Giving God Your Worst
by Dianne Smith*
Author's Note: This book is available in paperback from from the Heritage House. However, it may also be downloaded, reproduced, copied and distributed freely from this site. The only restriction is that it may not be sold for a profit. The author's desire is to make the information freely available without cost to anyone who might benefit from it.
This booklet and all the blessings it brings are dedicated to my precious daughter. She has given me her permission to share this with women so they can know God’s love as she does. She harbors no bitterness and has a heart full of love and compassion. She has shown me grace and courage and that infinite wisdom that is found only in a child.
*All names have been changed
Chapter 1 - Joining The "Club"
"Welcome to the poor broken slob club" said my friend Karen, the sadness in her eyes belying what would have normally made us both laugh. "Now you will find out if your words really work." Through my tears I managed a weak laugh. I knew what she meant. God had used me often to counsel and comfort young women as they grappled with their painful past; with hurts so deep and betrayals so enormous that healing seemed impossible. Karen had been one of those young women years before as she worked through the grief of her abortion and the betrayal of her baby's father. She often jokingly referred to herself and women like her as "poor broken slobs." Somehow I had been spared the "privilege" of being included in this elite club. I had loving parents and a "normal" upbringing. I married a wonderful man and had five great kids. While I had experienced the normal bumps and bruises of life, I had never really experienced anything terrible enough that I was totally undone - until then.
When Karen spoke these words, we were in route to Flagstaff to take my precious three year old daughter to the doctor. Not just any doctor but one who could knowledgeably examine a child who had been raped and molested. A few days before I had discovered that this had happened to Tiffany by a 12 year old neighbor boy, Peter. He was home-schooled and was therefore free to be a companion to Tiffany during the morning while we worked in our home based business. There were always adults around but somehow he had managed to molest her over a one week period. God knows how long it would have continued if I hadn't casually asked her as I sometimes did, if anyone had ever "touched her privates." When she responded in an embarrassed mumble that "Peter did," our nightmare began. The police were called and after talking with her, they confirmed my worst fears. He had violated her in every way imaginable.
For the first time in my life I was faced with something that was so big, so horrible, so unthinkable that I couldn't take it in. My emotions were tumbling over each other faster than I could identify them. I felt guilt, anger, betrayal, sadness, loss, failure, helplessness, a desire to die, a desire to kill, and overriding them all was hatred. I felt the seed of hatred plant itself firmly in my heart and begin to flourish.
As I dragged through the days and weeks I became more and more aware of my ability to hate. I had never had a target so real or a cause so worthy to give me complete license to hate. It was frightening to realize that I was capable of something this destructive and consuming. I saw myself in my mind's eye as being suspended over a deep, black, bottomless abyss of hatred. I knew that if I gave way to the hatred that was taking root in my heart it would be like jumping into that bottomless abyss. And yet, as I thought about what this boy had done to my precious daughter I could not keep myself from falling. And so I prayed a desperate prayer, "God, PLEASE keep me from hating." As I dangled over the abyss wanting to jump, God faithfully held me in His hands and did not allow me to fall.
I knew that Christians were not supposed to feel the way I was feeling. But even entertaining the more noble emotions of forgiveness, peace and joy, was out of the question. I had to deal with what I felt, not what I should be feeling. I had counseled enough "poor broken slobs" to know that, though my experience was different from theirs, the path to healing, forgiveness and peace was the same. I also knew that I was totally incapable of bringing any of it about. I could not change my heart. And yet, paradoxically, it was ultimately my choice. Karen's statement, "Now you'll find out if your words really work" referred to the path to victory that I had shared with so many others - the path of surrender.
Chapter 2 - Offering Our Worst To God
In talking with women over the years I have come to realize that many Christians, while well meaning, place a terrible yoke upon women. Often times this bondage comes from those in leadership positions within the church. Ministers need to keep their churches running smoothly. To do this, they need willing bodies. And so, unintentionally, they equate performance with spirituality. They challenge us to strive to become all that we can for God. Give God our best (which translates into attending church and singing in the choir, teaching Sunday School, etc.) and we will be rewarded. But God doesn't want our best - he wants our worst.
Making this statement may place me in the category with blasphemers and heretics. But, upon closer examination the Biblical truth of this statement stands. Let's look at the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-gatherer. But to fully appreciate this parable, first you must know what each of these men stood for in Christ's culture.
The Pharisees were priests who taught in the synagogue. They knew the laws laid down by Moses forward and backward. Along with the laws of Moses, the Pharisees created traditions and rituals of their own which they imposed upon the Jews. They themselves observed all the laws, traditions and rituals with passionate zeal. They often made a point of displaying their spirituality in public so everyone would take note that they were indeed holy men. To the average Jew the Pharisees were esteemed as "super spiritual."
Just as the Pharisee represented all that was "religious" in the Jewish culture, the tax gatherer represented all that was despised. He was a traitor who collaborated with the Romans in order to get rich at the expense of his own countrymen. Most tax-gatherers not only collected what Rome required, but used extortion to collect extra for themselves. So despised were these men that in Jewish law they were treated as traitors and robbers; they could not testify in court, nor could their money be accepted by charities!
Speaking of these two men Christ said: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-gatherer. The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, ‘God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me, the sinner!’" Christ went on to say, "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted." (Luke 18:10-14)
If I had been laying bets on who had God's ear it would have been a sure thing for the Pharisee. He certainly had a great resume! But, as Jesus did so many times in his ministry, he made it very clear that performance without out a pure heart is worthless to God. The condition of our heart is what counts. It is so easy to point to these men of 2000 years ago and pass judgement. Yet, is it possible that we can become like the Pharisee in our service to God? I think without even realizing it, many of us do good works so we can come to God and, like the Pharisee, attempt to impress Him with our offerings while we shield our hearts from His touch.
Chapter 3 - Cleaning House
I liken our hearts to a house. On the outside it is beautiful. It is whitewashed to a sparkling brilliance. The boxes at the windows are overflowing with beautiful flowers. The gingerbread trim, neat brick walk and orderly yard make this house look picture perfect. Everyone who passes by admires it. Looking at it, you dream of living in this house. So one day you decide to sneak inside, sure that it is just as "perfect" inside as it is on the outside. But rather than being delighted, you are shocked and appalled at what you find. It is a shambles. The floor boards are rotted. The walls are filled with gaping holes. The ceiling is falling and the stench of rotting garbage is overwhelming.
Our hearts are often like this house. We look so good on the outside. We are involved in our women's group at church. We sing in the choir and teach Sunday school. We respond dutifully when called upon for service. When the minister talks about "wretched sinners" we do a quick inventory of our performance and are relieved to find that we don't fall in that category. Others tend to agree. We love (though we hate to admit it) to be alluded to as the exemplary Christian woman. The more we perform, the more we receive praise and the more we perform - all for God, of course. There's only one problem. God doesn't want or need any of the wonderful things we do. If our God can "raise up rocks to sing his praises", Luke 19:40 do we really think we are indispensable to Him? Now I've said it! I can hear the harumphs, and see the backs stiffen. How dare I suggest that God doesn't need or appreciate what you do for him! Please understand that I am not suggesting that God doesn't use what we do. Or that what we do is not important to the church. But, God wants our heart first (the dirty inside not the spiffy outside) and then these other things will follow in their proper order.
This concept is dramatically illustrated in the Old Testament. In Psalms we find David praying to God for forgiveness for Uriah's murder. He prayed, "For Thou dost not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; Thou art not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, Oh God Thou will not despise." Psalms 51:16 - 17 This is a most remarkable prayer. God Himself established rituals of sacrifice and burnt offerings to atone for a man's sin. It was the only recognized way a man could receive forgiveness. And yet, here we find David, a man after God's own heart, saying that sacrifice and burnt offerings were not pleasing to God. Look what David knew was pleasing to God - "a broken and a contrite heart." Even under the Old Testament system of laws and rituals, David recognized that it was his heart that God was interested in. And remember, this prayer was not for some small infraction of the law - it was for murder!
