How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch
~Beloved Christian Hymn by John Newton~
How strange life seems when there is no urgent battle in need of being fought. Not that the fight has been won, by any means. It’s just that today, for the first time in a long time, I notice that the struggles I have been going through are over. I still have things that aren’t going exactly as I’d like them to, but the immediate threats have backed away and for a time, it’s been quieter than usual. It’s unsettling.
You would think I would be happy that there is nothing happening, but instead, it makes me wonder what is looming. It makes me somewhat fearful of the next big challenge. The daunting feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop keeps me from living in peace as He commands us to do. Why? If I am truly a follower of Christ, why do I feel this lack of joy and peace? Because the devil’s work never ceases. He is constantly looking for ways to get into our lives and wreak havoc. And so, we must be vigilant not only in our search for peace, but also in our protection of that peace once we have found it. God gives us the tools, but for some reason we often choose to try and defend ourselves with our own power rather than His. This is where we get into trouble.
One of the biggest places where the devil tries to get a foothold is in our relationships with others. He gets into our heads and starts putting his two cents in when we are thinking about the people we love. Which of my family members will ignore me this week? Why am I not important to the ones I love so much? Which of my friends will try to take advantage of me this week? Which of them will disappoint me? Which of them will do something that is completely out of character? And we become hypersensitive to every little thing that doesn’t line up with the way we want things to be. Or he will keep us so busy with things in our own lives that our friends and family begin to ask the same things about us as they are thinking about their relationships. If he can’t get to one side, he’ll get to the other and then all of the dominos begin to fall just the way he planned until we are either out of fellowship with one another or we find ourselves in an all-out fight. We fall for this every time and even though we may make up with one another, we still have the struggle which knocks us off course and distracts us from our purpose as believers; to love Christ and to love others. And as a bonus for the devil, we cannot be good disciples for Christ when we get like this, either. Obviously, we cannot teach anyone else how to love if we are struggling with it ourselves.
For example, this week I chose to comment on someone’s post on Facebook and the conversation went in a completely different direction than I had thought it would. Instead of being able to point out an attitude that I felt might be damaging to the Kingdom, I found myself defending my faith because I am not willing to be hateful or prideful when it comes to my own righteousness. I was trying to get the point across that no matter how much we have studied or how long we’ve walked with God, we still need grace. And just because we have repented for something, doesn’t mean we still won’t struggle with a particular stronghold. Some people can hear God very clearly the first time they mess up, but some people need a few more trips around the mountain before it finally sinks in. I thought this was a given and that most Christians understood that we don’t all get it right the first time and that we will absolutely never be perfect. To think that we are is to have the mindset of a Pharisee.
So, imagine my surprise when one of my dearest friends decided to attack me for “sugar-coating” God’s word. This is something that I have never been guilty of. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t sugar-coat anything. I consider the feelings of the people I am addressing and I use tact, but I’m not afraid to confront sin and have done so in many difficult circumstances. To have someone tell me that because I believe in grace and in the covering that is provided to the children of God through the sacrifice of Christ is a slap in the face…to me and to Jesus. And one of my biggest flaws, the thorn in my side; is that when someone accuses me of something, I tend to attack back. This is especially true if the person who is accusing me was the one who was sending out the wrong message in the first place. As Christians, we should have no tolerance for false teaching or hateful mindsets. Jesus would never have told those to whom He ministered that if they stepped out of line one time, they were “out of the will.” If you’ve read and understood the gospels, this is something that comes across loud and clear. We learn nothing if we haven’t learned that we are not the ultimate judge of anyone else.
Sometimes our own mistakes cloud our judgment to the point where we can only see everyone else’s flaws. Sometimes, we are so busy trying to make ourselves feel better about how wrong we were in the past that we have to magnify someone else’s sin to make ours seem diminished. Sometimes, we need to magnify our own righteousness to justify trying to teach others to be righteous. But in this we fail. If our heart is not in the right place and our efforts to help others come from a place of justifying our own flaws, we fail. If our intent in confronting our brother is to bolster our own sense of righteousness, we fail. If we use God’s word to shame others or beat them into submission to our idea of what a “perfect” Christian looks like, we fail. Jesus would not have done it this way and in these instances, we are not reflecting Him at all.
Accept the fact that you will never be perfect or holy enough to lead others exactly as Jesus did. He doesn’t ask us to be perfect. God’s guidelines for being in relationship with Him include loving others as He loves us and that means we have grace for one another and we don’t impose our own judgments on those who are struggling to be righteous. People are hurting. They need a Savior, but you are not it. You are charged with leading them to Him, but you are not Jesus. You never will be. I never will be. I can only be like Him to a point and from there, He applies grace. He does this because He loves me. He loves you as well. And no matter what anyone thinks, the way to righteousness is paved with stumbling blocks for all. Yours may be your inability to show others the same grace that God has shown you.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
~Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV~