Pride, Punishment and Futile Prayers

“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.'”

James 4:6 NIV

It’s a good thing I am not God.  If it were up to me to judge the world we would all be spending eternity in the fiery south if you know what I mean.  I’ve been called “judgemental” a few times in my life and while I have taken offense to hearing this, I’m realizing that label is a correct one.  Thankfully, with the awareness and confession, it’s not a label that I will keep.

I have sinned against many people in my life.  Sometimes it’s been accidental.  Often times, out of spite, it’s been completely intentional.  Yet somehow, God has extended more grace than I ever deserve.  I’ve sinned against God more times than I can count, often times even praying belligerent prayers.  Yet God still takes care of me, provides for me and guides me, no matter what I mistake I make.  I, on the other hand, have completely cut certain people out of my life all while striving to live “Christ like.”  Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?

Recently I had a disagreement with someone I considered to be one of my best friends.  Things said to me cut deep.  I spent the day alone crying and stewing over what was said.  It also emotionally threw me back to a time when I endure a lot of verbal abuse.  A time I don’t like remembering or going back to.  In this recent disagreement I set a boundary asking to not be spoken to in such a manner.  However, the next message I received was an ongoing response of cuss words and accusations.  Rather than continue to argue I chose not to respond at all. A mature choice, right? I also chose to block this person from communicating with me ever again.  I had resonated in my heart that I was done with this person and the friendship.

Since that time, my path has crossed this person’s path a handful of times.  Each time I have done an excellent job at completely ignoring their existence.  To be honest, I have actually been proud of this behavior.  Why?  Because in my past I was the doormat type who would allow people to be verbally aggressive to me and actually believe their angry words were my fault.  I spent too many years allowing others’ opinions to define my character.  The past four years I have flipped this unhealthy behavior but gone to the opposite extreme.  I’ve confused boundary setting with total disconnection.  This too, is an unhealthy way to handle conflict and definitely does not build or maintain relationships.

Last Sunday, at the new to me church I’ve recently joined, the minister gave a calling to pray for others to know Christ’s love and shepherding.  He asked us to think of one person we could commit to praying for daily.  Guess who’s name immediately popped into my head.  I knew it was from God but I mentally argued and literally asked God to send me a new name.  He of course, is far more stubborn than I could ever be and I resonated with the fact that He was still calling me to pray for this friend.  I reluctantly agreed.  However when Monday morning hit, my heart was almost too hardened to pray.  In fact, I expressed great impatience with God’s timing as I have prayed for this person for several years.  I did soften and pray. I stuck to my commitment and have prayed for this person every day, with a stubborn, stony heart. I also ignored this person again when our paths crossed just a few days ago.

Yesterday I felt a stirring in my spirit that I was not walking in love or acting Christ like. I finally broke down and confessed this to two friends asking for help in processing the right way to handle this situation.  Here’s what I’ve learned.

As painful as this disagreement and separation of friendship has been I have learned that I am full of pride.  My choice to block this person, to completely ignore them when I have run into them, even some of the prayers I have prayed for them have all been done from a heart filled with pride and pain.  You know how God handled me during my own sinful time this month?  With more grace and blessing than I could ever deserve. I’ve been a jerk and God has continued to lavish His love and provision over me and my family.  If the real Judge of the world chooses to love me in spite of my bratty behavior, why do I struggle with choosing to love others in spite of theirs?  If Jesus chooses to pursue me even when I am acting my worst, why do I just give up on someone when he or she shows me their worst behavior?

The truth is, in my own human strength there are people I do NOT want to love.  They are toxic, untruthful, vengeful, and abusive.  Who wants to love any of those qualities, right?  Surely God doesn’t love those qualities.  But God DOES love the person/people who display these behaviors. God also calls us to love everyone, in spite of their behaviors.

There’s another person I don’t always choose to love.  She’s impatient, undisciplined, unkind and at times, hateful at others.  She cusses and thinks really mean thoughts when she’s mad.  Her temper has embarrassed her more times than she can count.  She doesn’t always keep her word. She can hold a grudge for a decade or longer.  Her list of faults is endless really.  But God-He loves this woman more than she could ever comprehend.  Which means, I need to love her too.  That woman, is me.  I even judge myself.  I went from refusing to let others judge me to judging myself.  I can be really harsh on me too!

Pride and punishment do not come from God.  Yes, the Old Testament is full of stories of God wiping out entire nations with leprosy, plagues, famines and wars.  Yes, the New Testament tells us we will all face judgement day. However, the New Testament also reminds us of what Jesus did on the cross.  Scripture depicts exactly how Jesus handled toxic behaviors and personal attacks.  He took it and He prayed for his offenders.  He did not walk in pride nor did He seek out punishment for His accusers.  In fact, Luke 23:34 tells us that while Jesus was hanging on the cross, nearing death, He prayed for those who were screaming “CRUCIFY HIM”, for those who spat on Him and beat Him.  He prayed “Father for give them for they know not what they do” as people were casting lots for His clothing.  God calls us to do the same thing, to pray and forgive those who have offended us.