What possible things could be in my heart that would be symbolized by "rotting floors" and "stinking garbage?", you may wonder? This is where it gets a little painful. Most of us have lots of rot and garbage in our heart. We just never get up the courage or feel the need to examine it. Instead we simply apply another coat of paint to the outside of the house and hope nobody looks inside.
How many of us harbor bitter feelings toward someone? What about the hurt that someone caused that we can't forgive? Or maybe we actually hate someone - but we feel justified because of the terrible thing they did to us. Other rot is more subtle - rather like dry rot in wood. How many of us women have itchy ears to hear something bad about someone we dislike? How many times have we heard the gossip prefaced with, "I really love her but..." And what about that theater of our mind where we enjoy rerunning over and over the scene where we exact revenge upon the person who hurt us? Or how about that area of weakness in ourselves that we are trying to conquer by our own might? We righteously point our finger at those with the same flaw hoping that by doing so ours will go unnoticed. These are a few examples of our "rotting floors" and "stinking garbage." These are the things God wants us to give to Him. And these are the things we are so reluctant to give. In a perverse way we actually enjoy them. We are entitled to these feelings and it's just not fair that we have to give them up!
You see, we fool ourselves into thinking we are really performing for God. We paint and shine the outside of our house but He is not impressed. Neither, however, is He surprised by what is inside our house. In fact, He knows every rotten feeling we have, every bitterness, every hatred and every vile thought. He knows them and He wants them. Like the tax-gatherer, when we come to Him declaring our wretchedness, He hears our prayer.
When I faced a situation where I was totally helpless to change my heart I had only one path open to me - to surrender. I could not fight to change my heart, I could not strive to change my heart nor could I struggle to change my heart. My heart wanted to hate. In the theater of my mind I shot that young man dead while his mother watched. I wanted to hurt her as much as her son had hurt my little girl. I enjoyed my mental revenge. Simply put, I was capable of murder! THIS IS WHAT I HAD TO OFFER GOD. I had to admit my inability to overcome any of these feelings. I was capable of doing only one thing with them - give them to God. My prayer was not, "help me forgive" - forgiving was not within me. My prayer was, "take my hatred and replace it with YOUR forgiveness." God's forgiveness is infinite and all encompassing.
Chapter 4 - Taking On The Devil
The message of surrender is not one that is heard very often. It involves dying to self. This is not a popular theme in this era of self-help, positive thinking and esteem building Christianity. Among these positive sounding solutions, surrender sounds - well - negative. But, in reality, in matters of the heart the only victory for a Christian is through surrender and dying to self.
How often are we admonished to STRIVE to be better Christians? Striving can change our outward behavior, true. But when we strive to change our heart one of two things happens. If we strive and succeed we become proud of our spiritual accomplishment. If we strive and fail (which is most always the case) we are self-condemning. In both instances self is at the center. But when we surrender, there is no victory for us - nor is there failure.
It is like being in a boxing ring with the devil. When we strive to overcome in matters of the heart, we attempt to do battle with the devil. Win or lose, we have fought the battle. We will bask in the victory or wallow in defeat. Either way, the devil wins because he knows that we did it in our flesh and our flesh is at enmity with the Spirit of God. We are the focus of our efforts - win or lose! However, when we surrender, we say to the devil, "You're right, I can't change my heart. I am too weak to fight you. Instead I surrender. But not to you. Rather, I surrender to Christ, my advocate, who will fight my battle for me." All of a sudden, the odds shift. Satan is no match for Christ. As we surrender our worst to Christ it no longer becomes a tool of Satan to be used against us.
To illustrate this point, imagine when you were a child and you did something really bad. Your father knew you did it. He was just waiting for you to admit the truth. Finally, because the guilt was overwhelming, you went to your father and admitted to your bad deed. He wrapped his arms around you and said, "I already knew you did it. I was just waiting for you to tell me the truth so I could help you make it right." Oh the relief when you realized that he knew all the time and he loved you anyway. Then along came your sister. She also knew what you had done and decided to get some personal benefit out of it. She tried to blackmail you with her knowledge. What freedom to look her in the eye and say, "Go ahead, I already told him and he still loves me and he made it right." God KNOWS what is in our heart. The Bible makes this very clear in Hebrews 4:12 - 13 where it states, "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do." God knows every rotten thought, every hurt, insecurity, jealousy, hateful or prideful thought. He is just waiting for you to be honest with yourself and to give these burdens to Him. He will make it right.
Chapter 5 - I Can’t Forgive Myself
God has brought many post-abortion Christian women across my path. Often they find it difficult to heal from their pain and find forgiveness for their sin because of the attitude they encounter within the church! They know they killed their own child. But, others are uncomfortable with this admission. They make excuses. They offer cheap Christian cliches, assuring her that she is really a "good" person. But she doesn't feel like a good person. She feels like a murderer. And she wants people to acknowledge it - not deny it or make excuses.
I remember one woman who called me. She was depressed and desperate. We started talking and it didn't take her long to break down and tell me that she had had an abortion. She had killed her unborn baby and felt like a murderer. My response took her totally off guard. "Yes, I said, this is true. You did kill your baby." Finally someone validated what she was feeling! She went on to tell me how she was a failure as a Christian. She knew God had forgiven her but she could NOT forgive herself. Her pastor had solidified this feeling of failure when, through exasperation he demanded, "God has forgiven you, why can't you just forgive yourself?" Again my response startled her. I said, "You're right, you can't forgive yourself. You will never be able to forgive yourself! It isn't in your heart or your will to do that. Only God can change your heart. All you can do is admit what is really inside it and surrender THAT to God. You then simply accept HIS forgiveness in its completeness and rest in that forgiveness with no condemnation of self or others."
We talked for a long time and in the end she wept as she took out all of the feelings she had been trying to overcome for so long and surrendered them to Christ. Not only did she give Him the guilt and heartache from her abortion but she gave Him her anger toward her mother who had forced her to have it. That night she found the path to peace and healing at the foot of the cross. The kind of healing that works from the inside out!
For Karen too, surrender became a daily routine. As the Holy Spirit revealed what was in her heart she laid it at the foot of the cross. God allowed her to see just how far He had taken her when one day about six months after our conversation, she ran across a photo of her baby's father. If this had happened before she would have gone into a long crying jag and been depressed for days. She was actually surprised when she felt no emotion. There was just a peace. She could not claim any victory of her own and therefore sidestepped spiritual pride. She had not strove so she was never in a position to fail. God had done ALL of the work in her heart. She rejoiced at God's faithfulness in taking her worst and turning it into His best. Since then God has used her to minister to so many women who were in anguish over their abortion. Below is a poem Karen wrote after God released her from her grief and sorrow and restored her to His joy. It reflects the depth of her despair and the power of God's grace! While this poem deals with her abortion, it is a poem that can apply to all of us who have accepted Christ's atonement and experienced God's grace and mercy!
The Acquittal - God's Infinite Mercy
by Karen Sullivan Ables
In a far away place and a different time
I killed my first child, a most heinous crime.
The state didn't come, and I didn't stand trial.
Judge Blackmun was calm when he said with a smile,
"Killing is legal, say we the High Court.
But don't call it murder. Just call it 'abort.'"
The judge in my heart would not let the case rest.
I had no defense when once put to the test.
Found guilty I was by my heart's Supreme Court.
"You murdered your baby!" They screamed in retort.
With tears on my cheeks it was too late I knew
To bring back the life of the child I had slew.
The gavel slammed down, and it rang in my head,
"You are guilty as charged, and deserve to be dead."
"We now give you torment to pay for your sin,"
Was the sentence passed down from my own court within.
"You will never escape. You're branded. Don't hide.
Your just due is death. You should try suicide."
I was beaten in prison by daily attack.
I was paying a debt, so I never fought back.
No hope of escaping, and this I knew well.
I cried out to God from my own self-made hell.
That day I met Jesus; He smiled in my face.
He said, "I forgive you. Come walk in my grace."
"Lord, I believe you forgive and yet,
Blameless you are. Can you pay for my debt?"
