I remember when I was in the prayer and fasting peak of my life. I prayed with authority, knew more bible verses than I ever had, probably had the least amount of joy in my life and that’s when God cut me with his words.
I will share a little background with you to help understand what he said to me. I know a man who has been a drug addict since he was 14 years old. He engaged in promiscuous sex, began dealing drugs, was in and out of courtrooms and almost killed himself through driving while super strung out on drugs…three times. He was my age.
God said to me in that little prayer room where I was giving up my life serving the poor, “I love him as much as I love you.” You might think this would have been a comfort, but I tell you, it was an offense. I had been taught by leaders in the church that God held a special place for people like me, the good ones. That he loved the saint more than the sinner. I didn’t notice the arrogance towards others that crept in under this teaching. I believed I truly was better than those other people. That is what I believed. And that is the lie that God wanted to root out of me.
There is sometimes a stench that comes in religious environments and its the stench of pride. When people move in the power of God or feel his presence or know his word or obey his commands, sometimes there is a smelly lie that accompanies this that we have earned his favor. That we deserve it. We are no longer like those unreligious secular commoners, we are the fingers of God and deserve the better than them. Surely we are better.
I can feel the slithering feeling of these garments of pride even now as I imagine it. Even now as I remember it. This is the stench the world hates. And let me tell you, it is also the stench Jesus hates.
Jesus did not separate himself. He did not pride himself on his spotlessness. He did not cast judgment, nor condemnation. The thing he openly rebuked is what I have written about above and it was alive and well in the reigning religious order of the time. There will be offense in heaven and it won’t be at God as a terrorist, it will be at God as a merciful king.
Teaching parables, “I will pay the wages I want,” he says as he pays someone who barely worked at all the same amount as the one who worked the hardest, causing offense at all of their efforts. “Let me give everything I have to my careless son,” he says to the offense of the dutiful, obedient, older brother. “Cast the first stone,” he invites to the guilty condemners of a whore, leaving them with nothing left to throw.
God is offensive. His love is offensive. His generosity is offensive. His mercy is offensive. Get ready to be offended by God, not by his judgment but by his mercy. No one has earned his love. No one deserves his favor. No one has maintained their own innocence. No one in Christ is treated as they deserve, they are only ever treated as Christ deserves and nothing less.
God the father didn’t wait for your life to change before you were worth dying for. No, it was the other way around. He wanted to correct me that his love truly is free to all right now in full, not just to those who climb the religious ladder.
God doesn’t love in part, love is who he is and we are his dream. All of us. We get to treat all people with dignity whether or not they have forgotten it. We aren’t invited by God to love every kind of person because he asks us to, we are invited to love every kind of person because they are worthy of it because his shed blood says so.
God wanted me to see that nothing I had of him was ever earned of my religious efforts, therefore none of him could ever be taken away from me. All of my religious-performance-self was offended. God loves the man I mentioned in the beginning of this piece as much as he loves me still to this day. Maybe one day we all will believe this and then the world will truly recognize followers of Christ by their love.
I feel like there is power in sharing our stories and sometimes the best place to start is the beginning. Recently, I was given an opportunity to share how my relationship with God began and I thought I would share it here as well.
I went to church with my family sometimes and even learned stories from the bible as a child, but I went to church for years and never really remember hearing about Jesus or what he did for us or what he thought of us. I remember trying really hard to figure out when to stand and when to sit and how to make my voice go up or down with the music notes I didn’t know how to read in the hymnal.
Fast forward through my parent’s divorce, our moving to a new location, and lots of high school parties. At one point I was grounded because of driving lots of drunk people at like three in the morning when I was sixteen. I hadn’t been drinking. While I was grounded, my mother gave me a book, as she is an avid reader.
This book was fiction and written by a Christian. In this book, the author clearly explained how a certain character in the book was impacted by Christ and the holy spirit working in her life. I remember just saying “Yes” to God in my basement and feeling his presence fill the room and a conversation between us began that hasn’t stopped to this day. (You can read more about this subject here.)
God continues to help me. How to respond in my marriage, how to view the mistakes of my past, what decisions I should make concerning how I live my life. He is the peace within me, and his love is my breath. He continues to remind me of my value and my worth. I have fallen in love and he continues to show me how to love myself and love others. The end–or actually–just the beginning. 🙂
I have been thinking about writing this one for a week or so but haven’t been getting around to it. It’s not a topic I feel qualified to write about but I want to share my journey in relation to the topic.
