This is Day 10 of 31 Days of Hope-filled Living. To start over with Day 1, click here.
God remembers those in need. Though they might feel disappointed today, their hopes will one day come to reality.
– Psalm 9:18
Yahweh, you have heard the desires of the humble and seen their hopes. You will hear their cries and encourage their hearts. GOD, you’ve taken notice of these small, hopeful people. Even when they cry out in need, you’ll hear them and answer.
– Psalm 10:17
There is hope for the oppressed and needy
The mere idea that the Maker of the Stars would listen to the cries of the needy is humbling. Twice in one verse, the Psalmist repeats that God hears the desires and hopes and needy cries, and that He will answer. This was a big deal in Bible times, just as it is today.
The Hebrew word for “oppressed” in Psalm 10:17 is the word anav, which means poor, afflicted, humble, meek. In the Bible, we see God labeling these people together with the oppressed: widows, orphans, poor & needy, heavy-burdened, strangers/foreigners/immigrants, prisoners, sick/afflicted, weak, destitute/homeless, and victims of violence. God saw, heard, and listened to the cries of these people. He was not unmoved.
Today we see the same kinds of oppression and the people who suffer it all around us. God hears their cries and He is moved to compassion with action for justice. We see it in every ally who stands up to defend the oppressed, bring justice to the defenseless, and provide generously for the needy. We see God working through people who care for one another. He is not unmoved.
But it does get hard sometimes, doesn’t it? Hopelessness sets in as we see an endless stream of oppression in every direction, if we open our eyes and hearts. Ecclesiastes 7:7 says, “Surely oppression drives the wise into madness,” and who among us isn’t mad from the oppression piled high as the sky, like bodies piled next to redwoods.
I read recently that the proliferation of men who abuse women has made an entire society numb to this violence. We don’t even see the oppression. We don’t hear the cries of the oppressed.
“For women and men involved in the battered women’s or rape crisis movements, especially those who deal daily with victims, convincing people—especially men—of the urgency of the situation may appear to belabor the obvious. Doesn’t everyone already realize how big a problem this is? Don’t they know there are survivors in their own families? Well, not necessarily. A lot of people cannot face the ugly reality—or don’t want to. It is important to remember that coming to terms with the extent of the problem can be disorienting, and profoundly disruptive. As a man, once you are aware of the degree to which women suffer from gender violence and all forms of sexism, you can’t simply go about your business and pretend everything is fine. You have to do something about it, or else risk losing your self-respect. This is where denial comes in. Denial is a tried and true method of coping with disruptive, traumatic, or discomforting information; it is much less painful than facing the truth. Not to mention that many Americans are so desensitized by repeated exposure to violence of all kinds—in their own lives, on the news, and in the popular culture—that denial isn’t even necessary.”
– Jackson Katz in The Macho Paradox
And so maybe we’ve felt the madness as wise people who are surrounded by oppression in a culture of fools who deny and are desensitized to it. Maybe it’s gotten painfully maddening to look at the women around us who are brutalized, or the homeless that line the streets in tents, or the orphans on the streets longing for someone to accept them for who they’ve chosen to be. Maybe we’ve lost some hope that God even hears our own cries of suffering above the cacophony of the oppressed.
Let me be the one to remind you today, Beloved Friend—God is here and He is listening. This verse is true, I know it. I see Him rescuing the orphan today as my husband shows me the photos and tells me to pick one to sponsor. I hear him comforting the cries of the battered sister as she is set free from her abuser. I see Him providing freedom to the sex slave through organizations and restoration homes around the world. I hear Him sending ambassadors like me into prisons to give encouragement and love to men and women behind bars. And I feel Him listening to my prayers and answering them over and over on behalf of the oppressed.
I am not forgotten. You are not forgotten. She is not forgotten. Remember that God sent a messenger through space and time to tell you about His love, and because you are reading these words, He reminds you to hold onto hope today. To hold onto the One who holds you, for He hears you.
