To say that God’s been showing me stuff lately would be, at the very least, an understatement. I’ve spent the last few weeks going through some major open-heart surgery, as He’s pointed His loving finger at all kinds of dusty skeletons that I didn’t even realize were there. God is merciful to use different means for our sanctification, and He’s used books, people, circumstances, and trials all recently to help me see the rotten areas that need removing, and see the holes that need filling.
I just finished reading Respectable Sins, by Jerry Bridges. Holy cow. If you don’t like feeling convicted, don’t read this book. One of the first sins on the list was ungodliness. I thought, “No problem here. I’m constantly at church, teaching my kids about God, talking about God, reading about God, etc.” But the way he defined ungodliness, I’m guilty. I do, in fact, go through my day, dealing with the children or the house or the bills or whatever else, sometimes without giving a single thought to God or Christ or how He might be working in this particular moment. And that was just the beginning. Some chapters I knew beforehand that I would be smarting a bit as I read them. Others, like the one on ungodliness, took me by surprise. I think the main one that has left me with a list to work through was the one on anger. I almost didn’t even read this chapter because I didn’t think anger was a real issue for me. I don’t usually lash out, I don’t say mean things, I sometimes lose my temper with my kids but not as a general rule. But I read it anyway. Enter conviction. He talked mostly about resentment and bitterness. I wouldn’t have said I was a bitter person. Until I read that chapter. God brought person after person to my mind toward whom I am bitter. People that I’ve been blaming for some of the current circumstances in my life. Going back several years, in fact. Most of the time, the situation today really is a result of the people on my list. But in holding onto that resentment, nurturing it and letting it grow, I have failed to recognize the sovereignty of a loving God. Yes, those people played a part, sometimes a big part. But nothing has happened in my life that has not been filtered through the hands of a God who has always had my absolute best in sight. And nothing has happened in my life that is not being used to make me more like Christ.
I’ve been looking at life, past and present, with a big “IF ONLY” in front of it all. If only this person had mentored us better. If only this person had supported us and stood up for us. If only this person had taught us this. If only… There are certain people that when I hear their names, my mind immediately recounts the wrong–real or perceived–that they did to me. Not very loving, is it, since true love keeps no record of wrongs. This resentment paves the way for me to cling tightly to my past trials, remaining in them, still “working through them.” Funny how it’s easier to hang on than to let go and be free.
This practice of hanging on to past trials has done much damage, and probably the main damage is that it has robbed me of my joy. Instead of embracing the circumstances I don’t like and counting them all joy because their making me more like Christ, I’ve bemoaned them, looking on them only as my burden to bear. I let them all stack up, never laying that burden down, until, as my wise and loving husband pointed out, every new trial or care that comes up is the straw that breaks this camel’s back. Finding out the car needs work? I’m in despair. My children have a rough day, being disobedient and defiant? All is hopeless. Every little thing becomes too much because I’m holding onto everything. I want to be steadfast, but in this state, one tiny bump is enough to send me flailing.
So where is freedom found? Well, I think it’s found in finally letting go of the past, “forgetting what lies behind” (Phil 3:13). Not actually erasing it from memory, since that is basically impossible. Actually, remembering can be good because in looking back (after having let go) I can begin to see some ways that God has used my past to make me who I am today, which hopefully looks more like Jesus than I did before I went through some of these trials. That verse in Philippians then says to “strain forward to what lies ahead.” But before I do that, or maybe as I’m doing that, or probably both, I have to put on joy. The joy that’s been missing from my life as I’ve focused inwardly on my struggles and outwardly on my circumstances. The joy that is present only when I focus upwardly on Christ. Joy is mine in Christ, but I have to put in on. In James it doesn’t say that trials will make you feel joyous. It says to “count it all joy” (James 1:2). Declare joy even when joy is not felt. Put it on. As my wise husband also pointed out to me, I can’t sit around and wait for hope, or joy, to hit. I have to put it on. I can do this by meditating not on a list of wrongs done to me, but on Christ and His work on the cross and what that means for me. Meditating on the promises of Scripture. Meditating on the hope that overflows out of the truth of His Word. How did I lose sight of this? How did I get so caught up in the failures of my own performances, as I wrote about a couple of months ago, and the failures of others that have affected me, that I forgot to look at the perfection and completion of His performance that is counted as mine? How foolish.
Lord, help me look up. Help me put on joy continually.