Looking Beyond Ourselves

How deep, how far reaching, is your hope? Before you give the appropriate Christian answer, pause and evaluate your life. Your words. Those thoughts that whisper to you throughout the day and keep you awake at night.ID-100249429

Surrender. Releasing our life to a bigger plan, whether we can see the details or not. Looking past our momentary frustrations, pain and struggles to see God’s eternal plan.

Because, “if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (1 Corinthians 15:19 NLT).

If this is all there is, God help us!

To pose the question asked by my pastor, Lance Burch from Reality Church, last Sunday: “What if our lives are bigger than we know?”

This was certainly the case for both Ruth and Boaz. When I read their story, being the romantic that I am, I zero in on their unfolding love. Boaz is Ruth’s provider and Ruth the sweet, loyal, nurturing wife and mother. *sigh* Such a tender example of true and holy love.

And yet, there’s an even bigger story unfolding in the pages of Ruth, a greater romance that calls out to all mankind, for Jesus is our Boaz, our kinsman redeemer, our deepest and truest love.

Pause to read Ruth 4:13-22 and Matthew 1:6-16.

The real story hidden within this beautiful romance is the wooing of Creator God as He laid the groundwork for His redemptive plan, which ultimately led to the greatest sacrifice mankind has ever known.

Ruth’s life was bigger than she realized; bigger, I believe, than she could have imagined.

As is ours. But I think, often we get so caught up in the I of our story, we lose sight of the Author. It’s His story, and we are but supporting roles. Directed by Him, for His glory, to point others not to ourselves but rather, to Him.

It’s funny, this following of God’s plan. When I first began to write full time, I became obsessed with “the dream”. My prayers were dominated by self-centeredness. Lord, help me get published. Grant me new opportunities. Grant me favor with the contest judges reading my work.

Kinda ugly. In fact, not long into it, God made it clear, my writing had become my idol, and God wanted me to let it go. To lay everything, my whole self, on the alter, and thus, my prayers changed as I began to recite the words of Romans 12:1-2, which I personalized as follows:

“Lord, in view of all You’ve done, in view of Your mercy and grace and the death You endured on the cross, for me, I offer my whole body to You as a living sacrifice. May this be my act of worship. Help me not to conform to the ways of this word but instead, transform me by renewing my mind. Help me to know and live Your good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

That is a prayer God has consistently honored.

As I uttered those words, sometimes multiple times throughout the day, asking God to give me the desire and strength to live them, a funny thing happened. Doors of opportunity began to open and publishers began to ask to see my work.

How exciting, right? What I prayed for years ago was finally beginning to happen! You’d think this would be cause for celebration, that I’d be ready to barge forward unhindered.

That wasn’t what happened. I’m not sure if I can explain the heaviness of what followed and the deep urgings that filled my heart, urgings I believe were birthed by Christ. As I turned yet again to God in prayer, I sensed so strongly and clearly that God was going to use me, and suddenly my inadequacies came into focus.

ID-10075996I knew I wasn’t ready. More than that, I knew I had a long way to go before I would be ready.

So once again my prayers changed. I began praying that God would humble me, remove my selfishness, grant me increased self-control, fill my mind and heart with His truth until everything else was pushed aside.

And once again, He honored that prayer… in a much different way than I’d ever anticipated.

I asked for humility. God gave me two humbling (and at times, very humiliating) chronic illnesses. I asked God to teach me truth. He granted me trial after trial that brought me to my knees in deep, sobbing prayers. I asked Him to remove my selfishness and He showed me, through the faithfulness of a terminally ill friend, what it meant to live for Christ.

In the course of three years, everything changed.

I changed.

My struggles centered my heart in Christ and His eternal plan, and it’s my pain and loss that have allowed me to love others in a deeper way than I ever could have, had I not first been broken.

“What if our lives are part of something bigger than we know” ~ Lance Burch, Reality Church

Don’t be the center of your story. Surrender everything to be part of something immensely, miraculously, mercifully eternal.

Let’s talk about this. I know today’s post is insanely long, but today’s lesson is the most important, I believe. We started this study talking about surrender, and that is how we’ll end it.

If we could but catch a glimpse of eternity, how our lives would change! Everything looks different in light of the cross.

Pause to prayerfully listen to this song.

Must We Love Ourselves to Love Others?

loveLove. Such a confusing, abstract emotion. It’s something we “fall into” and “out of”,  something we chase after…

There’s a notion that says “You must love yourself in order to love others.”

Is this true? Biblical?

I’m no theologian, but I can’t locate a verse that says this. In fact, again and again, God tells us to take the position of a servant, and to honor others above ourselves.

To die to ourselves so we can live for God.

It’s hard to die to something you love.

Perhaps biblical love isn’t so much an emotion as it is an action.

Consider 1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

For you see, emotions wane. Therefore, true love must be a choice and an action, the moment-by-moment discipline of laying ourselves aside so that God can love others through us.

The Bible says we love because God first loved us. Therefore, our love comes not from us but from Him. It is when we completely surrender ourselves to God that we are fulfilled. That is when we begin to live lives of passion and purpose, of courage and impact.

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Learning to love is receiving and giving the love only God can give.

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Consider insecurity and fear of rejection and all those negative emotions that supposedly stem from a lack of self-love. What if the opposite is true? What if those emotions stem from love of self and a desire to protect self.
We protect that which we love.

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But when we die to ourselves, there is but one focus, what God would do throughAshleywithElSalvadororphan us. 

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And that is the most freeing occurrence we can experience.

