Why do we struggle?

Much of Christian life has been filled with rules and regulations.  Do this and don’t do that and God will be happy with you.  And if you measure up then you are acceptable to the church as well.  But if you don’t then neither God or the church will be able to accept you.  And so for Christians everywhere life is a struggle to constantly measure up to an external life of requirements in order to be acceptable.  And when we can’t measure up we put on a good face because if anyone knew we were not able to live up to the requirements of being a Christian we would no longer be acceptable.  It is no wonder the world thinks the church is full of hypocrites.

All through time we have been trying and struggling to measure up.  Nothing has changed.  The law of Moses was given to people as  a list of what was required to be acceptable to God, and we have been trying to live up to it ever since.  And there has never been a single person who ever lived who was able to live up to the law of Moses.  No one except Jesus.  And yet we still struggle.  Might I suggest that this is not what the law was given for.  It was not a list we needed to live up to be acceptable.

So what was the law given to us for? Romans 3:20 says For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. So if the law wasn’t given to make us acceptable to God, and that is what we are struggling to do then what was the purpose of the law?  Well the last half of Romans 3:20 says The law simply shows us how sinful we are. The purpose of the law was simply to show us that we were and could never be acceptable to God on our own merit.  In fact the scriptures teach that “All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” So all of the things we struggle to live up to that we think make us acceptable to God and the church are like dirty greasy rags when compared to God’s righteousness.

So how then are we acceptable to God? Only by the work of Jesus in us are we made acceptable.  Scripture teaches that we are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.  It is a done deal when we accept what Jesus did on the cross for each one of us.  So then why do we struggle so much.  Paul asked the same question in Galatians 3:3.  Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? We struggle and struggle and can get nowhere because we forget what the law was given for.  To reveal to us that we can gain nothing at all before God by anything we do.  It is impossible.  And yet we struggle.

The task we have is to allow God to make changes in our lives, responding to His hand and direction.  Only then can we become who He desires us to be.  Only then can we allow the people around us the same freedom to become who God wants them to be.  The apostle John said, when asked if he was the Messiah, “I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I’m a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”

John said that the kingdom of life of Jesus would ignite in us, changing us from the inside out and making us to be who He desires.  This is the whole thesis of Paul’s writings in Romans 7.  When he says that he is a wretched man who could not live right before God, and when he wanted to do right he would do wrong, he is simply recognizing his standing before God.  He recognized there was nothing good in him except Jesus and nothing he could do would bring him closer to God.  Ever.  He recognized the purpose of the law.  And only the life of Jesus in him being allowed to live out through him would bring him into living the life that God wanted.  Paul’s struggle was over in himself.

So why do we struggle?  We don’t need to.  Psalms says “EXCEPT THE Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” Even if we were able to build our lives by  the outward standards of the law, we would be expending all that energy and effort for no value.  It would be of no value at all.  And yet we struggle.  I think it is time for us as Christians to let go of the rules and regulations we have and to stop judging ourselves and each other by standards that God never set.  Time for us to respond simply to the hand of God in us and allow Him to live His life in us, bringing us into what He desires for us.  That is what Jesus wanted.  He said to come to Him and learn the “unforced rhythms of grace”.  We don’t have to work at becoming.  We simply need to surrender and allow God to work in us.  That is what Philippians says.  For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” That is the kingdom life in us.   We can stop our struggles and allow God to do what He does best,  making us to be like Jesus.  Something we cannot do ourselves

Forgive and Forget?

Forgive and forget.   Seems to be a message that we all have heard at one time or another.  And one we all would agree is extremely hard to do, and for many something that they are unwilling to do.  We think we must make the ones who hurt us pay for their actions, or at least they should come to us and apologize and make amends before we forgive them.   Or we try to forgive them, but we can never really forget about it, and the memories stir up the pain again and again making us feel like we can never be free.

So if I am to forgive and forget to be free of this pain, how come I can never get free and how come I  can never forget?  When this happens I think we often give up on trying to forgive and we simply settle into reliving the past and it becomes a part of our lives we simply accept.  I think this happens for a couple of reasons.

1> We think when we forgive it erases all the feelings. I used to feel this way, and wonder why I could never, I thought, forgive.  I could put the feelings and hurt out of my mind for a time, sometimes a long time, but something would happen, or something someone said would bring them back up for me to relive again and again.  Or they would simply keep me from launching forward into new things and new relationships because I wouldn’t be able to trust totally again.  But forgiveness was never meant to erase our feelings.

2>  We think we must completely forget about what happened. This is the other problem with forgiveness.   We think we have to forget to truly forgive.  And yet we all have patterns of behaviour in our lives that if we stay in relationship with someone long enough will cause hurt and will continue to bring up memories of past hurts.  Something your wife says to you 15 years after an incident will bring up the memory of something she did to hurt you.  For some the time frames my simply be months instead of years.  So if forgetting is integral to forgiveness we feel we can never forgive.