Hope How-to: I know it’s hard to keep your faith when oppression prevails all around you. It gets tempting to believe that maybe God doesn’t really care. The times when I face this most is when I’m disengaged from participating in fighting for justice for the oppressed, when I’ve failed to help or give or speak. The truth is, God works most often THROUGH His kids and His Church and through people who care enough to take action. Why? I think it’s because He wants us to have the joy of bringing justice with Him. He wants to share the happiness that comes with generosity. Today, reflect on one or more things you can do to cooperate with God on behalf of serving the oppressed in your community. Can you donate time or money to a battered women’s shelter? Can you sponsor rescue for sex slaves? Can you sponsor food, clothing, and schooling for the poor? And the next time you’re feeling like you’re the oppressed one, remember how much God cared for the ones He allowed you to help. He loves you. He hears you. He listens to your cries.
Prayer: Oh, God. We are overwhelmed, and even sometimes numb to the oppression we witness and experience. I pray for my reader, Lord, and ask that you would speak to her heart in Your unfailing lovingkindness. Remind her that You are not only the Maker of the Stars, but a God who listens and cares. You hear her cries and you send compassion and help through her to others and through others to her. Remind us all of the hope we have in You and in Your justice. Even if we don’t see Justice now, we know there will come a day for it. Help us to trust You and recognize your work in our world. Show us how to not only pray for Your will on earth as it is in Heaven, but to cooperate with You in the ways we can make it come to be. Amen
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… and our attraction to following aggressive leaders.
There’s a podcast blowing up among church circles called The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, and if you haven’t listened yet, please come out from under that rock, my Friend.
Usually I find it wise to keep a lot of opinions about controversial issues to myself unless I think that sharing my opinion could be helpful, and that rule counts double online. So, please know my intentions and my disclaimers and my background before you read further:
I want you to know why this is an important message to hear.
I believe many of the lessons learned the hard way can be beneficial for all of us so that we don’t repeat them.
I am guilty of riding this train.
I’m ashamed and mortified that I once wished my church-planter pastor husband would lead and preach just like Mark Driscoll. Cue all the dead emojis. I’m blessed and grateful that the church I am a part of, where my husband is the co-leader and they are both humble men of integrity, is a place where there is a network of accountability and where we don’t value “growth” at all costs. We believe in serving our community and in shining Jesus’s light of hope to our city, but we are far from perfect, so please don’t assume I’m saying that.
I can admit that though Driscoll was found to be and continues to be a perpetrator of spiritual abuse without genuine repentance, he was also the founder of a movement that reached souls with the Gospel message of Jesus and saw transformed lives by what I believe has been the power of the Holy Spirit, and I don’t pretend to understand why God does things like that.
I think there is an underlying problem with WHAT WE DESIRE IN A LEADER, not just with some of these problematic leaders.
I don’t think I have all of the answers, and I’m looking forward to listening to the rest of the episodes (supposed to be 6 more for a total of 12) in order to find more questions to ask and hopefully more lessons to learn.
I believe in BALANCE and NUANCE. No one in this situation or any is completely evil, and while we can look back on abuse and misuse of power, that doesn’t mean God was not at work, or that good things didn’t happen at Mars Hill. I believe the podcast does a great job of keeping this truth in tension. My opinion about the bottom line: sometimes the ends (salvations, and especially “church growth”) do NOT justify any and every means, especially when those means include corruption, abuse, and misuse of spiritual power. Especially because those salvations can sometimes end up in a soul abortion, and that church growth can subsequently end up in a complete collapse of the church and people walking away from God for good. Those are often the ends in the end, and therefore do not justify any means.
There are so many themes we could cover, and I want to do more posts about this podcast as more episodes are released, as well as on the subject matter of church leadership and toxic evangelicalism in the future, but for today I’m going to stick to two main things on my heart that I think are worth sharing with you, Reader. The first is what I believe to be self-evident, and I’ll be brief. The second is something I’m not hearing directly, but that I’ve been thinking for the past few years.
FIRST: Church leaders need to be careful that their charisma does not take them to platforms with influence so wide that the foundation of their character, experience, network of accountability, and education cannot support.
