Over and Over Again

As I get older, I am realizing some things about my salvation. The biggest one is that salvation is not simply a one-time occurrence. It is something that will happen on a day by day basis as I walk in communion with Jesus. Yes, I initially need to have the “Damascus road moment”, where I make the connection between my sin and Jesus the Savior. After that, I do not need re-salvation. But I do need to be saved from my sin, from my shame, from my guilt, from my past, from myself. Way more often than once.

I have spent the 26 years since I got saved trying so hard to save myself. To make God proud that He chose me. And it’s been 26 long, exhausting years. Somehow I have perverted God’s plan into a mixture of part-Gospel, part-self-sufficiency. Maybe it’s because I’m a first-born, but I don’t expect God to come and save me from my failures. I want to pull myself up by my bootstraps, whip myself into shape, conquer that debt myself, take action to work on my gluttony with the newest fad diet, clean up my house to make my life feel like it isn’t in shambles. But you know what? I’m a miserable failure.

And while I have claimed for years that one of my favorite things about this God we serve is that He didn’t just save us and then leave us here to struggle on our own, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Don’t get me wrong— I pray for help. I seek forgiveness for the umpteenth time that I have tried to do things on my own, but I never quite understood why I always felt like such a huge failure.

The enlightening has been life-changing. In a recent message by JT English at The Village Church, the role of the Trinity was defined:

God initiates our salvation. Jesus accomplishes our salvation. Holy Spirit applies our salvation.

Hi, my name is Cara and I’ve been trying to replace the Holy Spirit.

Yes, I believe God initiated my salvation. He gave me the faith to believe. He chose me. I believe Jesus made a way for this to be possible by His sacrifice on the cross. And yes, of course, I “believe” that Holy Spirit is my helper who convicts me of sin, but I thought it was all up to me to apply my salvation: to my diet, my lifestyle, my wardrobe, my housekeeping skills. I felt called to be responsible… to stop praying for things when I knew I just needed to put on my big girl panties and do the right thing. But it never worked out for me. Even in good moments of “success”, it felt empty at best and precarious at worst… precarious because I wondered how long I could keep it up. I know myself too well and began to expect failure.

God has been gracious to allow me to fail. Every. Single. Time. He has been gracious in not freeing me from my food addiction. He has been gracious to allow my child to be strong-willed. He has been loving to allow me to marry a husband who doesn’t know the word “organization.” He has been so, so kind. Because had I been able to conquer all of these things? I wouldn’t have needed Him. I would have completely believed the lie that I was able to apply my salvation to all of these areas all by myself. I would have taken the credit. And I have, in the past. I have given credit to Fitness Pal and books on the market for how to get organized. I have given the credit to my discipline. I have given the credit to my first-born tendencies (eh hem, perfectionist tendencies.) I have given the credit to accountability partners and mentors. (And let’s make this clear: they deserve a LOT of credit!) But ultimately, I left the Spirit out of it altogether.

I am becoming more and more aware of the times I have quenched Him. And more and more aware of how much I need to rely on Him if I want any sustained progress in my Christian life. And one thing that has helped a lot is realizing that I don’t need to have it all figured out RIGHT NOW. I don’t need to be as perfect as I expect myself to be. I don’t need to have everything under control, everything all together.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean that we don’t have problems, or things that urk us, or things that steal our joy. In fact, it’s okay to not be okay, and there is no shame in admitting that. That’s why we all need Jesus. We STILL need Him.

If I were perfect now, what would there be to live for? There would be nothing left to strive for, to attain to. Even Paul (who in my book had it all figured out) said to CONTINUE running the race, to attain the prize. Why do I want to attain it immediately? Therein lies the pride, and the lie that I can do this on my own. Holy Spirit’s way is more gentle, more subtle, less time-sensitive. He isn’t worried that I might never arrive (like I am). He is patiently prodding, convicting, guiding towards the next thing to work on. He wants it to stick… to be a lifelong change, and not a temporary fix. A relationship with God is not a rat-race, just like marriage isn’t a contest. We aren’t in it to become perfect spouses with the perfect marriage and home. We’re in it to enjoy each other.

A verse you’ve probably heard more than once in 2 Corinthians 5 says this: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, He is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. I looked up this phrase “have come”. It is an imperfect future tense:  a verb form which combines past tense (reference to a past time) and imperfective aspect (reference to a continuing or repeated event or state.) This is what theologians call the already and the not yet. We have already become a new creature but we are still becoming that new creature. It is okay to still be becoming.

I hope you heard me. Can we all give ourselves grace? There is not only grace for the sinner. There is grace for the believer.

My accountability partner told me at the end of last year that she didn’t feel like I actually ENJOY God. That stung a bit, but I never questioned its truth. I spend more time trying to please God and serve Him than I do just enjoying Him. I think of Him when things are on edge, when I’ve failed Him…again. When I have forgotten to be in the Word. This manifested itself when I began only talking to my daughter about Jesus when her behavior was poor: “Jesus doesn’t want us to act that way.” Instead of in everyday moments, like when the sunrise is breathtaking, and when the dentist office gives us a free ice-cream cone, or when my grandmother buys us mini animal crackers. It says a lot about when MAMA thinks about God, and it’s devastating to realize that at the end of the day, you may have served your way through your existence, but you didn’t truly enjoy any of it. That you may have mastered marriage, but didn’t enjoy it. That you took a bath every night to be clean, but not to enjoy it. That you shoved down food to satisfy a part of you that you could never satisfy, but you didn’t actually enjoy eating it. That you cleaned your house aggressively, but didn’t just enjoy it. That you knew God, but didn’t enjoy Him. What a travesty.