The advice my two friends I spoke with yesterday and today, gave me included this: Instead of blocking someone, pray and ask God to give you eyes to see them the way He sees them and a heart to love them the way Jesus loves you and me.  They both also talked about forgiving this friend and asking myself how would Jesus handle this situation. If you’re going through something similar, I want to encourage you to study what God’s word says about pride, recognize what is and isn’t Christ like and ask the Lord to remove your heart of stone, replacing it with a heart of flesh.  Most importantly, confess your own sins, be reminded of God’s grace and forgiveness extended to you and always choose to walk in love.  One last thing, just this morning I confessed to the Lord there are people in my life that I want to hate (the friend described in this post is not one of them) especially if hating meant they would change their toxic behavior.  God answered me with this: Hate is not what changes the world.  Love and intentionally choosing to love those who are hardest to love is what brings about the change I desire, within them and within me.

Don’t choose pride.  Never choose punishment. If you do, like I have, expect your prayers to be futile.  Instead, choose love and choose forgiveness.  Then watch how effective your prayers will be!

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Two Heal Better Than One

“I called you so often, but you wouldn’t come. I reached out to you, but you paid no attention.”

‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭1:24‬ ‭NLT‬‬

How often do we exhaust our energy on those who matter least and push away those who matter most in our lives? Why is it when we’re most broken we isolate ourselves instead of allowing the love of Christ to glue us back together through the support and encouragement of our loved ones? Why do we believe we have to walk through our toughest moments all alone?

I’ll tell you why-Because we believe the enemy’s lies. We allow the lie of pride to make us stubborn and refuse to admit we need help. We allow the lie of shame to make us feel unworthy of help. We allow the lie of pain to shutdown our hearts vowing to never love again. If we refuse to love again, we can’t possibly receive love either. We allow our past mistakes to haunt our present and prevent the idea we could possibly have a victorious future. The truth is, pride, shame, unworthiness, hearts of stone and haunting pasts do not come from God. Do you know what does? Forgiveness, healing, redemption, restoration, unity and fellowship.

In Isaiah 61, he tells his readers in verse one; “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me…He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.” In Ecclesiastes 4, Solomon starts off verse nine with “Two are better than one.” He continues in verses 10 through 12 with this passage: “If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” If those passages aren’t convincing enough, check out this passage from Genesis. After God created Adam he decided this; “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

Adam had Eve. Abraham had Lot, Sarah and Isaac. Moses had Aaron. David had Jonathan. The two spies had Rahab. Ruth was gifted Boaz after God took the life of her first husband. Mary and Joseph had each other. Jesus had His disciples. Paul had Timothy and Titus. You and I have people too. But the people God has anointed to bind up our broken hearts can’t do so if we push them away. They especially are limited when you or I exhaust our energy on our enemies or busyness and make little time to connect with them.

If you have a stressful job with a toxic manager and you allow yourself to be consumed with frustration, how much energy is left at the end of the day for your family that’s waiting at home? If you have a toxic ex who knows exactly how to entice you into an argument, how open is your heart to even engaging in a conversation with another that fosters love and encouragement? If you’re walking in a state of rejection keeping a tally of all the times you’ve been dumped, how can you possibly recognize someone who genuinely shows an interest in investing in you? The answer to all of these questions is-you can’t.

We only have so much energy and our attention spans are only so long. If we are exhausting ourselves fighting with our enemies, fretting over things we cannot control or walking with rejection like it’s our best friend, then there’s no room for those who truly care about us, for those with sincere hearts, to step in and bind up our brokenness. God can fix us on His own. He doesn’t need any help. But if that’s what His plan was He wouldn’t have designed families, friendships or marriage. He wouldn’t stress the importance of togetherness or anoint others to heal. He certainly wouldn’t have said “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” (Matthew‬ ‭18:20‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

I’m guilty of isolating myself because of fear, pride and shame. I’m guilty of exhausting my energy on useless arguments with toxic people and having minimal leftover for those I love most. I’m even guilty of walking in a spirit of rejection and closing myself off to love. I’m mostly guilty of crying out for His healing, begging Him to bind up my broken heart but pushing away the people He uses to do it. If you’re focusing your attention on the wrong people and pushing away the right ones-then my friend, you’re guilty to. Guilty people get a conviction but this one is a convicted spirit. There will be no condemnation.

We have a Heavenly Father who chooses forgiveness and is a God of multiple chances. It is never His desire for us to live wounded. In fact, Isaiah tells us in chapter 53 verse five “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our wickedness [our sin, our injustice, our wrongdoing]; The punishment [required] for our well-being fell on Him, And by His stripes (wounds) we are healed.” ‬‬It is His desire to cleanse from all our sin, break the chains of brokenness and restore us in His redeeming love.