"And, Lord, please don't touch me for I am unclean.
I'm filthy with murder, a most wretched being."
I poured out my story. He showed no surprise.
I gazed up with awe at the love in His eyes.
He said, "I paid for your crime
yes, was nailed to a tree.
There's no condemnation if you'll trust in Me.
I took on your blame, and your curse on My soul
So you may be free without judgement, and whole."
I sputtered, "Dear Lord, where's the justice in this?
I killed my first son, and you offer me bliss?
Tears blurred my vision, yet there in His face
Were eyes of compassion, blue oceans of grace.
I thought to myself, "Now the past has been buried?
I'm free of the guilt that for years I have carried?"
He said to accept. It's a gift that is free.
This is atonement, not justice for me!
My judge was dismissed, my accusers and jury.
The truth of His love made them leave in a fury.
He smiled, "Walk with Me and come learn of My way,"
and grasping His hand I began a new day.
Chapter 5 - The Painful Truth
I'm afraid I have made surrender sound simple. And you may be saying, "Yes, I get it - I see what you mean." But in reality it can be terribly painful. The pain comes from honestly facing your sinfulness. It hurts to admit that you are not the ideal Christian woman. That you are in fact, stuck in the same muck and mire of wretchedness that we like to pin on the other person. It hurts to dismantle our illusions of ourselves and wrestle with the truth. The surprising thing is, when you start to seriously surrender, you may be shocked to find that you DON'T WANT TO LOOK AT, MUCH LESS SURRENDER your honest feelings.
I remember sharing surrender with a young man. I knew him as a teenager when he often came to our home to escape an emotionally abusive father. We had long, honest talks. But, when he became an adult he lost that honesty. Although he was very involved in church, he was also involved in some sinful behavior that could have only led to devastating emotional, spiritual and social consequences. When faced with the truth, he refused to acknowledge it.
One day we were talking and he made the statement that he had prayed and prayed but God just would not take away his bad feelings toward his father. I shared with him that the path to forgiveness came through acknowledging his sins of bitterness and hatred and surrendering these feelings to God. In the end I invited him to pray with me, asking specifically if he was willing to surrender his hatred toward his father. He looked at me and said, "I guess I really don't want to quit hating my dad. I don't want to surrender it." "If that's the case," I replied, "don't blame God for not doing His job. You enjoy your bitterness and want to hate your father." Sadly, he agreed. He has continued to live his life in bondage to his hatred. It continues to affects all of his relationships both to God and to others. Yet, when he was shown the path to freedom he chose bondage.
Karen, my "poor broken slob" friend, had a similar reaction to my message of surrender but with a totally different outcome. I first met Karen when she scribbled me a note after I had given a speech against abortion at a local church. It said, "I have had an abortion and my two year old son was born out of wedlock. Let's talk." Afterward Karen gushed about how she used to be wretched but now God had worked everything out in her life and she was so happy. It took only a few visits with her however, for me to realize that this was not true. She was very bitter. Her cynicism and sarcasm masked deep, unresolved wounds.
One day as we were talking I said to her "Karen, you're really bitter. You're bitterness hangs around you like a shroud." She told me later that she thought to herself, "Go to hell, lady, I'm not bitter!" Her defensive response, however betrayed tremendous inner turmoil. As we continued talking however, she broke down and cried. "Yes," she said, "I am bitter. I have a reason to be bitter." The fact was, she was filled with hatred. The father of her unborn baby had talked her into an abortion, had driven her to the clinic and dropped her at home afterwards, never to return. He did not deserve forgiveness! I shared the path to peace through surrender but she wasn't interested. She said, "I will NOT surrender my hatred! My hatred is like a wall around my heart, protecting it. If I quit hating I can be hurt and I will never be hurt like that again!" I think even she was startled by her own admission! But, it was honest. Not very noble - but honest. I agreed that she couldn't surrender her hatred because she didn't want to. The first step is a willingness to do so. I asked her if she could surrender her desire to keep her hatred - to protect her heart. She agreed that she could do this. So, she prayed, "God, I want to keep this hatred, I want to enjoy it. I want to be protected by it. This is what I give to you." She laid this at the foot of the cross and for the first time, gave Jesus something He really wanted - that walled off part of her heart. As she surrendered her desire to hang on to her hatred, God began to soften her heart. Soon she was able to give God the hatred itself. When Satan reminded of her rejection and pain, she had a choice. She either entertained it or surrendered it. With each choice to surrender, it became a little easier. After the hatred she was able to surrender the rejection, the bitterness and then the guilt of killing her unborn child. From there God allowed her to look honestly at her upbringing and her relationships and so many other things that shaped her life. Her healing for her abortion was total and complete. And the prayer of surrender that was so begrudgingly offered in the beginning has become a way of life for her.
Chapter 5 - The New and Improved Dianne
God had schooled me in the concept of surrender long before Tiffany's ordeal. This idea was initially grasped when I became sick and tired of striving for spirituality. I had come out of a rebellious time early in my marriage where I had proved to myself just how wretched I really was. Up until that time I had been a "good" person. Indeed, in high school my nickname was "the puritan." I was very condescending of those who were weak and sinful. I was extremely judgmental of others and considered God to be fortunate to name me as one of His own! And then I rebelled. I did things that were unthinkable in years past. My marriage to a wonderful man was nearly sacrificed on the alter of my ego and self-centeredness. The one good thing that came out of that time in my life was the realization that I was at heart, a wretched human being. I did things that I had seen other women do and had been merciless in my judgement of them. It was a sobering realization when I acknowledged that I was no better than those I had judged!
After deciding to try to repair our marriage my husband and I started going to church. It felt good to be back on track again. But I found myself putting tremendous effort into convincing people that I was spiritual. I was always gauging my performance. I almost felt panicked if I sensed that someone saw behind the facade. I said all the right words and repeated all the Christian cliches but my heart was like the inside of the house - a shambles. I dared not acknowledge this though because I was working particularly hard at convincing myself of my spirituality. It took a lot of energy to maintain my spiritual exterior!
Part of the reason was that, while maintaining the facade I was also reconstructing my personality - sort of my gift to God! I somehow had it in my mind that if I could become a better person, I would arrive spirituality. Not surprisingly, what I wanted to become was a portrait of my alter-ego. (An alter-ego is the person you want to be. This usually embodies all of those traits that are the opposite of the ones that you have.)
I have a very strong personality. I can be loud and outgoing and very frank. These traits, when combined with insecurities and a poor self image can be detrimental to emotional well-being. For many years the results were fractured and strained relationships and wounded egos - usually mine. I hated these traits in myself so I decided to do something about them. I would become soft spoken, regal, kind, gentle, dignified, wise and command the respect of everyone - including myself! As if changing my whole personality wasn't enough, I had somehow thrown my spiritual maturity into the equation. I figured that if I could become all of those things I would also become spiritual. When I perfected my new personality I would "arrive" spiritually.
I found the embodiment of what I wanted to become in a dear Christian sister named Martha Jo. She was what I wanted to be. So, every morning I would set out to be like Martha Jo. I never actually SAID this is what I was trying to do. But in retrospect it is very clear. I was doomed from the start. I could only carry off the "Martha Jo routine" for a few hours at best. In a moment of abandon the real me would leak out. I always ended up feeling like a failure. But, I would pick myself up, dust myself off and try again, and again, and again and again. And so it went. The worst part was when I failed I also felt I was a failure spiritually. Afraid that others would see this, I worked all the harder to make sure people perceived me as super spiritual. The most frustrating thing of all was that I was making all of these changes for God - so I could do great things for Him with my new, super spiritual, socially acceptable personality, and He wasn't cooperating! And so it went - until I finally got so sick and tired of trying and failing that I decided to give up. That was the turning point in my life!