So this feels like the year that my words from the past 3 years have collided….and I get chills to think of how He has brought that about.

Steadfast in 2015.

Joy in 2016.

Necessary in 2017.

Expectant in 2018.

It is because of God’s steadfast love for me that He wants me to take joy in Him, and if I am to take hold of that joy, it is necessary that I rely on Holy Spirit to dash my false expectations and put my expectant hope in His ability to apply my salvation instead of my own efforts.

A series of unsuspecting and seemingly unrelated things have brought these discoveries to my attention.

A sermon series in December at my local church about expectations and how they rob us of joy.

A book given to me by a friend called Love to Eat, Hate to Eat. The premise so far being that there is joy in denying ourselves, in carrying our cross, in being a little hungry. Creating space to need God, instead of filling all of our needs before we even feel them.

An Instagram live by a friend who is doing a fast this month. To hear that a fast doesn’t have to be eating nothing: but could simply be eating things that your flesh doesn’t crave. And realizing for the first time that a fast is not only to have more time to focus on God, but to create a space where we HEAR Him, instead of the distractions of what our body says we need constantly.

A series of marriage counseling sessions from some people we admire and respect. Their advice to stop looking at irritations as the problem itself, but as an opportunity to lean into sanctification, was a relationship-changer. To realize that we will conquer one problem, only to face another. (Encouraging, right?) We will never arrive, and so knowing this lets down the expectation easy that we will one day have marriage all figured out. And it encourages us to take one thing at a time, thanking God for sanctifying us through this thing called matrimony.

A podcast and a new study on the Trinity in my discipleship group, and a re-acquaintance of sorts with the Person of the Trinity that is talked about the least.

It is a beautiful web God is weaving in us. It is not on our time-table, but I’m beginning to appreciate His timing. Learning this at age 31 instead of 5 seems disappointing, and yet more of a game-changer at this stage.

Can we slow the pace of attaining perfection and simply appreciate the places where we are weak, so that He can be strong? It is God’s kindness that allows us to struggle with the same things over and over again, not because He wants us to doubt His salvation, but to realize how much we STILL NEED IT.

The Gospel is not just something I needed as a child. It is not just for unbelievers, as I always assumed. The Gospel is GOOD NEWS for me RIGHT NOW. Because I will never be enough. I will never perform enough. I will never be good enough to live this life without Him. Every failure and every sin is simply a reminder of how much we need Him. I pity the person who thinks they don’t, because I have spent a lot of my life being that person. I have believed things in my head, but functionally operated as if post-salvation, it was completely up to me to save myself from my sin, hang-ups, failures. What a relief it is! To admit that I cannot ever be enough. But He is. 

If you feel like your salvation was not genuine because of how often you mess up, saturate yourself in the Psalms, and in the story and life of David. A man after God’s own heart who did things we would never conceive of. Thank Jesus that when He allows these failures instead of preventing them, He is whispering the Gospel to you again: He is enough for those things. Not just past sins, but present sins, and future sins. How arrogant of us to assume that we need Him for past sins, but that the ones we commit today are on us.

Jesus, save us from ourselves. Not once, but every single day of our lives. 

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A Letter to 2018

Welcome, 2018.

2018, we all have big plans for you. We have resolutions, ideals, dreams, desires. We’re making our plans over here, like we run the world. Like we can delay or skip or fast forward any of your days and months. We’re racing the clock to see how many minutes we can save, in the name of time management. We’re trying to change our destinies, with every program we sign up for and every extra dollar we try to earn in each of your tiny squares. We all hope that the dawn of 2019 will reflect all the things we have accomplished.

We want you to be a good year for us. We want to say that you’ve been good to us. We have big expectations, for you, 2018. I thought it was only fair that you knew it.

Because how can you give what you don’t know we’re expecting? And truth be told, we make it all about ourselves when we focus on what we accomplished.

So you don’t need to be good to us, 2018, because we have a Father Who is. You don’t need to deliver health, wealth, and happiness. We can rest knowing God will decide which of those things He wants to give us. And even in unfortunate circumstances, God is still good. His character doesn’t sway according to the things He allows.

2018, nothing that you can throw at us amidst any of these page flips or numbered squares will change our destiny. We are children of God. Our accomplishments don’t define us. Our failures don’t condemn us. Only our Father can do that.

So just for you, 2018, I’m changing my expectation system. I’m going to stop expecting misfortune. I’m not going to cuddle up next to negativity. I’m not going to project those things onto you. I’m also not going to expect you to be flawless and fabulous. What I AM going to do is let go of the expectations I have of what my life should look like. I’m going to stop comparing myself to others and wishing I had what they have. I’m going to stop expecting that if I do all the right things, my life will be a bed of roses. I’m especially going to drop the expectations I have of people—friends, family, authorities, and not the least of all, myself.  Heaven knows I expect myself to be and produce and succeed more than is feasible for one human being. Maybe if I stop kicking myself for letting me down, I won’t be so disappointed with others when they do.

I don’t know what you hold for me, 2018, but I’m expectant. I’m expectant that God will do what He said He will do. That when I fail myself and don’t cross off my resolution list, He is still faithful. That when others let me down, He never does. That when tomorrow and the next day and the day after that throw me unexpected chaos, I can stop looking for someone to blame, and instead look for Someone to thank. Because all of your minutes and hours and days serve to increase my sanctification. I can look at the future squares on your calendar without dread or anxiety, because I know Who already resides in them.

So, 2018? You can breathe easy. You’re off the hook.

 

Psalm 62:5 “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him.”