christ who paid the price so that God will never again remember our sins. The enemy wants us to remember our sins. He wants to keep our failings front and center in our eyes in order to trample the grace and power of God in our lives. He wants us to be insecure in our standing with God because then we are not a threat to him. But God’s children are not meant to live this way.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. (Hebrews 10:19-23)

And what is God’s promise? That he will make us holy and remember our sins no more. If God remembers our sins no more, then why do we? We need to allow our guilty consciences to be sprinkled with Christ’s blood and made clean. And we need to stop feeding our guilty conscience by assuming every word of rebuke we hear is for us. (I’ll explain how to do this later in this series.) We need to encourage one another so that we will not grow discouraged in our faith (Hebrews 10:25). Instead of thinking of how to motivate one another toward guilt and repentance – which is unnecessary if we are remaining in Christ (Hebrews 6) – we need to think of ways to motivate one another toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). And how did Jesus motivate people? By loving them. That’s how the world will know we’re his disciples, after all. We forgive as Christ forgave us (something we’ll look at in detail in Part 3). We love because he first loved us, and because he has poured out his love into our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit (and it’s this power that keeps us blameless, which we’ll discuss in Part 2). We step into the light and receive cleansing from Christ so that we can be free from guilt and shame.

Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. (Galatians 5:1)

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll look at how we yield to God, rather than yield to the enemy, so we can move into a place of victory and blamelessness.

In Part 3, we’ll look at how the enemy holds us captive, and how we can follow Jesus’s example to be completely set free from negative emotions and strongholds.

In Part 4, we’ll look at how we can discern God’s voice and offer the right “sacrifice”. (Hint: It’s not about our sacrifice, but praising God for his!)

I have mixed emotions as I write my first financial post in several years. On the one hand, I’m excited to share the good news of God’s miraculous financial provision for our family, and how he’s been setting us free from bondage to financial strongholds. On the other hand, my heart is heavy for those who are under a burden of guilt and shame due to debt. If that’s you, please know that God does not condemn you and neither do I (Romans 8). God has a plan for debt forgiveness, and his name is Jesus Christ! If you believe God only cares about your spiritual debt and not your physical debt, then please read on as I share with you some truths from scripture that have set me free, and the testimony of how I have put God’s Word to the test in my life.

Let me also say up front that this is not a “get your finances in order” pep talk, either. Some of you may be so far in debt that you could work hard with “gazelle intensity,” saving every penny, and never get ahead of it unless God miraculously intervenes. Well, what if I told you that God still does miraculous interventions! God’s grace is sufficient for you, as it was for us in the years after my husband finally got a job, when we were desperately trying to rebuild our finances after draining every penny of our savings while my husband was unemployed for 18 months. It seemed like every time we got a little saved up something would come up, like needing to replace the furnace or a car, and our savings would get used up. So I know how discouraging it is when you’re trying to make good financial choices and you just can’t catch a break. During that season, however, God was teaching me 2 things:

  1. Be thankful that God has provided us with the means to pay for the things we need, and don’t stress about spending savings on actual needs. The God who provided it yesterday, will provide today and tomorrow.
  2. How I view God when my finances are tight reveals my level of faith and whether or not I believe he is a good God.

I remember when our freezer, which came with our first house and was so old I’ve never heard of the brand, finally gave out right at a time when I’d been losing weight and desperately needed to replace my wardrobe. I fell to my knees in my closet, sobbing because once again, a house need was going to take priority over my needs. I said, “God, I guess you just don’t want me to have new clothes.” I’ll never forget his response: “Why would you think that?” It set off a cascade of conversations with my husband as we wrestled with whether or not we really believed that God desired good things for us. We’d grown up in the church hearing all about how we are to give sacrificially to those less fortunate, but honestly didn’t know how God felt about our wants and needs. (Dave Ramsey’s book, The Legacy Journey, was immensely helpful in sorting out what is biblical truth and what has been twisted in order to guilt Christians into giving. If you were taught to believe that money is evil and God doesn’t want Christians to have it, I highly recommend reading it.)