Chapter 5 - The Death of Martha Jo
I remember vividly, God's introduction of surrender in my life. I was walking down the hall, thinking about how exhausting striving and failing had become. It was as if an audible voice from God asked me a terrible, frightening question: "If I want keep you exactly the way you are right now, will you let me?" It stopped me mid-stride. I couldn't believe He would ask me such a thing. "NO!" was my emphatic reply. "You can't really mean that. I need to change all these things about myself - for You of course." "Dianne," God said, "I made you with all of those traits. Who are you to recreate what I have created?" How could I make Him understand that He would be so much better off with the new improved, revised edition of Dianne Smith. Again He asked me, "If I want to keep you exactly the way your are right now, will you let me?" I knew I was beat. Besides, I was so tired of striving to be someone I wasn't, giving up was starting to look attractive. I very hesitantly answered, "All right God, you can keep me just the way I am if you're sure that's what you really want." Then He told me that I had to surrender Martha Jo. So I prayed a prayer of surrender and left Martha Jo at the foot of the cross. For the first time in years I felt my burden lift. I could quit trying. I admit, I did hope He would see the need to make changes in me. But I stuck to my end of the bargain and, to the best of my ability, I quit trying. God didn’t leave me just the way I was. But He did the shaping and changing instead of me. Ironically, God knew that it was those very traits that would equip me to serve in a ministry He was planning.
A few years after this encounter, God opened our home and hearts to unwed mothers and troubled teens. For six years these young women lived with us - often three at a time. Since all of these young women came out of dysfunctional families and some came from very bad circumstances, my strong personality and frankness were essential in dealing with them!
My dislike for who I was and my striving for an alter ego identity are not unusual. I have shared this message with many women through the years and when I get to this part they get a funny look on their face. They are amazed that someone else feels this way. Some can even name their alter ego. Over the years, as I have shared this message with women I ask the question of them that God asked of me, "If God wants to keep you just the way your are right now would you let him?" I have seen the this question strike terror in their hearts! They, like me were carefully reconstructing their personality for God. They didn't like who they were and didn't trust God to change them.
Some readers might be worried that through surrendering their heart, they might lose their personality; they may become Christian doormats for others to wipe their feet on. In fact, the opposite happens. When I surrendered Martha Jo and allowed God to change my heart I, for the first time in my life, accepted myself (true self-esteem). True, God did and continues to change me every day. But, the very things I once hated I now accept as simply being part of me. I don't demand WHAT changes I want. I don't set myself up for failure by trying to manipulate my personality into something it isn't. I don't fear facing those things in me that I don't like. Surrender allows us to take honest stock of our strengths and weaknesses and put them all in God's hands.
Please don't misunderstand me. I am not talking about changing negative habits. I'm not suggesting that you can sit back and do nothing and wait for God to change everything about you. Surrender does not negate self discipline or forming good habits. These are different issues entirely. For instance, I am always running late. I know it frustrates friends and family alike. I can't surrender my lateness and expect God to keep me on schedule. I have to change this bad habit with a change in my actions. I need to pay more attention to the clock and do some pre-planning. There is nothing wrong with trying to overcome bad habits or socially unacceptable behavior. What I am talking about refer to matters of the heart. Things that our heart dwells on. These are feelings and emotions that are beyond our control.
Chapter 9 - From Sinner To Saint In One Easy Step
I think it is worth taking a minute to reflect on one reason women find it hard to accept themselves and feel like they never can measure up. Look at the huge number of tapes and books about the life experiences of Christian women . The theme usually runs something like this: A woman is caught in the lusts and sins of the world until she finds Jesus. She is then transformed into the perfect Christian woman. Between page 100 and page 225 she goes from sinner to saint and her whole life becomes wonderful. To top it off, she "arrives" spiritually! Now, the authors don't mean to say this. And, they would be the first to say it’s not what they meant. But, when the reader is a woman who feels like she doesn't measure up spiritually or personally, these books set unreal standards. She will be inspired with the miracle of what happened in the author's life. But at the same time, she will ask herself, "What's wrong with me? Why can't I become like her?"
The second type of books that cause women to have this mind set are the instruction manuals on how to become the perfect Christian woman. These books are written by the Christian "answer women" who present themselves as the standard to which all women should aspire. They set before you the recipe for becoming the perfect wife, lover, mother, homemaker, friend and Christian. They have prescriptions to solve all of life's problems. If you have problems with your sex life simply greet your husband at the door naked, wrapped in saran wrap. (This is really advice given in a book!) If you have problems with self esteem pamper yourself with a bubble bath and a new dress.
To the woman who sees herself as a murderer or the woman who's father molested her as a child, or any number of other "poor broken slobs", these books only mock their despair. But, because of their self loathing, they never ask, "What's wrong with this book?" Rather, they ask, "What's wrong with me?"
Chapter 10 - Loving Or Lying
If I had turned to secular council (or even some Christian council for that matter) to gain self-esteem I would have been told that my problem was I didn't "love myself" enough. The verse, "Love thy neighbor as thyself" would have been pulled out and waved in front of me with long flowery explanations about how Jesus wants us to have good self-esteem. The path to good self-esteem is positive thinking and self affirmation. The prescription is to stand in front of the mirror every morning and every night and say 25 times: "I am a worthy person, I love myself, I am a worthy person, I love myself..." The only problem with this mentality is it makes me a liar as well as a failure because, no matter how hard I try or how many times I state otherwise, I don’t feel worthy and I don’t love myself. This approach to self esteem is like handing someone a colorful band aide for their brain cancer and telling them it will make the disease go away.
I don't think Jesus ever meant for his statement to be the foundation of a self centered, ego boosting, self help movement. And yet volumes have been spoken and written with this statement as the cornerstone of self improvement therapy. Looking around the world today it does not appear that we need more self love. In fact, the Bible warns, "in the end days men will be lovers of self." 2 Tim. 3: 1-2 True, most women I talk to have poor self esteem. But telling them they can change this by chanting the self love mantra only causes more denial and despair. The woman who killed her unborn child is not a worthy person. The woman who has led a promiscuous life-style is not a worthy person. You the reader, if you are honest about your heart, are not a worthy person. Nor am I.
So where does this leave us? Should we hate ourselves then?" No. Because in reality this too is self centered. It is convoluted pride and our ego is still at the center. Any time we are focused on ourselves, whether we are priding ourselves or condemning ourselves, we are at the center of our focus. Even insecurities are centered in self; "Do people like me? Are they impressed with me? What do they think about me?" Notice the recurring word, "me." The goal of the Christian is not to focus on self but rather to die to self.
The Bible says, "Present you bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship." Romans 12:1 To the Jew, this passage had a much more graphic meaning than it does to us. To understand it we need to know what was involved in a "sacrifice". The following is the description of how a sacrifice was done as found in Lev. 17:11 After leading his lamb to the north side of the altar, the priest killed the sacrificial animal by cutting its throat. A priest stood by with a basin to catch the blood, "for the life of the flesh is in the blood ... it is the blood that makes atonement." The priest cast this lifeblood against the altar, signifying that the life belonged to God. The carcass was then skinned and cut it into quarters, while the priest placed the wood on the altar fire. The carcass and entrails were mixed with oil and spices and burned until it was completely consumed. This ritual would be gruesome to Christians today. But to the Jew there was no question as to the significance of this verse. A sacrifice required the death and total consummation of the offering.
If we are to be "living and holy sacrifices" it requires that something dies. What dies is our self. When anger, bitterness, hatred, insecurities, jealousy, pride, hurt, lust, and the other sins of the heart motivate our actions, self is central in our life. These feelings spring out of our human nature. They are natural, normal human responses to life's hurts and disappointments. But, they separate us from God. We could, like so many people, deny their existence in order to live up to the Christian image, but this only results in repressing them. And, although we are repressing them, we will express them at some point. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." Matt. 10: 38 - 39 We may develop thicker walls and deeper pits to hide these feelings in, but they will come oozing out when the right circumstance presents itself.