Mark Driscoll, the lead pastor of Mars Hill for almost 20 years (1996-2014) committed many atrocities of what I would define as aggression, misogyny, bullying, generalized spiritual abuse, as well as abuse of power. There were others around him who not only gave him a pass in these areas, but platformed him BECAUSE he was this way. He was not educated in any accredited seminary, as far as I know, and was a self-ordained pastor “so that he could do weddings and funerals.” He was building a movement and speaking at church leadership conferences after just one (1) single year as a church planter under his trendy, studded grunge belt. He had not developed the character traits of humility, integrity, or diplomacy required to lead the large and diverse organization he led. These are my conclusions, based on listening to him back in the mid 2000’s, reading some of his books and blogs written about him, and listening to the long-form journalism from Christianity Today in the podcast. If you have a different conclusion after similar research, I’d like to hear it. If you haven’t yet done these things, I’d encourage you to do so because there is a lot we can learn about leadership, character, and platform that will help us do better as God’s kids who do life together.
SECOND: The problem was/is not only with these charismatic, narcissistic, powerful leaders, but in WHAT WE AS FOLLOWERS DESIRE in a leader.
How was it that an entire church network of over 15,000 people and millions of online followers (including myself for a time) followed such a leader for so long, despite these obvious character flaws? I don’t think it is exclusively due to poor leadership, but misguided followership, which is not sufficiently taught, emphasized, or guided in our culture. I’ve been saying for years that our western culture places far too much emphasis on developing powerful leaders, and not enough emphasis on the importance of developing effective followers. In America, everyone is trying to be an influencer and a leader, gain followers, but no one values followership or teamwork more than just as a number on the top of their social media account. I could write a book on good followership, and maybe someday I will, but for now the warning is this: We are drawn to follow and prop up a bully because we falsely believe he can protect us from our (often imaginary) fears, and we put up with it when he turns that domineering charisma on us, which results in abuse.
Now, before you think I’m victim blaming here, look at my face. I don’t think anyone that Mark abused is to blame for the situation, but I do think we ALL need to take a hard look at the kinds of leaders we are attracted to and why. Because if we are to turn things around and avoid some of these casualties, especially in the Church, I really think it will require some introspection about what we’re attracted to, what we’re drawn to, and what we are craving. Some people think this leadership style or personality is a “virtue of strength,” but it is NOT the strength I see demonstrated by Jesus or His Father. I think it’s for this similar attraction that women choose abusers to marry and stay with them far longer than they should. I think it’s this same attraction that made millions of Christians vote for a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women on tape and who graced the cover of magazines that worship sex or money, not Jesus. And I think this attraction is causing men and women alike to flock to this brash, aggressive, narcissistic bully personality in droves, only to realize that the person they hoped would protect them from a false enemy is now turning that aggression around on them. The fact that all red flags are being ignored is in itself the red flag.
The fact that all red flags are being ignored is in itself the red flag.
Please, Friends. Choose more wisely who you follow. Hop off that bandwagon before you get caught in a web with no easy exit.
We saw the failure of willful blindness on the part of the Mars Hill staff and lay leadership. Whether in the moment or in retrospect, they realized that instead of elevating God or meeting the needs of the members or even the needs of the community at large, most everything they did revolved around promoting and benefitting Driscoll alone, and propping him up became synonymous with the mission of church growth. Which rings familiar with something I heard our former president say in that whatever was good for him was good for the nation, and to protect his reputation was equal to protecting the United States. He also claimed “I alone can fix it” after describing all that he saw wrong with America. My warning here, Friends: It is dangerous FOR YOURSELF to put any person in the place where only God should be. Not only will they fall off that pedestal that YOU have placed them on, but they will tear you down painfully in the process of their fall. If you find yourself attracted to this kind of leader, beware! It is not the leadership Jesus modeled and it is not the place any person should hold in your heart or mind.
I want to leave you with a careful warning from a rarely-read passage in the Bible. In the book of Zechariah, the minor prophet recounts the days when God’s people returned from a disciplinary season of exile in a country called Babylon, where they were enslaved, killed, and abused at the hands of people who were known to be brutal aggressors. As they set up a humble leader named Zerubbabel, who was entitled to a royal authority but took the title of governor instead of king, God spoke this important clue for their hopeful and good future:
“It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”
– Zechariah 4:6
How about you? Have you listened to the podcast yet? If so, what are your reactions and thoughts? Why do you think people continue to follow people (men?) with this kind of personality? What do you think the Bible has to say about it? If not, why not? I’d love to hear more from you!
This is Day 7 of 31 Days of Hope-filled Living. To start over with Day 1, click here.