During those years of savings slipping through our fingers due to large repair bills, God had asked me to surrender a dream our family had to go to Disney World. I honestly felt like it was a rebuke for having such a worldly desire. I let it go, and we had many wonderful – but much less expensive – family vacations during those lean years. I finally reached the decision that I would believe that God is for me (Romans 8:31), and desires to bless me both spiritually and physically as I obey him (Luke 6:38), even when it felt like the world was against me financially. Shortly after this turning point in my relationship with God, my in-laws decided to take all of my husband’s family to – you guessed it – Disney World!

A hug from Tigger was a hug from Jesus that precious day which cost us nothing.

When God said no to my desire, it was not a rebuke for having a desire to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime trip with my kids; it was because he was going to bless me by providing it FOR me through someone else! Why is it so hard to believe that God is for us and wants to bless us? Why do we believe that God is like a parent who takes his child to a candy store, then chastises him for wanting a piece? In Matthew 7:11 Jesus said,

If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

God is a good Father. Perhaps your father made you feel like your needs weren’t important, or that you were foolish for wanting the things you wanted. God is a Father who blesses his children. That may be hard to believe because we see so much suffering in the world, but if you look at his relationship with those he called his own (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob/Israel and the Children of Israel) you will see a God who blesses and provides. Open God’s Word and you will find stories of manna and provision in the wilderness for 40 years, then whole cities delivered into the hands of his chosen people so that they didn’t even have to build houses when they came out of the desert! You will find a story of a widow whose husband was in debt, and the debt collectors were about to take her sons, so she cried out to the Prophet Elisha for help. God miraculously paid her debt and provided for her and her sons by multiplying oil in jars for her to sell (2 Kings 4). If God cared about delivering her from her debt, why don’t you think he cares about yours? 

The enemy has created so much confusion concerning money. In America, we have this idea that debt is just a part of life, so instead of turning to God and asking him to provide for our needs, which is exactly what he instructed his people to do, we turn to Visa.

This is what the LORD says: “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls. But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’ – Jeremiah 6:16

Easy credit seems like a friend in an emergency, but turns out to be an enemy that enslaves us (Proverbs 22:7). When we awaken in the trap, instead of approaching “God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16), we submit to guilt and shame and cover our debt with more debt. The enemy heaps so much guilt and shame on those who are burdened by debt, that we wrongly assume God is disgusted with us when we make a mistake. Like Adam and Eve we hide from God – the One who could set us free from this negative cycle of bondage.

But God does not want us to be staggering under the burden of debt. He intends for us to be generous givers as he gives generously to us. God’s intended cycle of financial blessing is outlined in 2 Cor. 9:

God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others…God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous (emphasis mine). And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers…will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God.

It is God’s plan to “generously provide all you need,” so if you have a scarcity stronghold like I did, and believe that you must stock up on every good deal that comes your way because it might not come around again, memorize this verse and repeat it every time you go to the store. God does not give sparingly. He will not only meet your needs, but give you enough to share with others. I can’t tell you how many times God provided just what I needed for the exact amount of money I had, time and time again. When we were in the middle of our long season of unemployment, with no end in sight, I needed to replace some worn out clothes for my kids and only had $2. I was going to head to the thrift store, but something came up and I had to put it off until the next day. When I arrived at the store the next day I discovered that it was $2 day, when you could buy everything you could fit into a big trash bag for just $2. I not only found what I needed for my kids, I found some things for myself, as well. God interrupted my original plan because he wanted to generously provide for not just my kids’ needs, but mine! When my kids outgrow their clothes, we pass them along to others who can use them so that, according to the verses above, we can help meet the needs of others which will cause them to give praise back to God.