Instead of denying and repressing these feelings, it is so much more honest to acknowledge them and to lay them at the foot of the cross. And God can see over the highest wall and into the deepest pit right into the center of our hearts anyway. Who do we think we are fooling? When we admit to these feelings, admit to our defeat in overcoming these feelings and offer them to God, we take self out of our focus and place Christ in the center of our lives. We ask Him to heal our hurts and change our hearts. In doing this self condemnation and self commendation are both eliminated. It's up to Christ - not us. This way, we don't love or hate ourselves, we simply ACCEPT ourselves. We become able to acknowledge and accept our strong points, our weak points, our foibles, our fancies, our insecurities and everything else about us. Instead of striving to change these things, we surrender them to God and allow Him to do the molding, changing and shaping. I cannot tell you the freedom that results from this type of walk with the Lord. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" Romans 8:1 takes on a whole new meaning.
Chapter 11 - Dying To Be Humble
Of all the conditions of the heart, humility is probably the most sought after and least understood by Christians. The Bible is very clear on what God thinks of pride and arrogance. In Proverbs 16:18 we read, "Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before stumbling." In Daniel 5:20 we read the reason why king Nebuchadnezzar was driven away from mankind and his heart was made like that of beasts: "But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit became so proud that he behaved arrogantly, he was deposed from his royal throne, and his glory was taken away from him." We are admonished in the scriptures and from the pulpit to be humble. But how?
In my pursuit for humility I felt like a gerbil on a wheel getting nowhere. The more I strived to be humble the prouder I was of my humility. Until I realized I was proud and then I felt like a failure at becoming humble. In all of it I wasn't even sure I knew WHAT a humble person was supposed to act like. I thought that self deprecation might be the answer. When someone told me I was artistic (which I am) I would reply "Oh, no, I'm not artistic at all." But, I knew I was artistic so then I became a liar as well as a failure. Then I tried to give selflessly to others. The only problem with that was that I was always gauging how impressed people were with my selflessness. When the recipient of my selflessness would thank me profusely and tell me what a really good person I was I would respond "Oh no, no, it was nothing, really." But, I loved their praise and really was rather proud of my selflessness!
I was utterly baffled as to the process of achieving humility. And then I came across this saying: "Humility is not thinking lowly of one's self, but rather, not thinking of one's self at all." It was as if a light went on. Humility is not something to be achieved. It is a by-product of a surrendered heart. I don't have to deny my talents - God gave them to me. I don't have to say negative things about myself or try to convince myself of my motives. I simply must surrender what's IN my heart and God will replace it with His heart. It's not a matter of arriving at a point of spirituality where I achieve humility, but rather a day by day, moment by moment walk in surrender with Christ. Humility no longer becomes my objective. It is simply the shifting of my focus from self to Christ and the total absence of gauging my spiritual performance at all.
Chapter 12 - The Truth Shall Set You Free
Some of you might have the impression that in surrendering we all become meek, lowly, spiritual clones. Actually, quite the opposite happens. As you start surrendering those things that you previously denied, it creates a freedom that you may never have experienced before. A freedom to stand up and honestly confront that which needs confronting. As God leads you into honesty with yourself you will begin to deal honestly with others.
Let me give you an example. When a person hurts us verbally, we react predictably. It may be one of many emotions but they all spring from the same source - self. With our egos wounded, we are not able to focus on the issue itself. Rather we are weighted down with self pity or righteous indignation or any number of emotions that result from being the victim of someone's vindictiveness. The first point in surrendering is to recognize that, no matter what the other person did, your responsibility is only for YOUR heart. It is YOUR feelings that God wants to deal with. He wants you to forgive that person for your sake. This doesn't make the other person's offense any less serious or wicked. Your forgiveness does not mean you are denying the other person's actions or motives. Neither does forgiveness mean that the person should be "let off the hook" from the natural consequences of their action. It does however, release you from the destructive cycle brought on by the other person's sin.
When Peter molested my daughter, Satan set out to destroy as many people as possible through this heinous act. Peter himself, my daughter, his family, my family - all of these were slated for destruction by the master of evil. My hatred would have worked right into his plan. If I had become consumed with hatred, it would have done great damage to my family and friends. My marriage would have suffered and my relationship with God would have been all but destroyed. When God placed forgiveness in my heart, He used what Satan had intended for destruction for His own glory.
Peter was sentenced nine months after his arrest. I went to his sentencing to witness his penalty. During that nine long months I had surrendered my hatred and bitterness daily. It had been a struggle because of my desire to entertain my thoughts of vengeance. I knew though, that if I was faithful in surrendering my thoughts and desires God would be faithful in healing my heart. I also knew that it would be in His timing - I only was to be obedient. I walked into the courtroom struggling with a fresh onslaught of vengeful thoughts. Midway through the proceedings, as I was praying for the strength to sit through it and surrendering my heart, I literally felt God wash His peace and forgiveness over me. It was as if a huge weight was lifted from me. I felt light and free for the first time since the ordeal began. After the sentencing I was moved to go up to Peter and his mother and pass on to them the gift God had given me - forgiveness. The victim's assistance officer who had been reluctant to let me even speak to them stood there with tears running down her cheeks. She said, "I have seen verbal tirades, physical assaults and even attempted murder after trials, but never in the history of my work have I ever seen anyone do what you just did!" I tried so hard to explain to her that I had done nothing. I was the merely recipient of an incredible gift from God called grace that released me from the bondage of hatred! I gave my worst to God and He replaced it with His peace and forgiveness.
Chapter 13 - Forgive And Forget?
That day in the courtroom my heart was permanently changed. I am no longer obsessed with vengeance. I no longer want to immerse myself in hatred. But, I still have to deal with seeing this boy around town. I had always heard the adage "forgive and forget." Faced with my painful memories I knew this was impossible. In pondering this I realized that the adage was dead wrong. How can I ever forget what happened to my daughter? It would take a lobotomy to erase the memories that come to mind upon seeing this boy. And in reality, do I really want to? How many social and legal changes have come about through someone's tragedy? Mother's Against Drunk Driving, Victims Rights Movement, Child Find - these and so many more groups rose up out of the ashes of someone's painful memories.
In forgiving Peter I had to determine how this translated into the reality of constantly seeing him around town. Did it mean I should smile and wave and pretend nothing had happened? Did it mean I should socially interact with him when we found ourselves face to face? NO! While I can honestly say I wish him no harm and pray that he will put this behind him and find happiness in life, I am under no compulsion to interact with him. I think forgiveness can be summed up with the phrase, "the absence of malice." God takes us from hatred and bitterness to His rest and peace. If God wants me to minister or interact with this young man, He will prepare my heart and place this desire in me. It will then be genuine because it is of God. Otherwise, I will simply rest in His peace.
I find the most warped misconception of forgiveness is found in women who were molested as children. Many families, in their misguided understanding of forgiveness do great harm to the victim. I remember talking to one young women named Sarah who's uncle had molested her repeatedly as a young girl. Both Sarah's husband and her family knew about what had happened but did nothing. They didn't even want to discuss it and urged her to "put it in her past." Family gatherings went on like always with the uncle as a welcome guest. This young woman understandably was having a very hard time toward this uncle. She hated to be around him and felt dirty when he looked at her knowing they shared such sordid memories. But overriding her very valid emotions was this message:, "You are a Christian. You should forgive and forget. Put it in your past and love him." And so she was locked in the destructive cycle of striving to change her heart, failing and condemning herself. Sarah felt like a total failure as a Christian because she could not forgive or forget and as a person because she was so emotionally unstable.
Her husband decided to help her healing along by suggesting that the "Christian thing to do" was to go out to a movies with this uncle - sort of a way to patch things up and get a new start. She wanted to be a good Christian. So, even though she felt revulsion and fear toward him, she went! When they got out of the car at the movies he pinned her up against the door and gave her a passionate kiss. All of the feelings of self loathing and guilt came rushing back with that kiss. As if in a rerun of her childhood, she pretended it didn't happen and continued the evening! Inside however, she was shattered. Not only did she have to deal with her hatred toward this uncle, she was bitter toward her husband who was his unwitting accomplice! When I met her she was at a crisis that threatened her family, her marriage and her very life.