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Let me provide an example. I have a less than glamorous past, and for years, I vehemently longed to hide that past. This fear kept me from embracing God’s call to write for many years. I told Him again and again, “I’ll only write if you protect me from exposure.”

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I’m sure you can imagine God’s response. He knew His grace is best seen when revealed through an imperfect sinner.

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But still I fought Him. I was afraid to tell my story for fear of what others would think and for fear of losing friends. Until I started hanging out with at risk teens and the homeless. Suddenly, I wanted for them to see Jesus and what He could do so badly, I no longer cared about embarrassing or shaming myself. My fear and insecurity went away because I found something more important–the saving of another life.

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The results were glorious, inspiring, fulfilling, because the more I died to myself and lived for God, the more I experienced His all-consuming love pour through me.

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You cannot be fearful, prideful, envious, and insecure when God’s Spirit invades your core. It’s impossible.

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So what does this all mean?

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1. If you want to experience an abundant, joy-filled, peace-saturated life, ask God to help you die to yourself–your fears, desires, pride, insecurities. All of it. Then ask Him to replace those things with His all-consuming love as you follow after Him with surrendered obedience.

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2. Parents, if you want your children to rise above the toxicity of their clique-infested schools, if you want for them to grab hold of a purpose that will propel them forward with a God-given passion, teach them to see others through God-sized lenses and to get involved in His mission. Then sit back and watch them thrive.

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livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! Looking back on your journey, when have you felt most fulfilled? What do you think of my take on love? Consider a time when you’ve felt God’s love coursing through you. What were you doing? What did His love motivate you to do?
Share your thoughts in the comments below or at Livng by Grace on Facebook.

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And congrats to Lillianne Kohler! You won a copy of Cara Putman’s novel, Shadowed by Grace! I’ll be contacting you soon to get that book to you.

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Other posts you might enjoy:

Resisting the Extremes

Yesterday while surfing the internet I stumbled across some disturbing information on an evangelical personality I once admired. It seems, if the articles are true, this individual has wandered from the faith and is preaching a message contrary to the gospel. I’ve seen this happen before, and not just among public figures. As people “mature” in their faith, often they’ll slide into one of two extremes: either they’ll fall too far into grace, denying justice; or they’ll surround themselves with rules and regulations.

Both extremes are dangerous and contrary to the truth, and I can’t help but wonder if both are rooted in human pride. Human pride elevates man to the extent that justice seems unheard of, or, on the other extreme, elevates man to the extent that he thinks he can somehow earn God’s favor.

And yet, I think this tendency reveals an even deeper issue–man’s depravity. From the beginning of time, man has rebelled against truth, finding ways to twist it to fit our agenda and understanding. The moment we think we are above this–the moment we begin to rely on our understanding, we are in danger of falling.

So how can we avoid this delusional progression?

1. Approach God’s Word with humility. I think one of our greatest faults, as humans, lies in the need to understand, and explain everything. Not everything has an explanation, and if the explanation isn’t there and we assign one, we are crossing the line and elevating man.

Here’s an example. Walk into any seminary and you’ll find shelves upon shelves of commentaries on the book of Job in man’s attempt to explain why Job suffered–to explain God’s purpose in it. But what did God say when asked? He didn’t go into a long dissertation on suffering and the sovereignty of God. Instead, He reminded Job that some things were beyond his understanding. (Read Job 38-41)

That isn’t to say we shouldn’t discuss biblical passages and theological issues, but we must do so with a heavy dose of humility, being careful not to make the Bible say what it doesn’t say.

2. We must understand that the Bible is a unit. One of the first things I learned at Calvary was the need to read biblical passages in terms of context. We quote so many verses out of context, often assigning meanings that were never intended. This, again, elevates man by conforming the Bible to fit our ideas instead of conforming our ideas to the Bible.

Lately I’ve noticed a trend to deny the existence of hell. To do so, you must throw out large portions of the Bible. You must throw out direct quotes from Jesus. And any time you start cherry picking which truths you rely on, you’ve become your own God. You’ve become your own basis for truth. Considering the human heart is deceptive, that is a very dangerous place to be.

I’ve also noticed the opposite side of this trend emerge–those who want to assign rules and regulations God never intended. This also elevates man.

3. Recognize your ability to err. It often amazes me how much I thought I knew before I started taking Bible classes. The first thing I learned was half of what I thought I knew I really didn’t know, and the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. That doesn’t mean I throw my hands up in nihilism, but it does mean I speak with humility, recognizing that I could very easily be wrong. It also means, at times, I keep my mouth shut.

4. Recognize your position before a Holy God. We speak so casually about eternal things. God will hold us accountable for every casual word spoken.

5. Stay in community. Isolation leads to deception. If everyone else in your Bible study disagrees with you, consider the possibility that you are the one in error. If you are feeling tempted to pull away and isolate, recognize this is not from God. God desires believers to live in community. Satan wants us to live in isolation because then we are wide open for attack. This doesn’t mean we will always agree with everything our church or church members believe, but even when we disagree, we should do so with a healthy dose of humility, recognizing that we very well could be wrong.

I have a mentor. She acts as my safeguard. She doesn’t care how many people read my blog, how many articles I sell, or if I write the next best seller. She cares about one thing–my walk with Christ, and she’s committed to hold me accountable.

6. Pray, pray, pray. I’ve shared before, but I often pray Romans 12:1-2 out loud, asking God to daily transform my thinking, helping me resist the downward spiral of cultural influences. My desire is not that I would conform to the practices, ideologies, and opinions of the world around me, but instead, that I would be daily transformed by the renewal of my mind, so that I will know and understand God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.