That’s the cycle God intended: He provides the “seed” and “bread,” gives us a generous amount and a generous spirit, then we thank him for it and share it with others so they will also return thanks to God. However, in modern America the cycle has broken down. First, we’ve forgotten that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father (James 1:17). We don’t trust our Heavenly Father to provide for us, even though Jesus promised that if we would seek him first in everything, he would take care of all our physical needs (Matthew 6:25-34). Unfortunately, when we try to take more than he gives, we end up borrowing to finance it. One of the many blessings God promised his people in his covenant is that if they would obey him, The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none” (Deut. 28:12). God’s blessing is for his people to be lenders, not borrowers, but we’ve got it backwards in this country. We think it’s a blessing to borrow because it enables us to have whatever we want right now. However, we can’t give generously when we are in debt, so the cycle breaks down. To get back into the cycle of faith, we need to first believe that God is good, and trust him to meet our needs. I know it’s hard when you are poor – believe me, friend, I’ve been there – but God has never failed to provide for my needs, and he will meet yours. Ask him!

The other place where God’s blessing cycle gets interrupted is when we start experiencing financial success and look around like King Nebuchadnezzar, exclaiming, “I, by my own mighty power, have built this beautiful city.” (Read the rest of Daniel 4 to see what God had to say about that and how he humbled this mighty king!) Folks, can we be real and just admit that we have a tendency to blame God for the suffering in our lives, while giving ourselves all the credit when things are going well? God will not share his glory with anyone else, which is why he commanded us to have no other gods before him. He’s not going to abundantly bless us if we give ourselves all the glory for it and hoard it (Luke 12:16-21).

It is not wrong to have money and enjoy God’s blessings. God gives good gifts to his children for our enjoyment (Jeremiah 31:12)! But when God blesses us – no matter how small a thing – we need to develop the habit of giving him praise. When our finances were tight, I would praise God for a $1 off coupon. But you know what? I developed the mindset that God was providing for all my needs – and he was! I could be totally wrong, but sometimes I think God delights in blessing me with little things financially – a good bargain here, a freebee there – because he gets a kick out of knowing that I will praise him for ALL of it. And when we share with others in need, they praise God too. That’s how the church is supposed to be encouraged and built up. We sometimes blame God for the failings of the church, but his desires and plans are perfect.

We know this on a gut level, but it is hard to live God’s way in a materialistic culture that bombards us with constant messages that we need this or that to be happy, and we can easily finance it with debt. Advertisers prey on our fears (of missing out, not being accepted, not having enough because we passed up a sale, etc.), which is why we need God’s perfect love to cast out our fear (1 John 4:18) and replace it with the fruit of the Spirit in order to have self-control. The Apostle Paul said,

 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)

We can’t do this on our own. We need God to set us free from financial strongholds, and we need the Holy Spirit to fill us with the strength to be content with whatever God has provided. This is, I believe, why the spiritual discipline of tithing is so important. By giving God 10% of our income, we stand up to the enemy’s lie that we can’t rely on God to take care of us, and we practice self-control as God gives us the strength to be content living beneath our means. It’s not about the church needing our money; it’s about God wanting us to trust him to meet our needs and satisfy our desires. God not only asks us to tithe, he invites us to test him and believe that he will bless us if we do!

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. (Malachi 3:10)

So we did. When my husband was unemployed, his $1200/month unemployment check didn’t even cover half of our living expenses. But we tithed $120 every month anyway. We never missed a meal or a bill payment. We always had clothes. We never carried a balance on a credit card. For 18 months we didn’t get sick and our cars didn’t break down. I don’t know how our savings stretched, but God made it stretch. Even though our budget was painfully tight, God met ALL our needs. Not only that, God miraculously doubled my husband’s income over the past summer, which replaced that lost savings we’d had to live on – glory to God! We used the extra money to pay down our second mortgage because we agree with God that debt is not his plan for us. Paying down debt directly challenged my stronghold of scarcity because I wanted to build up our savings for my security, but trusting in God instead of a savings account has given us victory over the enemy in this area, and that has led to victory in other areas, as well. We could not pay off debt on our own without God’s help, but as we have yielded our finances to God, he has stepped in to provide what we cannot. I believe that as we are faithful to both enjoy and steward what he gives us, he will bless us with more so we can be lenders instead of borrowers (Matt. 25:14-30). And I believe God wants to do this for you, too!