This is a perfect example of the burden that Christians place on each other. In the name of forgiveness her husband and family had unintentionally added to her despair and victimization. Since the husband and the family refused to talk about the incident and did not allow her to, Sarah could only come to one conclusion - something was wrong with her! She must be a horrible, awful person and a complete failure as a Christian if she had such ugly emotions about something that others saw as "no big deal."
In Sarah's situation there are two separate issues - Sarah's heart and natural consequences. If Sarah had understood how to work through her abuse by being honest and opening her heart to God in surrender, she could have forgiven her uncle through God's grace. Forgiveness did not require that she forget what he did to her though. Restoration of the relationship with her uncle was not a requirement of forgiveness. Restoration depended upon his repentance and willingness to admit his sin. Restoration and forgiveness are two different things. She would be perfectly within her right as a person and a Christian to say, "I will not attend any family function where my uncle is present." She would be completely within her right to say, "I never want to see my uncle again." In doing this, the uncle would be suffering the natural consequences of his actions. Even though he escaped the legal consequences, he violated the trust between an uncle and niece and therefore gave up the rights to that relationship. Unless he admits to his sin and seeks her forgiveness, her continued interaction with him only continues the deceit.
The spiritual issue is Sarah's heart. As it was, she was consumed with anger and hatred toward this uncle. The evil that was done to her in the past continued to destroy her present. Satan has done his job well. Not only did he set out to destroy the child, he knew that it would destroy the adult woman she would become. Only through the intervention of God's grace can this destructive cycle be ended. This is what God wants to heal. He has a place of rest and peace where she could be released from the bondage of her hatred. This is God's forgiveness. If God then asks her to go beyond this state someday to reach out to her uncle, it will be out of obedience to Him and He will place that love in her heart!
Chapter 14 - Our Strength Is In Knowing Our Weakness
Paired with the damaging concept of self created forgiveness is the concept of self created strength. In this past decade, men who were perceived as paragons of Christian strength have fallen to the weakness of their flesh. Because these men were tele-evangelists whose teachings were heard by millions, their weaknesses had devastating results. Their sins were trumpeted across the nation in the secular media. Christians reacted in disillusionment and grief. The secular world reacted with glee and finger pointing. In the spiritual world Satan gloated at the havoc he had caused. He had convinced one more person that they were strong and righteous and were above the weaknesses of the flesh. And yet, when Paul asked for healing for his "thorn in his flesh" 2 Cor. 12:17 God told him that, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Paul responded with this, "Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Cor 12:10 - 11 It is knowing and surrendering our weakness to God that brings about His strength in us. We have no claim to it. We can take no credit for it. It forces us to be brutally honest about the condition of our heart when we acknowledge our weaknesses and lay them at the foot of the cross.
Yet, in the electronic Christian culture in which we live, the condition of our heart is bypassed in favor of the "politically correct" Christian image. Christian "superstars", surrounded by adoring fans begin to believe in their carefully cultivated image. It is the image that is validated by all of their followers. But a cultivated image cannot withstand the weight of reality. When Jeremiah states that the "heart is more deceitful than all else" he is not referring to the general state of mankind. Rather, it is a very personal statement about each and every one of us. Our hearts can deceive us into believing we are doing something for God when in reality our motive is very self serving. Our hearts can deceive us into thinking that we are strong and righteous while we clandestinely feed our lusts and nurse our sinful nature.
I have a dear friend who came to the Lord out of an extremely promiscuous life-style. She was literally addicted to sex. It wasn't the act itself necessarily, but rather the power she held over men through her body. Once they succumbed to her charm, she disdained them as weak and they were quickly discarded. After she received Christ she deluded herself into thinking that she was now strong and could withstand temptation. Time and time again she placed herself in precarious situations convinced that she was strong enough to overcome. Time and time again she fell. But God, in His infinite love and mercy, allowed each episode to be a stepping stone for spiritual and personal growth. The irony is, that in growing spiritually, she did not become stronger. Rather, she became more and more aware of her weakness!
Indeed, the closer we get to God, the more aware we all become of our wretchedness! It's like seeing yourself in a mirror with ever intensifying light. We don't become more beautiful as the light becomes brighter. Instead, every little imperfection and blemish is glaringly obvious. But, it doesn't mean we get uglier either. It simply means that as we are seeing what's already there. As we look at our own sinful nature in the light of God's perfection we see how wretched our hearts are. But, as we surrender each blemish and wrinkle of our heart to God, he replaces them with His beauty, His purity, His virtue and His strength. We have no claim on it. We have no part in achieving it. We simply acknowledge what is in our hearts and give that to God.
My friend still struggles with sexual desires. But, she has broken the destructive life-style she was in. Yet, she knows that it has nothing to do with her strength. All she has to offer God is her weakness. It is His strength that has sustained her and resisted temptation.
Chapter 15 - Climbing Our Way To Spiritual Pride
The message of surrender is not readily embraced by everyone who hears it. After sharing this message at a Bible study, one young woman thought that a mutual friend had told me everything this young woman had confided to her. In fact, I knew nothing of this young woman. Yet the message I shared had described her so well that she felt her confidence had been betrayed. To this day, she will not speak with me. It was much easier to reject the messenger than embrace the message! You may be reading this now and finding yourself feeling this same thing. I don't know anything about you either. The simple fact is, we as human beings share some remarkably similar traits. One is our total obsession with self. The other is our basic sinful nature. Our stories of anguish, sorrow and failure are all different. But, the answer is the same - dying to self that Christ might live through us. The Bible tells us in Romans 6:6 "...knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin." Crucifixion means death and death to self means freedom from sin.
There was a time that I would not have received this message. My facade was too important and the sins of my heart were too frightening to even consider. But, like so many other women, I simply could not go on in the exhausting business striving to maintain the image. In surrender I have found freedom. In dying to self I have found Life.
Most women who God brings across my path are like I was. They are "poor broken slobs" but don't know what to do about it. Life has battered and broken them and left them with many scars. They throw themselves into Church activity and do all the prescribed routines for spirituality. But it doesn't ease the nagging feeling that they are "missing the mark."
Much of the teachings in the Church only increases this feeling of spiritual failure. Somehow, the notion that one "arrives" spiritually has embedded itself into church teaching. Sometimes it's subtle. Other times it's blatant. I remember sitting in a Sunday School class where the teacher held up a "ladder of spirituality" and asked us where to determine which rung of righteousness we were on. He placed himself at about 2/3 of the way up. The sad thing was, he really believed it. He was a deacon in the church and had worked hard to build the new church building, donating both his time and money. But, in the business world he was known for something entirely different - his dishonesty. It is a sad commentary on the church where spiritual maturity is based on performance and matters of the heart are ignored. Show me the person who says they are on the top rung of the "spiritual ladder" and I will show you someone who needs to get on their knees and repent of their spiritual pride!
God knows what our hearts are made of. Yet, we desperately try to deceive Him and ourselves. When we start getting honest with ourselves and with God, those very things that were so threatening to us lose their power. Instead of desperately trying the convince the world and ourselves that we are not a certain way, we are free to admit we are that way and then surrender it to God.
The Bible says, "the truth shall set you free." John 8:32 In this case, no truer words have been spoken. So much of our life is spent denying and deceiving others so they won't find out the truth. The truth we desperately hide is found in those ugly thoughts that flit across the back of our minds, the wounded ego that denies its' hurt, the unforgiving heart that feels justified, the cynical humor at other's expense, and those countless other emotions that we exhibit yet deny. The ironic thing is that God (and perhaps other people) can see through our facade. The things we deny with the most vehemence are usually the most obvious in our personality. The miser will stridently deny that he is a tight wad; the gossip will adamantly defend her virtue. They're not fooling anyone. The more they feel exposed the more they strive to keep the facade intact. How much easier it is to come before God and say, like the Publican, "Lord I am not worthy." How much more freeing it is to come to God and say, "God, I am a gossip. I love being the center of attention because I know something about someone that others don't. God, I enjoy gossip and this is what I have to offer you. You change my heart. God, I am incapable." Truth is the balm for the hurting heart and the antidote to deceit.