“I wait for the Lord. My soul waits and I hope in His Word.My soul waits for the Lord more than one who watches for the morning; yes, more than one who watches for the morning.O Israel, hope in the Lord! For there is loving-kindness with the Lord. With Him we are saved for sure.”
– Psalm 130:5-7
God’s Word is a treasure chest of hope
The beginning of this Psalm is a man in anguish. Despair and apparently sin left the author (likely David or Solomon) doing some soul searching and some God-searching. In order to strengthen his soul, he reminds himself in song that even in the deepest darkness, hope can be found in God. In verse five, the Hebrew word for Word is dabar, which means word, speech, matter, or thing. Essentially, stuff from God. In other words he’s saying,
“I’m feeling terribly depressed about my life and my choices, but I’m waiting on God’s help and putting my trust in godly stuff to help me feel better and do better.”
“The great test of faith is to wait on God . . . not expecting to push a button and get whatever we want now.”
– A.W. Tozer
It’s become a cheesy Christian-ese trope to say “wait on God and trust in His Word” but that doesn’t make it untrue or unbiblical. I wish I could push that imaginary “get what I want now” button Tozer mentions, but I can’t. I’ve had to wait for just about everything I ever wanted. Now, finally in my 40s, I’m finding some results coming to pass that I’ve prayed years for, believing and trusting and doing my part to try to be faithful. I’m talking about stuff I’ve asked God for since I was a teenager. And there’s also a whole lot of prayers I’m still waiting on God to answer. I have a feeling it will be several more years.
Waiting is tough on the old hope muscle, isn’t it? The Bible even says in Proverbs that hope deferred makes a heart sick. But waiting also makes hope strong, if we’re leaning into God’s promises in His Word. Because He is faithful. And when, after waiting, we find that His promises have come to pass, our own faith grows, as does our hope that He will show up for us with the same faithfulness again in our future.
I remember a span of about three years when my son was an infant and toddler that he struggled with painful ear infections month after month. It seemed like just as he was getting over one, another one would start, along with his pain-filled cries that lasted through nearly every night. I begged God to heal him for the better part of those three years, seemingly to no avail. I wondered how I could twist Jesus’s arm into letting my baby boy off the hook of suffering, or at least to let me bear it for him. Only to be met with another ear infection the following month. That waiting was hard. There are few things more difficult in life than helplessly watching your child suffer. Eventually, he had surgery to insert tubes and God also showed me some natural solutions to prevent and address the susceptibility in his ears. I discovered God as a healer in a fresh and hugely faith-building way. And I found His comfort in the moment for Josiah, and for me as well. I called Him out on His promises to heal my baby, just as He called me out on my part to wait for His timing, plan, and comfort to arrive.
Have you been there, Reader? Are you there right now? When you’re waiting on the answer to a prayer, hope is stretched thin. The strong rope that once bound you to faith in Jesus now feels like a thread that could snap any moment while the waiting drags on. But you’re not alone, Dear One. The Psalmist had to put his hope in God-stuff, in His Word. He had to wait for the promise to arrive without a magical “give-it-to-me-now” button too. And I know how precarious hope can get when it feels like things will never get better and the answer will never arrive. Allow the faith of others to buoy you up above the waves of hopelessness today. Waiting is hard, but so is weight-training. They both give you strong muscles, though one is for your spirit, and the other is for your body.
Hope How-to: What have you been waiting for in prayer for a long time? How does it affect your emotions or your faith when you realize that you have to keep waiting for it? When it comes to God’s Word, are there any Bible stories or verses that encourage you to keep going when you want to give up? Talk to God with your voice or your pen & journal about what you’re waiting for and what it truly feels like to have to keep waiting. Be honest; He wants that. Then take that Bible reference and put it somewhere you’ll see it every day: on your steering wheel or the refrigerator or your bathroom mirror. Let God’s Word strengthen your faith, hope, and ability to wait a little bit longer, because the answer is truly on the way.
Prayer: Oh, Father, I come before you today on behalf of my Reader and I ask that You would speak a specific and special Word to her spirit that will sustain her hope. Please give her strength to wait as long as she needs to for your promises to come to pass. Thank you for sending your Son to become a human so that we can now have an advocate on Your right hand who understands how hard it is to wait, and how easy it is to let hope fade. Bless my Reader today with words, speech, and matters from Your heart to hers. Show her a fresh vision of what You have in store that will revive her hope once more. Your Word is precious, Lord; it is a chest full of Your treasures and love. It is a demonstration of Your faithfulness, and if You showed up for Your kids before, we know You can do it again. Thank you, Father.