Friends, it’s time for financial freedom. I don’t just mean getting our finances in order and getting out of debt, but allowing the grace and forgiveness of God to wash over us and set us free from bondage to shame. There is no pit you’ve dug for yourself that is so big that God cannot make a way out! Yes, we must repent, but we also need God to deliver us from financial mental strongholds. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve studied the Financial Peace program or put a budget on paper if you have a spending addiction or scarcity stronghold that prevents you from following through. We need to know that our battle is not just with our flesh, but there can be spiritual – and even generational – strongholds surrounding how we spend money. (Families can pass down strongholds of spending addiction that leads to debt, or there can be a scarcity stronghold that leads to hoarding or a refusal to bless children.) The good news is that God has given us divine power to tear down strongholds in Jesus name, and take captive every thought – and spending habit – to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-5).

If you would like God to set you free from money-related strongholds and get back into the cycle of blessing, I invite you to allow God to deliver and restore you as he has been restoring me. God can renew our minds and change the way we think, setting us free from old habits (Romans 12:2). This is how God is teaching me to bring strongholds to him:

  • First, we must acknowledge before God that we need his help to bind whatever has bound us. In order for deliverance to take place, we need to ask God to reveal any areas where we are in bondage and when we first were taken captive by this stronghold. Who spoke a lie over us or taught us in this way?
  • Feel the feelings you felt at that time. Did you feel fear that you wouldn’t have enough? Did you feel jealousy that someone had more than you? Did you feel shame when you were taught that money is evil and God wants Christians to be poor, or that having wants is wrong? Allow the emotions connected to that experience to emerge, and ask God to cleanse and heal your emotional wounds.
  • Receive God’s forgiveness to you for your part in agreeing with the lie or fear and acting on it. Then forgive and ask Jesus’s forgiveness to flow through you to whoever else was involved in the beginning and perpetuation of this stronghold. Allow God’s forgiveness to flow through you to others until you feel at peace. If you need to forgive God because you feel like he let you or your family down, then do that. Don’t get hung up on theology – if you’re mad at God, forgive him. If you need to forgive yourself, do that. Until we forgive ALL our debtors – those who have wronged us – we leave the door open to torment by the enemy (Matt. 18:34-35). In order to close the door to shame, we MUST forgive as Christ forgave us.
  • Renounce the lie you have believed out loud, if there is one. (Say, “I no longer believe that I have to hoard things,” or “I no longer believe that I must buy things beyond my budget in order to be happy.”) Then ask God to replace the lie with scriptural truth, which is how God renews our minds. Say aloud, “I am not controlled by my sinful nature. I am controlled by the Spirit of God. I have no obligation to do what my sinful nature urges me to do because I am a child of God” (Romans 8:9-16). Rebuke the stronghold of scarcity by saying, “I believe that my God will meet all my needs” (Phil. 4:19). Stand firm against the strongholds of spending and hoarding addictions by proclaiming, “God has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (1 Timothy 1:7). Meditate on these scriptures and whichever ones the Holy Spirit brings to your mind every time you go shopping, and see what God will do!

God’s grace abounds toward you and me. It is God’s plan to bless his children, and he will restore you as you daily walk with him and renew your mind with the Word of God. This is how he restored me. If you don’t know where to start, print out the verses I’ve linked in this post and pray over them, yielding to the Holy Spirit, and allowing God to change you from the inside out. According to 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, God is able to keep you blameless, and he will do it!

Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
    He is eager to relent and not punish. (Joel 2:13)

Jesus paid our debts on the cross to set us free from paying the wages of sin and death. The gift of God is abundant life, and you can take that to the bank!