At one time in my life when I was steeped very much within an extremely religious culture there were a lot of very good things and a lot of bad things that were unnecessary. Judgement was one of these topics. ‘God is your judge.’ ‘You will be judged.’ ‘He will judge the thoughts and intents of your heart well beyond your outward physical actions.’ ‘Your place in heaven for all eternity will be based off your ability to obey (successful religious performance, absence from things that appear ‘worldly’). ‘You (and most people) will experience the weeping and gnashing of your teeth because of all you have wasted in this life by not living 100% obeying holy spirit all the time.’ ‘If you relax, you are being lazy spiritually and will be pruned like a dead branch only good for burning.’ ‘Why aren’t you healing people miraculously. Jesus died to give us that. You should be. You’re not living up to your calling. You will regret that in eternity. God would show how much your close to him by signs and wonders. If you aren’t seeing that, you’re failing.’
I got a little off topic toward the end of this list, veering into believers of God walking in the ability to perform miracles but for me, it all stems back down to the point where you will stand face to face with God and what we believe this interaction and accountability will be like for our lives. There was a point where I carried great fear of this pending day. It was a real fear and it stifled joy. There are some who believe this is wisdom and good for living. That it is appropriate and should be taught. For them, they believe that the cause for fear is real.
I still had images of passing through fire, where everything that isn’t eternal gets burned up, and there unfortunately, because I know me, very little, if anything, remains. And of course, because I know me, I would get stuck on some distant dark shore of heaven only being able to see the light of Jesus on the horizon. Finally taking the place I deserve, I made it in, but barely. For eternity.
It’s so sad. I think many religious people carry thoughts like this around in the back of their heads but wouldn’t necessarily articulate them or even recognize them as they pass through their mind. I think this one sole issue of our imagination of God’s judgement of us sometimes is the single motivator towards religious works. Fear keeps the hamster wheel spinning.
What Can Save Us from God?
Wheeeww. It’s getting pretty heavy in here, even as I write this! I really do believe the news of heaven is good news, not bad news that should be good news if we get this life right. I really do think that the things that make our heart leap and dance and get excited are whispers of the heaven that is home inside us. God really is nicer than the nicest person you’ve ever met, and kinder than the kindest. He is gentler than the gentlest, and more understanding than the person that’s understood you most. Humans across the board only stand on one ground, the ground of forgiveness, there are no religious superstars that skipped that step on the way to their ‘best-buds’ seat in heaven. God sees us all as his children. He dreamed of each one of us. He created us. He knew us before we were even born. Maybe we knew each other then too, 😉
Fortunately God intervened and delivered me from lies about himself that I had interpreted from either scriptures or teachers, whether the intent to cause this reaction within me was there or not.
God brought me back to relationship. I had a relationship with him at the time. I interacted with him in my heart and he with me as I lived my life. He brought up the scenario in my head. “Am I kind to you today and you think that one day many days from now, after you pass from this world, my character is going to change in my relationship to you and I’m going to point out all your flaws, weakness, mistakes, and failures. And not only that, but you imagine that on that future day I will finally release this anger I have been holding towards you, because I finally am completely honest with you? What kind of friendship is that? Don’t the humans around you love you better than that? Do they love you better than I do? Then I will?
Now I believe God is so good I can’t wrap my brain around it. Do you understand that goodness is most displayed in God’s seat of judgement?!? When God is justified in punishment–there’s the word–punishment. God The Punisher, the devil’s favorite lie. Yes, God the father in heaven is waiting to… punish you? Was Jesus waiting on the cross just hoping for the day he could punish the very people who were unjustly murdering him in torment? What was his judgement of them? Forgiveness. Where can we escape God’s presence? Not even in the depths of hades. Love will be there. In God’s role as judge he cannot turn off being the essence of love. And I don’t mean a perverted form of love where he delights in seeing someone being tortured. Even on earth no one would say that type of person is full of anything but the devil.
In some ways I see Jesus bearing ALL our sin, receiving ALL our punishment, taking ALL of the curse upon himself, undoing ALL that Adam did in the garden, as God’s introduction handshake with humanity. Hello, this is who I am, this is what I possess within me to redeem your choices, this is how I feel about you, this is my character, this is my nature. Hello, it’s okay, I made you and I’m here. I’m not leaving, I’m not going anywhere. Nothing separates us, you don’t have to hide here. I love you.
God Saved Us From Everything But His Judgement
Some people get really touching when you threaten their beliefs about judgement. As if in the absence of the threat of future suffering, our new hearts and minds in Christ will grow depraved and corrupt. This is not true my friends. Welcome to the taste of true freedom outside fences of fear that have kept some from feeling the full effects of salvation. Fear is sad when you see people hold onto it, as if it originated within love.