Confession is the key. In order to be redeemed we’ve got to come clean with ourselves and Jesus about the lies we’ve believed. We must tap into His superhuman strength in order to walk away from toxic relationships. We’ve got to ask the Holy Spirit to open our hearts to be able to accept love. If we refuse the love of others, that love given becomes seed that lands on hard ground and is never planted. Healing and wholeness is an intentional choice that involves refuting the enemies lies, letting go of past mistakes, exposing old wounds and allowing others to come in administer a spiritual first aid that is bound in love, affirmation and redemption.

Think about this-When you or I sustain a physical wound that is beyond the capabilities of peroxide and a band-aid, we seek out medical treatment that may involve stitches or other more intensive care. The same is true for emotional and spiritual wounds. These wounds are way to hard to fix on our own. We have to seek out comfort and godly companionship so these wounds can be permanently closed and we can walk in wholeness again. God wants to use your spouse or future spouse, your family, and your best friends in Christ to bind up your broken heart. Stop fighting with those who seek to destroy you. Instead, turn your attention and spend your energy on those who seek to restore you. Allow them to pray with you and over you. Allow them to cry with you and hold you. Most of all, allow them to love you as Christ designed them to.

James 5:16 is the perfect ending for today’s post: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” Find the ones God is has sent to bind up your broken heart. Open your arms up to them, break down the walls you’ve been hiding behind, be transparent and let them pour out His love into you.

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O How He Loves Me (& You)

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”

Psalms 91:4 NIV

Yesterday I came home to a package in my mailbox from a darling friend I met almost 20 years ago when I lived in another state.  She was actually one of the first friends I made in that state and one of the few I’ve been able to keep even after I moved back home.  Throughout the years God used her to be a tool of encouragement for me, to be His voice when I needed accountability and to know just how much He truly loves me.

This friend’s love language is definitely the gift of giving.  At least 2-3 times a year I receive a surprise in the mail from her; a Power of the Praying Woman bible, a handful of devotional books,  a bracelet with a crown on it reminding me that I am royalty because I am a daughter of the King, even a mouse pad with a picture of my children when they were just a toddler and infant (of which I still use everyday at work.)  She’s definitely a giver, and she never expects anything in return.  The best gift I can give her is quality time by means of a scheduled phone call (because our lives are so busy if we didn’t make phone “dates” we’d never stay in touch) that entails me mostly talking about myself (because she just enjoys listening and encouraging and sincerely wants to know how she can pray for me.)  She’s even taught her son, whom I’ve never been able to meet face-to-face, but is the same age as my son, to pray for me and my children.  It’s endearing to know there’s a child out there praying for us simply because his mom loves us and treasures the friendship she and I share.  Other than my time and my friendship, this amazing woman wants nothing else from me but to see me be the woman God made me to be.

She’s the epitome of Christ-He too, is a friend who’s love language is giving.  He loved us so much He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16.)  He sacrificed His Beloved for our salvation.  Matthew 7:11 tells us;  “So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him (NLT).”  He gifts us with the beauty of His creation, with breath everyday we open our eyes, and with an unconditional love that is almost incomprehensible.  He shows His love through unexpected blessings and the gift of godly friendships.

What does He want in return-our commitment to spend quality time with Him.  Just like a friend who lives in another state or even another country, in order to keep a strong relationship with Christ, we need to schedule daily time with Him, time in His Word, time in conversational prayer with Him and time to be still, listening for His guiding voice.  God wants to be up close and personal with you and me each every day.  He desires that we give Him the first moments of our day.  But He waits for us to come to Him.  He longs to hear us talk to Him like we talk to the humans we love dearly.  We can tell Him about our day even though He knew about it before it occurred.  We can express our fears, our worries, our deepest angst to Him and He will listen.  In fact, He will do more than listen. If we surrender to Him, He promises to deliver us from everything that holds us back from His best for our lives.  Did you catch that last sentence?  God is our Best Friend, because He longs to give us His best and His best is better than anything we could gain on our own.

If you’re reading this, I hope this encourages you to make Christ your best friend.  Schedule time everyday to be with Him.  Become so familiar with talking to Him, that like me, you have a conversation with Him aloud in your morning commute to work not worrying about what you look like when a passerby sees you and thinks you’re talking to yourself.

God showed His love for me yesterday through my friend’s gift.  It was a necklace with a feather charm (pictured above) and Psalm 91:4 written on a card.  He knew I would open the package in my car at the exact time Chris Tomlin’s Good Good Father was playing on the radio.  Tears flowed into sobs as I read the words of Psalms 91:4, the words my darling friend wrote in a note card and listened to these lyrics while also staring in awe at the gorgeous necklace laying in my hands;

“You are perfect in all of your ways
You are perfect in all of your ways
You are perfect in all of your ways to us

“Oh, it’s love so undeniable
I, I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable
I, I can hardly think

“As you call me deeper still
Into love, love, love

“You’re a Good, Good Father
It’s who you are, it’s who you are, it’s who you are
And I’m loved by you
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am…”

He is perfect in all of His ways and He loves us-undeniably.