Chapter 16 - The Issue Of Control
Surrender is not a panacea to all of life's problems. It is not a quick spiritual fix. It is a way of life. You never "arrive" at a place of spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity does not come from any accomplishments or arrival but rather from a recognition of what we are and feel and our willingness to surrender it. You have a point of beginning but never a point of ending. You simply become more in tune to the Holy Spirit as He works in your heart. As you start surrendering your honest motives and feelings it's like an onion being peeled. You think you're at a level of truth and the Holy Spirit reveals more areas of deceit. If you walk in surrender long enough you will hit head on with the issue of control.
Control comes in many forms. Some women are so obviously controlling that people flee to escape their clutches. But just because a woman is not obvious it doesn't mean she isn't controlling. The silent martyr, the meek manipulator, the headstrong bully all have one goal - to control others. And control is about power. This power is ultimately self serving as it protects the heart and meets ego needs.
I am controlling. It is in my nature. God has shown me through the years just how important control is to me. Since I don't fit the normal description of a controlling person, I was unaware it was there for a long time. I don't try to control my physical environment. My area of control was with situations and relationships. I was constantly determining the outcome of a relationship and then trying to force the situation to bring about that outcome. I call it writing the end of the story. All of us do it to some degree. And in some areas of life, such as the business world this is not necessarily bad. We have to have a plan of action, goals and direction. But, what works in the secular world can be destructive in the spiritual realm.
When we write the end of the story in spiritual matters we are setting ourselves up for a fall. God first taught me this lesson in a very dramatic manner. We had been taking unwed mothers in to our home for about a year. All of the young women who came to us loved me! I was their surrogate mother and they basked in my love and attention. Until Susan came. She hated me. I could do nothing right. My cooking was terrible, my mothering a failure and she wanted nothing to do with me. Once when I tried to comfort her by putting my arm around her she threw it off and hissed, "Don't you EVER do that to me again." I wished I could say that Susan changed. But she left our home as hateful as she came. It was I who did the changing. God showed me through this experience that I had a "Savior complex". I had written the end to Susan's story before she ever crossed our threshold. I would show her love and compassion and she would change because of my actions. I expected her to perform to my specifications and when she didn't I was angry and defensive. At that point God asked me, "Who are you doing this for?" Ouch! I had to take an honest look at my motives. I came to the inescapable conclusion that I was secure in my spirituality when I was receiving "warm fuzzies." But I was hurt and angry when Susan had the nerve to not see me in the noble role in which I had cast myself. I thought I was full of unconditional love. What I had was a counterfeit version of unconditional love - my own. When I came against a very unlovable young lady, my love was exposed for what it was - self serving. And so, I surrendered that part of my heart and asked God to fill it with His unconditional love. I was incapable of loving unconditionally.
In order to grow spiritually, we must quit writing the end of the story. It takes real honesty to recognize when we are doing it. But, it happens in friendships, romances, Christian relationships, spiritual pursuits, etc. We don't mean to do it. We think our intentions are pure. But in reality, we set ourselves up for disappointments when we write a script for God or others to follow. It is so much less stressful and disappointing when we admit we don't know the end of the story and God is a much better author anyway. As we yield our will to His we will be amazed at how the story unfolds. He won't disappoint us because we didn't write a script for Him to follow - He wrote it for us. It's like walking along a path God has prepared, not knowing the destination but reveling in the beauty along the way!
The next time you meet someone who you would like to have as a friend or who you would like to help, notice how often you start writing the end of the story. It happens especially often when we, as Christians reach out to non-Christians. As much as we hate to admit it, we see the whole scenario in our mind’s eye right from the very beginning. First we help this poor, needy, sinful person. They respond with gratitude. They then inquire about our faith which they see in our example. We share Christ with them and they accept. They change their life-style, join the church (where everyone knows it was our good deed that got them there) and live happily ever after. We have just written the entire script for their life and they just met us!
But if they respond in a very human reaction of taking our offerings and spitting in our face they have really let us down! Only then does the question rear its ugly head - "Who did you do this for?". How much better it is to simply walk in a path prepared by God and let Him change hearts? It means we must give up control. But we also give up frustration, anxiety and disappointment when people fail our expectations. The recipient of our attention also comes out ahead. They don't have to perform to an unwritten script, they are simply accepted for who they are. Our gift is given without strings and they are free to accept or reject it without incurring our anger and disappointment. This runs totally contrary to the worldly wisdom but is the essence of a surrendered and God centered heart.
Chapter 17 - God’s Up-Side-Down Kingdom
Gods ways are the opposite of mans. In a sense, God's kingdom is "up-side-down." Think about what is important to man: Power, control, money, physical beauty, material possessions, social status, personal comfort, etc. If these things had been important to God, it surely would have reflected in Jesus' position and life-style while on earth. God could have sent Jesus into any situation He wanted. But when we measure Jesus by those things that man deems important, He comes out a total failure. Consider the following:
The Jews were looking for a Savior to come in power and might who would deliver them from their oppressors. But Jesus came as a meek man preaching such "cowardly" messages as found in James, 5:39: "But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also."
Men use the force of armies and navies to maintain their power on land and sea. But Jesus had only a rag tag band of reject followers who were told that they would be persecuted, reviled and even put to death for their faithfulness.
Throughout history, beauty has been one of the MOST important assets. Christ could have come down as the most magnificent human being ever to have been created. Yet, from the writings of historians of that time we know that Christ was in fact a homely man.
Material possessions were and are an indicator of one's success in life. We even have television shows that do nothing but glorify the magnificent homes and opulent possessions of the rich and famous. Contrast this to Christ's own description of his life-style as found in Matthew 8:20 : "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."
In Jewish culture, even if a person had few possessions, little power and were not physically attractive, if they had the proper lineage they were insured a position of respect in society. The Jewish society was organized by family, clan and tribe. One's genealogy was an important part of one's identity. Descent from a respected forefather could bring social, political, and religious prestige. The genealogy of Jesus is traced for us back to Abraham in the Gospel of Matthew and Adam in the Gospel of Luke to show that he was a son of David as prophesied. But the circumstances surrounding his conception cast him in the worst social status possible - the illegitimate son of a peasant girl.
It appears that God has a different set of standards from ours. He could have brought His son into this world as anything He wanted. But men, wanting heroes so badly, would have followed Him for all the wrong reasons; beauty, wealth, power, prestige, status, family name and social position. Instead, Christ came into this world as opposite of EVERYTHING that man deems important. There was nothing to distract from His message. If men followed Him it was because His word struck their hearts.
Chapter 18 - The Heart of the Matter
If you read the four gospels, you will notice a common theme. All of Christ's teachings and words pointed to one thing: The condition of man's heart. In the book of John 8: 2 - 10 we find the story of the adulterous woman. The Pharisees caught her in the act and brought her to Jesus. The Jewish law commanded that she be stoned and they wanted to know what he would say. "But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, 'He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’" You see, the woman, like the tax-gatherer, KNEW she was a sinner. Christ told her to "Go and sin no more." On the other hand, the Pharisees did not even recognize themselves as sinners. And yet Christ compared the Pharisees, the most respected religious group in His society, to corpses who were wrapped white on the outside but were rotting on the inside.
The words spoken by David thousands of years before Christ still held true in Christ's time as they do now. "A broken and a contrite heart Oh God, thou will not despise." Psalms 51:17 Man has set up religious systems on earth that include hierarchy, power, prestige, popularity, possessions and status. While these things are both the creation and natural result of man's institutions, their existence can not change one person’s heart. No position, no religion or institution can change a person’s heart. Only God changes hearts and our hearts are the only thing God wants.
Man builds crystal cathedrals and ornate churches as an offering to God. Yet, if you think about it, it is the height of arrogance to think that we can impress God with our creations. God Himself states this very thing in Isaiah: 66:1-2 when He says: "Thus says the Lord, 'Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? For My hand made all these things, thus all these things came into being,' declares the Lord. 'But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.’"
I believe that throughout history man has found it much easier to build magnificent cathedrals than to surrender his heart to God.