I could go on and on I feel but I will start to close here because who reads blogs that are even this long anyway?? I will leave you with this. Love expressed itself in forgiveness. Forgiveness really means forgiveness! In true forgiveness, your old stuff isn’t brought up anymore. ever. It’s not held against you. You don’t have a tallying punch card. It’s not shoved in your face. It’s not used as a tool for power or shaming you. It’s forgotten. Like it never happened. Like you can really let it go. Like you can learn from your experiences without holding on to ANY of the negative effects of sin on your relationship with God or your relationship with yourself. Have faith in your forgiven-ness. Experience the miracle of no longer punishing yourself or fearing future punishment from God. God’s goodness is not bound by time or space, or the confines of your poor choices. Your troubles are not to hard for him to love you through. Poor choices ARE NOT FUN TO LIVE THROUGH.
The preaching of threats and fear may have intended to produce sinless living, in attempt to help out God in the advancement of his kingdom, but one thing it never produced was a greater love for his character, his person, his nature. Is obedience based on threats true relationship? He is altogether trustworthy with all of you. All of your emotions, your thoughts, your relationships, in all of your past, all of your present, and especially–ALL of your future, including any day called “judgement day”. I don’t think God was joking when he said ‘nothing can separate you from My love’–as if the only exception here is his own judgement of you?!
Experiencing Our Choices
Leaving you with my concluding topic, one thing I do expect to experience in heaven is the full comprehension of how my life affected those around me. This includes my lack of care and consideration for others. I don’t carry this as a weight or fear but just as a reality I will understand in the future. I will understand how my judgment of others felt, how my negative words affected them, how my choice of myself over them felt, etc. You get the idea.
This reality is judgement enough. Other people’s experiences are real and are valuable. I will understand how my life affected the people I love around me and even the people I love less for some reason. This truth motivates me to live with an awareness to let God live through me; he cares, he gives, he understands, he is patient. It reminds me what’s important about being alive. My choices matter. Sometimes if there is something being said about someone else in a negative way, I can feel that person’s presence when they will hear what’s been said about them in future. Like everything we say about others will one day be heard by them.
I can trust that even this future process of understanding and knowing more, is for my good! I actually think living in community where communication is regular and intentional helps us grow in a similar way here on earth because we are forced to confront and experience the consequences of our own words and actions on a daily basis which naturally fosters the growth of our ability to love others and ourselves when done in an open, honest, and safe environment.
I esteem the life of God in others and to the best of my ability at the time, seek to enjoy their company and share in our freedom together. When freedom is celebrated, it displays the love that lives inside of us. When lies of our own false judgements of others takes root within us, love remains unexpressed, hidden in darkness. Getting to love others is a delight and an opportunity, and is neither a burden nor a scorecard. God is not burdened by his relationship with you. There is Grace like an unending ocean in this classroom of life as we learn to grow in love. (Which is not growing in my ability to hold grudges and punishing people for not obeying me and tormenting them. Which is what we imagine God does in his relationship with them or us–one day.)
We will get to see God apart from the lies about him we hold in our hearts, and we will get to see one another apart from the lies we believe about each other. AWESOME!
One more thought. Some people think that the God I’m painting with words here is weak. What about the God of Anger, Wrath, Power, and Full Control? A man who talks with his child instead of just using his fists is stronger. A man who doesn’t lose his temper with his wife is stronger. A man who forgives over holding grudges is stronger. The greatest strength is displayed in Mercy.
A God that teaches us to love our enemies, really love them, is not pushing us to do something beyond his own capacity to love as he sits there and judges and wants to punish his enemies. It’s not just a ministry strategy. It really is what he’s like. Those who do the same are like his family because he really does love his enemies! He loves them.
Now I really am stopping there! I haven’t solicited invitations for comments before but am tempted to do so now. Share with me what your thoughts are below!
I’m not going to be talking about prayer in groups or at meetings. Just you and invisible other party. Welcome to the land of our imaginations. This wonderful, mysterious, curious place within our minds that absolutely no one else can see. Sometimes words are the form of communication that is seen or heard in our minds. There are endless other ways we communicate internally, feelings, physical sensations, pictures, colors, actual scene sequences, actual memories, our skewed memories viewed through feelings, songs, sounds, melodies, listening, waiting, just being, imaginary future conversations or interactions, premonitions, out of body experiences, dreams, waking thoughts, and a plethora I’m sure I have no idea about or haven’t mentioned here.
All of the above listed experiences communicate something about ourselves and God, back and forth with one another, God experiencing everything our internal spirit experiences, with us. Immanuel, God with us, not just here on earth, but inside our very selves. Our spirit is one with God’s spirit. Everything encompassed in this communion I would consider as “prayer,” others use the terms like meditation or spirituality.
God’s kingdom is gloriously unseen. It’s not at a place that has GPS coordinates. This is wonderful, because instead, it is everywhere. No matter what dirty hole in the earth a person finds themselves in, there God is fully alive within them. No matter about the people around us or circumstances, there, in all his fullness, is God’s beautiful self abiding in our hearts. Sometimes we have a harder time remembering this or experiencing it when we get distracted with ourselves, our performance, our strivings, our failures, and we believe lies about ourselves or the God that lives inside of us. But this never the less, makes all of the above no less true. The fullness of God lives within you. How awesome is that!
The first step in prayer is getting past our own religious performance involved with our interaction with God. God’s kingdom I imagine is a lot more like a children’s outdoor jungle gym than a church service. Modesty and restraint are not necessarily going to help us here. I would say the beginning of prayer is basically being completely and 100% honest with this God that lives inside us and this also involves 100% honest with ourselves. This concept sounds easier than it seems. Our minds are filled with justifications and self-perceptions that sometimes aren’t true. But no mind, moving forward.
Honesty with ourselves and God is just the foundation of relationship. Prayer is simply relationship. This does not exclude asking things and communicating needs, but involves so much more. God watches movies with you, rides bikes with you, cooks dinner with you, rides in the car with you. God lives with us! I enjoy expressing my feelings and verbalizing my questions and frustrations with God. When I intentionally chose to share life with him is often when I also get to enjoy his participation in mine. God will communicate love to however you are open to receiving it. He will tell you he loves you and he is with you daily.
Maybe you are more a picture person, or a word person, or feeling person, but when you engage with God in your imagination it may be unseen but it is possibly more real than any relationship you have living in these tents of flesh called bodies. Engage with God and have fun with him. He wants to set you free of your fears but he also wants to make you laugh. He is a gentleman and will not force you to engage with him, but he is looking forward to every moment you do. Love is the great mystery of our inner world with God, his kingdom of beauty and strength inside of us. He loves to respond to all that you offer himself of you.
Kindness is one of the most powerful tools in God’s kingdom. It has the ability to pierce even the darkest places with bright light and cross any cultural or language barrier. It is the tangible manifestation of love. If any other expression of love is given to you, but this is one thing is withheld, do you believe it?
My only regrets in life are when some inner judgement of another or an offense by them has caused me to justifiably (so I thought) withhold kindness from someone or some group of people. And continually I am humbled and shown God’s love for those very people and again my heart humbles itself to agree with heaven towards them.
Random acts of kindness towards strangers are beautiful and powerful, but what about also choosing to be kind even when we are being yelled at by someone we love, or have been misjudged by friends, or are being shunned by those closest to our hearts? What if we never forsook kindness in our marriages? Or our parenting?
Kindness is the only thing that matters. This is what lingers with people, this is what hearts recognize from eternity when they experience it. Sometimes kind people are also not given a lot of recognition. For instance, cold and aloof people appear can appear more powerful or popular. Sometimes kind people don’t demand or command attention. But these people, the kind ones, are the wealthiest people on the planet. They posses a self-love that is genuine and therefore have an undiminished supply of love to share, whether others appreciate it or not, or whether it is reciprocated or not.
True kindness is never earned. Kindness is only kindness when it is unconditional. It especially shines the brightest when the recipient of it is underserving. These moments are our greatest opportunities in life to shine. You possess something that changes lives. You possess something humans were made to experience daily and that heaven never forsakes.
Never let kindness leave you… proverbs 3:3
Some of the most encouraging instances in my life were when I was hard on myself and someone, despite myself being unpleasant, was relentlessly kind to me causing me to dare to believe again that I was worthy of the love they were showing me. True kindness, I believe, is one of the most attractive features of any human being. It exudes inner peace, confidence, and grace, whose impact is often beyond description.
Choose to be kind today. Any arguments of reason in our minds placing ourselves in a position of withholding kindness from someone are false and we are compromising our own inner dignity and strength when we do this. Choose kindness while you still can, you will not regret it. It is the very nature of the king of this kingdom. This is the very expression of himself. Jesus, the Kind One. Where you find kindness, there you have found him.
He keeps turning my eye here. I try to focus on other things in this world or his kingdom and he keeps pointing me to this thing called happiness, this thing called Joy. Perhaps the wide road is the one of worry, fear, anxiety and frustration and the narrow road of heaven we’re actually invited to traverse upon could just be the road of trust, peace, contentment, love, rest and joy.
