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.
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 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:
- 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.)
- 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.)
- As soon as you feel the root emotion, ask God to heal and cleanse your wound as you release forgiveness.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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!