If you’re enjoying these posts about hope, I’d be honored if you would share them on your social media or in a friend’s inbox. Who knows, maybe God wants to use these words to give someone else a little more hope today too.
One upon a time, about a decade ago, I lost my way. I’d been struggling to find solid ground while balancing too many spinning plates. Picture “Cat in the Hat” precariously teetering on that ball, wiggling that fish bowl atop the rising stack of umbrellas and books. After a particularly heartbreaking disappointment, on top of discouragement and confusion and difficulty in what seemed like a hundred circumstances, I sat beside a river in Colorado and threw a knock-down, drag-out temper tantrum with God. I was knocked down and He had to drag me out of there.
“This is NOT good, I shouted to the emptiness. And You promised me good. Are you even good? Are you even there?”
I’m so glad that my God welcomes hard and challenging questions, aren’t you? Sometimes the Church isn’t so great at that, but at least He is.
Several minutes passed in silence. The river’s trickle the only sound. He didn’t respond.
I wrote it in my journal and swiped away a flood of tears, sniffing back the congestion building in my sobs. After what seemed like a very long time, my crying slowed to a trickle.
And then I heard Him, tender and strong. “I define GOOD, because I invented it. And I made you, so I get to decide what’s good for you. I know you don’t feel good now, but you’ll see. This is good.”
It would be several years later when I would understand. The person I was searching for but didn’t find that day by the river was my dad. We’d been estranged for a long time, and I just wanted to hug him and know he was okay. What I didn’t know was that my dad was still getting his life back together, and that had I found him then, it would have been toxic for us both to try to be in one another’s lives. We might have drowned one another, trying to stay afloat.
Later, once he was stronger, God did let me find my dear ol’ dad in a sweet reunion, and Friend, let me tell you, it was so dang good.
If we were sovereign, we would be God, but we are not, and consequently, we don’t decide.
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
God is able to prevent evil. He withheld and then bestowed permission to Satan to smite Job. He wiped out the entire human race, save Noah, because of how evil it had become with a global flood. He is omnipotent.
He is willing. He rescued an entire race of Jews from an evil pharaoh with a series of 10 plagues. He is not malevolent, and no human is His judge.
He is both able and willing, according to His own definition of “goodness,” which as Creator of all, He has the authority to define. Evil cometh by His sovereign allowance in order to preserve the free will of humans, and in order to demonstrate the difference between good and evil so that the same free will should bend toward Him and away from evil.
He is able to supersede free will and its proclivity to evil, but is not willing to do so. In His love He chooses to allow humans to either reciprocate His love or reject Him for eternity, a decision that we retain for as long as we hold onto mortality. Though He could revoke free will and thereby eradicate evil, He chooses not to. This is why we call Him God.
A lot of people are asking hard questions about God and Church lately, and I don’t think it’s just the people in my sphere. This global pandemic has a lot of us wondering. There’s a new movement of “deconstructing Christianity” and another movement that’s simply “walk away from God” because of one reason or other. Here are a few I’ve heard recently:
The church is corrupt, and I can’t take it.
My pastor is _____ and I just left.
I just want Jesus; Christians are nothing but homophobic hypocrites.
Church culture was harmful to my faith.
Why would I attend church again? I can just watch sermons online.
I want to encourage you, Sweet Reader, to hold on to truth. Before you draw conclusions or make assumptions, go directly to the source and ask the hard questions. Epicurus wasn’t wrong for asking those difficult questions, but he hadn’t gone to the Source to hear the answers. Instead, he drew his own conclusions based on the incomplete philosophical theories of his society.
God IS good, I promise. He IS powerful, I’ve seen it. He DOES love you, I guarantee it.
Today is a special Thursday (when Jesus washed feet and broke bread). Tomorrow is a special Friday (when Jesus took a whip, thorns, and nails into His flesh, then breathed His last). Saturday is a special Sabbath (when Jesus ventured into the deep). Sunday is the most victorious of days (when Jesus breathed once again). What once seemed like the worst tragedy became … you guessed it … good.