Joy somehow sparkles with glory and a supernatural existence; it is a gift of heaven without limit and often overlooked. Joy has a lowly state. It is often seen as ignorance or immaturity. Serious, urgent things are looked upon with esteem and great importance. But Joy is not news. It is not urgent. It does not fight for power. Joy is meek and unassuming. It is persistent and unexpected, playful and a welcomed guest.
There are things we must chose to not give attention to in order to participate in Joy. We must look away from the fears of our own condition and any worries ahead. We must turn away from decisions gone awry behind us. Joy requires us, or allures us rather to be entirely present once again. We must let go of performance in it’s company. It is participation with someone wholly other than ourselves. A different source from which this magical river flows; Jesus’ side.
It is God’s expressed desire for our Joy to be full, not finding lack in our experience of this wonderful gift of heaven. But the realist would ask, what is Joy’s purpose? How is it productive or long lasting? Joy is a fruit to be enjoyed, not to be made into a gadget for a machine to use. It’s expression is as purposeful as the beauty of a flower. It is meant to be enjoyed.
The treasure map to finding joy is clearly shown in scripture. Psalm 16 says the fullness of Joy is found in God’s presence. Everlasting pleasure is found at his right hand. Not on this earth or in a thing or an activity or a person, but in God’s company. His nearness, his friendship. Where can you find his will for your emotions? In the goodness, safety, commitment and gladness of himself!
So many things can happen in life that deter our hearts from this child-like track. Perceived failures, tragic losses, disappointed expectations, and hurtful betrayal are just to name a few. The eternal part of joy is that we don’t derive it from what we see around us, what people are saying, or doing. We derive it from his presence within us. It is truly powerful and absolutely unassailable. Nothing has truly threatened or will ever be able to take away this gift of Joy that has been given to us through Christ Jesus. He has overcome everything that claims to have overcome his presence in your walk with him in this life. His Joy is yours. His Joy is mine. And it endures.
Self-love is necessary to the Joy-in-full as given to us in Jesus. When we realize how we are forgiven by him and we choose to then forgive ourselves of every shortcoming and mistake we perceive we walk in or we’ve made, we begin to have permission to love ourselves again which ushers in inner peace. Many fears are actually a fear of punishment by God for our transgressions, now or later. That there is a God who is mad and will inflict suffering upon us for our lack of obedience or performance consistency. We then, in turn, hold ourselves to inner standards that we perceive God does. I shouldn’t have done x, y, and z. I should be doing this. I should be less like…myself. And there lies the endless cycle of I’m not good enough as I am.
Christ has come not to change you so he can start to like you, but in fact, reveal to you your value and worth that you yourself cannot destroy, damage, or take away. God’s kingdom–he–continually speaks dignity, self-worth, value, and significance in who you are, apart from the decisions you’ve made. You cannot undo your likeness of him. You are God’s child and he is your father that loves you and is proud of you. He laughs at my mistakes more than I give myself permission to and he understands our thoughts and motives at this point in our journey more than we understand ourselves. God gives me far more grace than I give myself and he is challenging me, growing me in consistently loving myself well, despite my perceived shortcomings.
He speaks this way. “Remember the verse about forgiving other people 70 x 7? That refers to my way, my nature.” That he operates like that with us. “Well I want you to forgive yourself the same way. 70 x 7. Without limit, without measure. Forgive yourself, rather than accuse yourself. Let things go and operate within my love that covers and forgives. Lean into grace.”
He continues with, “Remember that verse about nothing in heaven or earth can separate you from my love? No angels, no demons, no trial, no suffering?” “Well I want the love you carry for yourself to be just as indestructible as my love is for you. That is never waiver or falter. You have my permission to give yourself approval at all times, rather than disapproval.”
God’s spirit will always guide us into taking care of ourselves, insides and out because he is your creator and has given you this gift of life and he knows its value and how much it is a journey of experience with him that is a gift. Anything that cuts down, or discourages your personality, your expression, your gifts, your life, your freedom are quite possibly not from your father who delights in you as you.
Mission minded people sometimes think: I will serve God by loving other people. But we can only really love people to the capacity we have received God’s love for ourselves. You count just as much in God’s aim of love upon this earth amongst all of humanity. That God’s kingdom of peace and joy and love endure and reign within our own hearts. Permission to love ourselves fully and completely again through the eyes of Christ, this is what I call self-love, agreeing with God that he says we are lovely.
Some believers are quick to expect God’s rebuke but they never hear God’s romance. We don’t allow ourselves to hear it, because we don’t believe it’s true or because we don’t believe we deserve it. That’s a lie. God is in love with you and he wants you to give you permission to love yourself again too.