Tuesday Prayer: Forsaking Sin

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Blessed is the one who fears the LORD always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity. 

Proverbs 28:13-14

Gracious Savior, we are so very thankful that You are patient and merciful; slow to anger, always just, and perfect in keeping Your covenant loyalty to Your people. Thank You for making us Yours! We are honored to be considered Your children and grateful beyond measure at Your forgiveness.

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

Psalms 86:14

Lord, today we freely confess that we do try to hide our sin – either attempting foolishly to hide it from Your eyes by justifying it away or trying to hide it from others in numerous ways.

Sometimes we tell anecdotes in a way that paints our part in the best possible light. Other times, we merely conceal selfish motives or other sinful ways. We even try to hide our sins from ourselves, preferring justification to confession.

Please forgive us of such nonsense. Beginning today, let Your Spirit so work in our heart that we are unable to deny our sin when He exposes it. Drive us to live openly, freely confessing sin each time so that our habit becomes confession rather than hiding or excuse-making.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

Then, Lord, compel us to forsake our sin utterly. Make our transgressions abhorrent to us so that we rush to shun them. Train our hearts in appropriate fear of You; that we would each look to You as the measure of our behavior and desires rather than to mankind or culture.

May our hearts be aligned with Your will for us and our desires be in harmony with Your desire, Lord. Change our habits so that we can truly be a chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation who in every way gladly, freely, and honestly proclaim the excellency of the One who has brought us into the Light of Truth, amen. 

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

1 Peter 2:9


Hurt by Church? Me too. Let’s Chat.

My turn first.

It’s true. I have been hurt by church – even hurt by a church whose stated purpose is to provide a safe place to connect to God for those who have been hurt by church. A trifle ironic, you might say, and you’d be right.

However, I’m not here to drag the leadership of this church through the mud. There will be no character assassination attempts, no ranting or railing against the injustice of it all. In fact, there will be a shocking deficit of details about my experience.

What I want most to express is this: I am glad it happened.

No, you didn’t misread. I have a genuine, heartfelt, sincere sense of glee and relish because I have been  hurt by church. Sorry if that isn’t what you expected to hear. Yet bear with me and hear me out…

I admit I wasn’t always glad about it. To the contrary, there were years in which I was downright bitter about the thing. I was in pain. I was angry. I licked my wounds and sulked. I threw a huge pity party and invited me, myself, and I, and we sat around and placated one another’s tender little ol’ feelings.

Basically, I hopped on the crazy train without even looking at the itinerary first. And I have to say I didn’t really like where it left me when the time came to disembark.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:11

Yeah, there I was, alone and lacking the proper attire in a wasteland echoing with the sounds of my  sniveling self-pity with naught to eat but the acrid fruit of my own sharp tongue.

“Today also my complaint is bitter; my hand is heavy on account of my groaning.
Job 23:2

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Proverbs 18:21

Not fun. Still, I am truthfully glad it happened. Not because it hurt, but because God uses all things – pain and pleasure alike – to shape His people for eternity. Maybe especially pain.

The thing is, God did not leave me to whine forever in that wasteland. Oh He let me endure it for a bit. Gave me my head, saw how far I would run astray from the Master I love. He allowed me the natural consequences of my sullen response to pain.

But He didn’t leave me because the wasteland was nothing more than a pit stop down the broad path which leads to destruction. And destruction was something I was embracing while I nursed my hurts as if they were dear, beloved friends.

Meanwhile, I was allowing something foolish like hurt feelings to build walls between me and my actual dear, beloved friends.

The stupid part is, I knew better.

In the logical part of my brain, I knew the decision which wounded me was made at a time when we were all worn thin, church leadership and laymen alike.

It was a difficult season in our church’s history, and each one of us was exerting an enormous amount of energy just to keep our heads above water and make each Sunday happen. And I also knew the decision had not been made as a personal slight.

I knew that. Yet for some reason, my pride still felt a sting and I allowed it grow. And fester.

But my Father is good. He knows when I have had enough of my own way, and He is faithful to bring me back to the narrow path by His side. And to be honest, that part hurt, too.

… He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Hebrews 12:10-11

My God disciplined me for my own good, so I can share in something better than approval from man, or praise, or whatever it was I felt robbed of at the time. I can share in His holiness. 

Wow. Seriously, wow.

But I have to tell you, the discipline part hurt. Maybe even more than the original wound.

Because of my bitterness, I was forced to take an honest look at myself. I was compelled to assess the situation, what I knew to be true about it, and continue in God’s word.