First off I don’t think we can honestly forgive others without God’s help.  It is not in us naturally.  I know I had to go and bring God into the picture.  But I know the struggle to forgive, and I personally know the help that God offers us.  We all very naturally know how to keep a grudge.  It is natural behaviour.  No one has to instruct us or teach us how.  We do it naturally from the day we are born.  What is not natural for us is forgiveness.  It is something we need to learn about.  And God is very willing to help us if we ask.

Second we need to understand that forgiveness has two parts; a choice we make, and a process we walk through.  Forgiveness is as much of a choice we make as the choice to love someone and stay committed to them for our whole life.  We see this choice most often in marriage, till death do us part.  We choose to love one another and honour and fulfill that choice until we die.  We make a grave mistake when we only see love as a feeling, because feelings change often.  And we make just as grave a mistake when we see forgiveness as a feeling.  When we forgive we most often feel like nothing has happened.  Sometimes we can feel as though the weight of the world has lifted from us, but not usually.  But that is ok.  Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling.  I must choose for forgive.  Forgiveness is also a process.  I must continue to make the choice to forgive until my feelings catch up.  Sometimes it takes time for us to work through the hurt and pain.  And just as it takes time for a wound to heal it can take time for the feelings to catch up to our choice.

Third we must understand that forgiveness doesn’t involve forgetting.  God never forgets a single thing.  I know some of you are shouting but when God forgives “He casts our sin into the sea of His forgetfulness.”  And yes this is true.  It is what the bible states.  But how can an all knowing God forget anything?  We misunderstand this verse totally.  So what does God really do.  It simply means that although He can remember what happened, He will never bring it up ever in your relationship with Him, and He will not withhold any part of Himself from you as a result of the hurt.  But He never forgets about it.  He just loves us to much to allow it to separate us.  So He chooses to not remember.  And we simply need to do the same.  So instead of having historical, I mean hysterical arguments, we have to choose to not remember what happened and never bring it up again.

Forgiveness is about our choice and about our healing.  When we don’t forgive we are holding on to the hurt so that we can make that person pay for what they did.  We can never heal and never get past the pain.  When we forgive we are taking back control of our life and choosing to begin the healing process and letting go of the responsibility to make someone pay.  Will that person pay?  I  can guarantee it.  God keep precise accounts of all our actions, and He will call each one of us to answer for our lives one day.  What we are doing is simply letting go of the ownership of making them pay.  Forgiveness is totally for our benefit.  It is totally about me and not the other person.  They factor into the equation only if you are keeping a relationship open with them, but forgiveness is about me first.  Letting go of the pain and hurt and allowing me to heal and move on with my life.

One last comment.  The bible teaches that God will forgive us completely when we ask.  Except for one instance.  When we choose to not forgive.   The bible states “forgive so that you may be forgiven.”  So if we want our list of things we need to answer to one day to be short it involves forgiveness here and now.  Unforgiveness puts up a wall between you and God that will not allow the forgiveness He offers to pour into your life.  Not only does it keep you tied to your pain, but it also blocks you from the love that God offers you.  Unforgiveness only hurts you.  Forgiveness is what frees you up to live again.

One life to live

Our lives are often full of missed opportunities.  We have second guessed ourselves and often missed out on opportunities for growth.  We didn’t take that trip through Europe because work needed us here.  We didn’t jump in to that business opportunity because we were uncomfortable with the risk.

I, like you, can list the opportunities missed.  And later in life we often sit and wonder ‘what if’.  We allowed the fear of the unknown, or the weight of responsibilities to hold us back.  Or we kept ourselves to where we felt comfortable.  We stayed with the status quo.  And yet this isn’t how we were meant to live.

We were meant to live on the edge.  Like Jim Carrey in ‘Yes Man’ who was launched into the adventure of a lifetime simply by saying yes, we were meant to live outside the box.  We only get to come this way once.  God doesn’t believe in recycling.  My friend always says “Life isn’t a dress rehearsal.  We only get to do this once.”  We don’t get to come back and try again.

“We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered.”~ Tom Stoppard

My new question to myself is ‘What is stopping you?’  The dreams and ideals held deep within that we desire to see fulfilled, what is stopping you?   I have begun a new line of thinking in my life.  My new motto is becoming ‘Just Do It!”  Instead of holding to the norms of life, I am deciding to walk a new path, to set out in new directions and to set my eyes on new heights.  I don’t mean to walk away from the responsibilities and obligations we have in life.  But just  to begin to take some chances and launch out into  the adventure that God intended life to be.  I am beginning to look forward to the life He has for me.