So, you’ve got some dirty bath water. Go ahead and toss it. Just be sure to hold on tight to that baby.
If you haven’t already, please add your email to my “subscribe box” so that I can keep sending you hope. I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t think it would benefit you.
(from a message I spoke recently at a women’s event)
Picture a garden of flowers and vegetables next to a yard of grass. Brilliant flowers, succulents, and lovely, green, lush lawn bring a smile to your face when you step outside of your back door.
But, then, when you look closer, you notice a weed. Maybe it’s a broadleaf dandelion, horsetail, colewort, fireweed, spurge, bindweed, or stinging nettle. Even the names of weeds are horrible, aren’t they?
Some have sharp bristles and many cause hay fever.
What happens if you leave that weed in your garden or lawn? It will grow and multiply.
How do you get rid of it? You’ve got to pull it up.
What if you just remove the top of it? It will come back, only worse.
You’ve got to cut around the root, and you can tell whether you’ve got the whole root, or only half of it, can’t you? And if you don’t want those weeds to come back twice as big and three times as many, you’d better make sure you use the right tools to get to the bottom of it, and you’d better make sure you refill that hole with good soil and new grass seed or a flower or a succulent—something that you WANT to be growing there, and not just bare soil.
I’ve got a word for you today, and at the end of it you’ll feel a weight lifted off of you, but in the beginning we need to confront something that will be uncomfortable, so stick with me.
When I asked God for a fresh word, He replied that something needed to be unearthed. Now, I’m not sure what that is in you, Dear Reader—that’s going to be between you and Holy Spirit, and it will be different for each person. What I do know is that just like the results after that weed and root have been removed and replaced with good soil and healthy plants, God has our future benefit in mind when unearthing those things we’ve hidden below the surface of our lives. He is a gentle gardener, and His loving kindness makes any correction, rebuke, or confrontation like a tender kiss. What does proverbs say?
A spoken reprimand is better than approval that’s never expressed.
The wounds from a lover are worth it; kisses from an enemy do you in.
-Proverbs 27:5-6 (Msg)
Jesus is the lover of your soul, so if He needs to give some loving reminders to you today, I want to invite you to open yourself to Him. Let Him into your garden and allow Him to tend to your soul like only He can and wants to.
I want to talk about what you’re hiding that needs to be unearthed.
Think of who we are on Social Media. You only see the pretty parts, right? The happy times, the smiles and travels and gorgeous sunsets. We don’t post our struggles and sins and vulnerable, tender parts. We don’t show the world the soft fleshy parts of our back because we know that’s just where they’d shove their knife if we did. I’m not necessarily encouraging you to air your dirty laundry on Facebook or even suggesting that you need to be more vulnerable there. The internet is a cruel place, full of bullies. It’s not the place for intimacy. Understandably so.
But why do we treat God with the same kind of attitude? Why do we think we can only show Him the pretty and acceptable parts? If we truly trust Him, we need to learn to bare everything before Him, instead of hiding the parts of our hearts that might be shameful or awkward or scary to us, and we assume to Him.
What happens when we try to hide weeds? They just grow bigger and worse. The same is true of what happens when we try hiding our hearts before God. Listen to this verse:
When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.
Psalms 32:3-5 NLT
So, the action step I believe the Lord wants to speak to us is that of making confession a regular part of our prayer life. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not great at this. I’m a valedictorian at hiding my sin from myself, others, and even trying to sweep it under the rug so Jesus won’t notice. I’ve learned to do this from my childhood. My home wasn’t always a happy or peaceful one, and the summer before 4th grade I wanted to move out of my mom’s and into my Dad’s house, but I didn’t know how to communicate my feelings or desires effectively, and I buried my pain and strife so deeply, and I ended up manifesting so much stress that I got a pretty serious case of shingles. (Shingles is a painful, oozing rash, usually brought about by stress activating a dormant virus that affects the nerves and skin.) So, I just want you to know that everything I’m preaching to your soul today, I’m preaching even more to my own soul.
So, let’s talk about what kinds of topics fall under the practice of Confession:
Something hidden from God: resentment against Him or others. Something difficult even for you to admit to yourself. Something you try to ignore or pretend doesn’t exist, but it often festers, growing in the dark like an ugly monster—getting bigger and bigger, forcing you to work harder and harder to try to ignore it.