Chapter 19 - Without Guile
"Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" John 1:47 Jesus said this of Nathanael upon meeting him. Obviously Christ felt that being without guile was a commendable trait. But, what exactly does it mean? Guile is another word for deceit. But, it means a more personal, subtle form of deceit. It is what feeds such things as denial, repression and manipulation.
There are some people, like Nathanael, who truly have no guile. They are very transparent and open. They accept people at face value and, since they have no guile themselves, are bewildered when they are faced with wickedness and deceit in others. But, truly guileless people are rare. They are both refreshing and frustrating at the same time. They simply cannot "connect" with those of us who wallow in the muck and the mire of wicked human nature.
I have shared the message of surrender and my "black little heart" with a few of these guileless people. They try to grasp what I am saying and often understand intellectually that man is basically evil, but they can't imagine the kind of manipulative deceit and wickedness of which I speak. I am not suggesting they are sinless. But because they are transparent with themselves and with others their motives are more often pure and their reactions more kind.
I used to observe people like this and want so bad to be like them (Martha Jo was guileless, of course). I would get up every day and try to have that pure heart and kind spirit. But, it is impossible to take one's "black little heart" and transform it through this type of effort. An absence of guile, like humility is a by-product of surrender.
When we start being honest with ourselves and our motives and surrender all that we find in our heart to God, guile is unmasked and exposed. Our prayer should be as the Psalmists, "Search me, Oh God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way." As a person walks in surrender and recognizes guile in their heart as soon as God reveals it, they do become "without guile." The natural outcome is a lack of guile is that it is not founded in a lack of deceit but rather in a recognition of deceit! God sums it up in Jeremiah 17:9 when He states, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart ..." God knows the condition of our "black little heart". All He wants from us is to know it too and surrender it to Him.
My daughter is now nine. I have been blessed to hear two different counselors state that she has a remarkably positive self image and that she is emotionally very healthy. God has healed her wounds as well as mine. My husband was able to forgive very early in the process and I was really mad that God did that for him while I was left flailing and hurting. But, in the end, it was through experiencing that hurt that has allowed me to minister to so many other hurting women. When I share the message of surrender they know that I am not giving them empty words or trite slogans. I have experienced every mother's nightmare. Yet, I walk in His peace. He has taken my worst and used it for His glory!
He has also used this experience to fight pornography. Peter's exposure to pornography was the motivator of his actions. If I have anger, it is aimed at an industry that thrives on the destruction of innocent lives. I have testified before state committees about the reality of this "victimless" crime. I spoke in Washington D.C. at the launching of Enough is Enough, a national campaign of to stop the victimization of women and children through pornography. There at the press conference, I saw hardened reporters from the major media with tears in their eyes as they heard my story.
I now understand the meaning of the verse, "All things work to good for those who love the Lord and are who are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28 All that has happened God has worked for good. This doesn't mean the pain wasn't real or the despair wasn't overwhelming at times. It doesn't negate the wrongness of the action. It simply means that God can take the worst in our life and use it for His glory and other's benefit. But first, we have to give it to Him.
I hope this message has stirred something in you. For some, it may only serve as a clarification of what they already know. For others, it may be overwhelming. Whatever the reaction, I invite you to make an honest assessment of your heart before God. The following questions are not a test. You don’t pass or flunk. They are only there to help you as you seek a closer walk with God and a more honest relationship with yourself and others.
1. Imagine that your heart is a house. What is the inside like? Do you harbor bitterness toward someone who has hurt you? Do you have unforgiveness toward someone who has wronged you? Do you have insecurities or feelings of inadequacy that keep your focus on yourself? Do you have a sin in your past for which you cannot forgive yourself? Be honest about these "sins of the heart" and quit hiding them from God - He knows them anyway. These are what He wants.
2. Can you think of areas in your spiritual life in which you strive to become more spiritual? Do you rank yourself on the "Spiritual Ladder of Success? The closer you get to God, the more aware you are of your sinfulness and the more abundant is His grace. Get off the ladder and rest in your position as His beloved.
3. If God asked you if He could keep you exactly the way you are right now, what would your response be? What are the personality traits about yourself that you don’t like and are trying to recreate? Let God do the changing in you. Ask Him to shape, mold and fine tune everything about you - things you like and don’t like. Trust that He will do a much better job than you in "improving you."
4. Do you look at other Christian women and are sure they are more spiritual than you? Do you have a spiritual alter-ego? Surrender your desire to "measure" yourself against other women. Surrender your alter-ego and any other spiritual standard you impose upon yourself and walk in God’s grace and guidance.
5. Are there areas in your life you have felt strong in overcoming, only to have failed and fallen repeatedly? Admit your weakness and surrender that to Christ so He can place HIS strength in you.
6. Do you have spiritual successes of which your are proud? Do you have spiritual failures for which you condemn yourself? Surrender your striving in spiritual matters and allow Christ to fight your spiritual battles instead. When He wins and the glory goes to Him.
7. Do you ever "write the end of the story" in relationships with people or with God? Do you have areas you need to control that block God from working out His will because you impose yours? As you recognize these during the course of a day, surrender them to Christ and ask that He increase your faith and trust in His results.
8. Are there any activities that you perform that you are offering to God, hoping to garner His favor or impress Him with your performance? Is there anything that you do that causes you to pray like the Pharisee - asking God to look at it and count you worthy? You don’t have to quit your Christian activities. Ask God to place in you the heart of the Publican, understanding that we have nothing to offer God of our own. We are not worthy except through Christ. Our righteousness is found in our willingness to die to self, which allows Christ to grow in us.
If any of these questions apply to you, you might feel a need to surrender something specific in your life to Christ. I have shared this message with so many wounded women over the years and, at the end, they are anxious to surrender, but don’t quite know how. There is no magic solution or specific words that works. Remember - God sees the heart. But, if you feel a need to surrender and don’t know where to start, this is what I do myself and share with others.
I ask women to close their eyes and see Christ hanging on the cross. As they approach Him, in their mind’s eye they see him looking down with intense love in His eyes. I then ask them to cup their hands in front of them and take out those feelings they have been harboring. They place those feelings in their cupped hands and look at them for all of their ugliness. With this done I lead them in this prayer:
"Dear Jesus, I feel__________. I am incapable of overcoming this feeling. Forgive me for my sin of harboring this feeling. I give it up and surrender it to you. This is all I have to offer you. Please replace my heart with your heart."
When you start praying this prayer, you might notice that your feelings become more intense. This is because Satan knows his stronghold on your heart is being threatened. Each time the thoughts pop into your mind, you have the choice. You can entertain them or surrender them. If you choose to surrender them, you will be giving the battle over to the Lord. After awhile, you will notice they do not bother you as much. Then, as you continue to lay them down the issue will quietly become a non-issue in your life. When this prayer becomes a way of life, God's grace is poured out. When you acknowledge your total helplessness to overcome any sin of the heart and cast yourself on the mercy of God to change your heart, you enter into the realm of God's wonderful, healing, comforting, anointing Grace. Grace no longer is the brass ring you get as a reward for striving but becomes a dynamic force in your life.
Instead of a one time prayer, make this your life long prayer. Every time the Holy Spirit shows you something in your heart take it out and "look at it." Sometimes they are small things - they are easy to surrender. Sometimes they are very deep wounds - they are not as easy to let go of. I’m not saying it is easy. It can be extremely painful to finally admit something you have been running from all of your life. But the pain is essential for growth.
It's like a wound in the flesh that heals on the surface only. Underneath the infection is growing. The only way to heal the wound is to open it and that is painful. Yet once the puss is out the wound starts to heal from the inside out. Even the scab drops away and leaves only a faint scar. The scar is a subtle reminder, not of the pain, but of the healing.
So it is with our hearts. Through that pain, God heals hearts from the inside out. The subsequent peace and assurance of our position in God’s love more than makes up for the pain!
If what I have learned through my pain helps even one woman find healing from life’s wounds and find freedom in Christ , I will feel that my trials have been turned into God’s triumph and will rejoice!
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