Then once I had reconciled reality with my faulty perception, it was time to slay the monster. But it wouldn’t die.

Each time I believed it dead and moved on, the vile thing would pop its ugly head back up in a new location. Despite my best efforts at extraction, a root of bitterness coiled around my heart and continued to send new shoots piercing through my words at most inconvenient times.

It was humbling. It was horrible. And frankly, as a woman who spends so much time with her Father in His Word and in conversation throughout the days, it was embarrassing.

But it was also good.

You see, God used that one event, that one perceived slight to show me something I had overlooked. He used it to expose my selfish tendencies, my desire for approval, my propensity to “accidentally” allow my left hand a peek or two at what my right hand was doing.

He used it to expose my pride. My tendency to harbor bitterness. My inflated self-importance. And more.

But in exposing these things, He also began a long and painful work of removing them. And He prompted me to do something I can hope will be the proverbial stake through the monster’s heart.

He prompted me to confess my bitterness to two friends who in some ways represent the church I write of because they are the pastor and his wife. But as I said before, they are also my friends. And I confessed to them the bitterness I wanted gone from my life,  knowing they would accept my confession and pray for me.

It was humbling, sure, but it was also liberating. By confessing, the ugly monster no longer lurked in the depths of my heart but was brought out into the sunshine where it can wither and die. May this be the final nail in its coffin.

And so, in being hurt by church, I was able to discover and address my own junk.

There is no church on earth where people will not, from time to time, hurt one another. We are all selfish at heart. We can all be thoughtless. We respond to one another out of fatigue or pain or a myriad of other problems. And not a single one of us can read the minds and hearts of others, and so we never know if what we say or do might inflict some unintentional wound.

But my friends, that’s the inherent beauty in the church. It’s called sanctification, and it means dealing both with our own hideous monsters and with the hideous monsters of others. It’s how we learn to confess, to forgive, to grow in Christ. To become more like Him in His holiness and humility.

I am thankful for friends I can confess my sin to who will listen and hear my heart then pray for me. And I pray the stupid rift caused by bitterness will truly be healed.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
James 5:16a

And I’m even more thankful for a God who loves me enough to show me the nasty bits breeding beneath the surface of my soul, then rip them out before they squeeze the life from my heart and relationships.

So what has God wrought in you through times of being hurt, by church or otherwise?

Good Friday Reflections: Doing My Duty

To my dear blog friends, I have been overwhelmed lately with working on a book, tutoring, counseling, parenting teens, home repairs, and other bits of life. I’ve managed to read a scattered few of your posts and I continue to keep them for some fantastical future day where I will magically have time to read 84,302 posts by my fellow bloggers. 

But until that day comes, here is a repost of an old blog of mine which is appropriate for me on this Good Friday. In the near future, I hope to make a public confession and share what God has done through the situation I wrote about years ago. For now, a flashback:

“So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
Luke 17:10

I don’t know about you, but I find it far too easy to fall into what I can only call the “appreciation trap.”

In my head I long to serve God with pure motives and an undivided heart, cheerfully and humbly industrious, motivated by love of my King and totally free from any selfish ulterior motives.

That describes what I want. What happens in actual, real life is sometimes quite different.

Often I begin this way. I will set my hand to a task, working from an abundance of love and energy. Then the days grind on, my fervor lags, the joy in my ministry is replaced by a sense of drudgery, and suddenly I find myself wondering why I am not acknowledged for what I do or why I feel so invisible.

Without knowing quite how it happened, I find I am no longer working out of sheer love for God but have instead developed a desire for recognition and appreciation.

I suppose I could say that it’s just the sin nature and shrug it off. I could continue on, pretending that my motives are truly pure. I could quit.

However, if I am serious about my spiritual growth and truly “working out my own salvation with fear and trembling,” as Paul put it,  cannot shrug it off. Truth be told, regarding my sin with casual indifference, pretending it does not exist, or giving up are not viable options if I am to grow in Christ.

What I need at such times is an attitude adjustment; a reminding of who I am in Christ… and also of who I would be without Him.

In Christ, I am acceptable to God, forgiven and beloved, no longer a condemned and forsaken criminal under the death penalty. Not only pardoned, but wonder of wonders! I am adopted as His child! By grace, I am in the process of being lovingly reformed.

There was a price on my head, and Christ paid it with His life. Because of this undeserved gift, I can now approach the Throne of Grace wearing His righteousness to cover my shame.

That is no small thing, people. Not at all.