Sin, unforgiveness, or regret. (Before we go on, let me qualify conviction vs. condemnation. Some people assume more guilt than is true. They have a seared conscience and imagine themselves more harshly judged than they truly are. If a teacher said to the whole class, “Who has put a tack on my chair?” these people would question their own guilt, though it was clearly Bobby, whom they witnessed do so. Their condemnation is not founded, but conjured, based on false guilt. Remember: Condemnation leads to hiding and shame, while Conviction leads to change. I’m probably not talking to you about confessing sin more regularly if you can relate to the kids who watched Bobby put the tack on the teacher’s chair and then feel guilty. You aren’t hiding a sin; you’re hiding behind false shame, but you can confess and be freed of that as well.) Now listen: we all sin daily, and so daily confession of our sin ought to come as easy as giving God our daily gratitude or asking Him our daily requests. How much easier is it if you can recognize a weed from a small sprout, and you spend time every day in your garden pulling out those sprouts? Isn’t that better than ignoring your garden until the weeds are monstrosities that you have to dig huge holes around in order to get to the roots, spreading deeper and wider into the soil, stealing the nutrients and space from the flowers that you WANT to grow? How would your life be different if you learned to recognize, address, and confess your sin daily?
The third thing we can confess, is anything we haven’t yet addressed with Jesus. You can share everything on your mind and heart with Him, even when it feels awkward or scary. Vulnerability with intimacy is the point. Talk to Jesus about absolutely everything. Hold nothing back. Maybe it’s something you want that you’ve never asked Him for because you don’t think you deserve it or don’t know if He’d say yes. Whatever it is, share every part of your heart with Him. That is what He WANTS, and it’s what will benefit you most. Check out my previous post about Heroes and Monsters for a passage about vulnerability and intimacy with Jesus that recently rocked my world.
Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he did for me. For I cried out to him for help, praising him as I spoke. If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But God did listen! He paid attention to my prayer. Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer or withdraw his unfailing love from me.
-Psalm 66:16-20 NLT
God bends His ear to listen to our prayers if and when we are faithful to bring our honest confessions and vulnerability to Him. And though we may expect Him to withdraw His love because of what we confess, the mere act of confession in and of itself, regardless of the horror in the words, turns His attention and affection TOWARD us. Isn’t that just the most beautiful thing you’ve heard all day?
“But if we own up to our sins, God shows that He is faithful and just by forgiving us of our sins and purifying us from the pollution of all the bad things we have done.”
– 1 John 1:9 (VOICE)
Listen, I see a pattern in Scripture: God has a part and we have a part.
My part:vulnerable confession
God’s part in response:
Purify and cleanse me
Listen to my prayers
Forgive and remove all of my guilt
Do you see how God does 98% of the work, but He does ask you to participate, cooperate, and work with Him? That doesn’t mean you’re saved by your own work, but it does mean that you DO have a part when it comes to living out your salvation for life and walking with Jesus closely, intimately, honestly, and truthfully. That’s called a relationship. That’s what our faith is all about.
Prayer: Lord, do your gentle, loving work of unearthing in me. Uncover every part of my heart that I’ve hidden from you, myself, and this world. I give you a welcome invitation to point out the weeds I’ve let grow, be that resentment toward you, sins or mistakes, or even vulnerable intimacy I’ve kept from you out of fear or shame or just not knowing how you would respond. I trust You, help remove my mistrust. I believe You, help my unbelief. Cleanse me, forgive me, change me, renew me, make me into the beautiful new creation you destined me to be, the person who looks more like You, the person who brings you Glory.
Whenever you see a plant or a garden, or your lush, green lawn, let it be a daily reminder to draw near to Jesus in confession, believing in Faith that He WILL respond in loving forgiveness, and that your sin, guilt, shame, awkwardness, barriers to Him will be completely erased and washed away. Weeding is required not just once, but often and regularly. Let God help you make a practice of it, and watch your relationship with Him grow closer and more intimate than it has ever been.
If you’ve been blessed today by visiting my Nest and reading my words, would you do your future self a favor and slip your email into the Subscribe box so that she doesn’t miss any of my posts? I think she’d thank you for it.
Hey, Friend. Thanks for voting on my social media stories. This post won by a slim margin over “Lies the Church Tells about Women” so, we’ll do this one this week and aim to publish that one soon.
A few disclaimers: First, this is by no means an exhaustive list. Let this be the first of many posts like this. These are just the ones I’ve thought of this week. Ha! Second, I’m not doing this for attention. I’m doing this for my sanity and hopefully yours too. ‘Cuz mental health is good, and stuff. Third, I trust you not to weaponize this against me or anyone else. If something shocks you and you need more information, please send me a message or an email. I implore you not use this as fuel for gossip. That’s not what God’s kids do. Or decent people, for that matter. I trust you, Dear Reader.
I’m scared to say these things for a variety of reasons. Some of them are confessions, and confession is always scary. Some of them are fears of people’s reactions if they knew. And some of them stem from a fear I have to be known. Because if you know me, you can hurt me. And if you don’t somehow you can’t. Or at least that’s how my logic goes.
I’m shaking with fear as I say these things, so let us begin, in no particular order, rhyme, or reason …
Christians who are familiar with me probably (no, probably isn’t right, I know they do) criticize me behind my back because of my ideas about politics. And it hurts my feelings.
I want to be an “influencer” on social media, but I’m horrible at it, and because the algorithms and trends are always changing and I hate asking people to constantly lookatme lookatme lookatme, I don’t think I have it in me to acquire this skill which seems so necessary in this era.
The first time I heard the audible voice of God was as a middle-schooler after binging and purging so I could make my wrist as small as Shannon’s, and He said clear as a bell, “This is NOT what I have for you.”
Jesus would be a feminist if He walked on the earth today. No, not the man-bashing bra-burning type, but the gender equality type.
I was molested as a teenager and I forgave my abuser, because he apologized and because I wanted to be free of it.
Somewhere in my past, I hold a handful of months of self-harm, and a handful of scars to go with them. As it turns out, blood talks when words fail.
I know what it feels like to be tempted to drive into a telephone pole and to step too close to the edge of the cliff, and that is one scary monster to run from.
I struggle with low libido, and I don’t know why. I’ve tried many things, and it has nothing to do with my wonderful husband. (Please do not send suggestions, I’m far too shy about this to have a discussion.)
I do not drink alcohol for a few personal reasons, but I do like the taste of beer and wine.
For someone who has always worked from home, I’m not very good at keeping a home, but I wish I was.
I often worry that I’m running out of time to teach my kids the library of treasures I hope they’ll know.
I’m quite opinionated and inwardly judgmental, but I can’t bear it when others are doing the same to me. Yes, I am a raging hypocrite.
I want to be fit and have a beautifully decorated home, but not nearly as much as you do. Or seem to.
I have family members headed for hell and I don’t call them nearly as often as I could.
I want to change the world, but sometimes I just want people to say that they like me or my work.
I’m 42 years old and we’ve been in ministry for over 20 years, and I still don’t know how to keep my feelings from getting hurt when someone leaves our church.
For every disappointment on earth, I’m expecting Jesus to make it up to me in heaven, and I really do think about heaven every day.
Now, you might be wondering why I’m outing myself and saying the scary things. And that’s fair.
Number one, I think the best way to overcome the burden of fear is to face it head-on, and I also have a hunch that, like much of what I write about, I’m not exactly alone. And that maybe if I write the scary truth that you relate to, you won’t feel alone in your own fear. Because being alone in our scary truth leads to feeling more fear and often depression or at least discouragement. No bueno.
Number two, we’re in a season of change. The globe has pandemic adaptation fatigue (and, yes, I am trademarking that diagnosis; if you use it, please quote me, *wink*), and it’s almost New Years, and 2020 has taught us all at least something about ourselves that has produced a change in character and/or perspective. I’m going out on a limb, but I’ll guess that not a single one of us is the same as we were this time last year. One change I’m committed to making is that I want to be a fearless truth-teller. And I can’t be that if I’m holding back these many secrets. It’s not fair to either of us, Reader.
So, there you have it. I’ll invite gentle comments below and I’ll delete rude, insensitive, or inappropriate ones. I’ll also shamelessly beg for these kinds of responses: “me too” , “you’re not alone” , and “this one resonates” …