Without Him… well, I shudder to think of getting what I really deserve. Do I honestly want the recognition owed to me?  I think not, for I may be recognized not only for the trivial and paltry good that I have done but also for the appalling atrocities I have committed.

Suddenly, when I consider the matter of my meager service in light of my unmerited favor with God, I have to admit that my desire for acknowledgement is more than a touch ludicrous.

Is it not reasonable for the God who granted me reprieve, indeed who paid the cost of my crimes with His own blood to expect a grateful compliance to His wishes?

What’s more, even if He did not redeem me, am I not created by Him and for His purposes in the first place? Do I praise my cup for holding water? Ought I not to perform the functions He created me to do and that without complaint or need for acknowledgement from others?  Then I ought to do so doubly for sheer joy that not only did He shape me, but He saved me from my own poor choices as well!

Oh, Father! Today I thank You for humbling me when my pride swells. Forgive me for my sense of entitlement. Keep my heart humble and teachable, and never let me forget that my standing before You is undeserved. May I bring You glory and be willing to relinquish every shred of ambition and pride.  You must increase and I must decrease.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed … work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning,
Philippians 2:12-14

Things of the Spirit: Confession

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. Romans 8:5

How do you practice this? What practices do you use to place your mind on the things of the Spirit?

Our church is reading through Romans together and the above question was asked on social media yesterday. Today I hope to do my best to answer succinctly (for me, that is – haha!).

Even before I read the post yesterday, I devoted some thought to this very question. And true to His glorious nature, God has provided me with an excellent example by using… me.

Specifically, He has pointed out my sin to me and provided the chance to confess.

So how do I place my mind on things of the Spirit? My answer is both simple and complex.

Simple because I don’t. My mind roves far and wide into terrain it has no business traversing. However, what I have done – and continually do to this very hour – is part of the complex answer.

First and foremost, I continually ask the Lord not to allow me to remain comfortable in sin. I pray He will give me true sorrow for my sin and genuine repentance.

Because He is faithful, He always does. Always – whether I like it or not at the moment (and I assure you, I am not always thrilled to be on the receiving end of discipline even though I find I am thankful later on).

Secondly, I spend time with Him every single day. I read his Word. I memorize it and meditate on it. I ask Him to show me my error and to bring me guidance through the Word.

And He does, because He is a good Father.

As I read this morning, several passages seized my attention. For example:

“Their throat is an open grave… The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
(Romans 3:13-14)

Aaaannndd… in reading, I find I am driven to confess. My mouth is far too often full of curses and bitterness. Take yesterday, for example…

I was talking to a friend, commiserating on some “delights” we share involving chronic pain and the feelings of frustration and depression which commonly accompany it. OK, perhaps I ought to have rejoiced in my suffering (Romans 5:3), but I have a much more unattractive sin to confess.

In the course of conversation, I switched gears and complained about something else entirely. I allowed a hurt from the past to well up as bitter words once again, and I fell far short of the glory of God. Very, very far.

So today, I not only confess (and my friend, if you read this, you know who you are! I am sorry!!) – I also repent. I want to reject my bitterness and any grudge and move forward into humble obedience to the One who died to set me free.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
(Romans 6:3, 8)

I want to die to my old nature. But to do so, I find I must not only put to death my old nature, I need to keep putting it to death.
For if you live according to your old nature, you will certainly die; but if, by the Spirit, you keep putting to death the practices of the body, you will live.
Romans 8:13, CJB

I need to continually renew my mind by re-focusing on the goodness of God and recognizing my own weakness and folly. I must be humble enough to realize I am not exempt from sin, especially when I find myself highlighting someone else’s less pleasing habits…

When others hurt me, I am driven to recognize many situations where I have been the one inflicting hurt. I need constant reminders such as this – reminders than I am no better than the one(s) who hurt me.

In so doing, I find it easier not only to repent but to forgive.

But for all of this, I need God. His Spirit living within me. His guidance, His Word of Truth, His correction, His faithfulness.

Yet I must also cooperate with Him, even when cooperation hurts or is humiliating. Even when it means publicly confessing yet another failure to tame the restless evil of my tongue.

In the end, I do all of this because He is worth every single ounce of suffering, humiliation, and even injustice I may experience. After all, He suffered all this and more for me.

If I truly love Him,  how can I believe I should not suffer the same for Him? Particularly when I am at fault!

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God…
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
(Romans 8:14, 16-17)
Lord God, renew my mind and heart! All that I am, I submit to You and ask You to set my mind on Your Spirit and not on the folly of my own weak nature, amen.