Setting Aside Expectations to Love With Grace

 

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Sometimes I forget that transformation takes time. I’m not just talking in regard to my own growth, but this is especially true when I watch others. I can easily expect them to have reached a certain level and therefore to behave and think a certain way.

The problem is, I have spiritual forgetfulness. I forget where I once was and how slow my progress came; all the tentative steps forward followed by numerous slips and stumbles backward. I forget about all the nights I lay in bed reviewing my day—all the ways I had failed and all the people I had hurt. I often felt so defeated.

I felt certain I wasn’t growing, wasn’t changing; at least not in ways I could readily see. And I worried that maybe I never would, that maybe this Christianity thing wasn’t working for me, or that something about me was irreparably broken. I didn’t understand the reason for my struggle or the process of growth. I didn’t realize that transformation takes time. A lot of time.

It takes time for worldviews to shift, for attitudes to change, and habits to be broken.

This spiritual forgetfulness causes me to lay unrealistic expectations on my precious sisters in Christ, and in the process I unknowingly speak condemnation. In my attitudes and my expectations I say, “You’re not doing this right. This faith-thing isn’t working for you. You’re irreparably broken or maybe too hard hearted for God’s grace to reign within you.”

When discussing sinful behavior displayed by others, I often hear, “Yes Jesus loved the sinner, but He told them to ‘Go and sin no more.’” And this is true; Christ never encouraged or applauded or condoned sin. But neither did He—nor does He—expect instant transformation. Nor do we have any idea what transpired in people’s lives days or even months after their encounters with Jesus.

Consider the woman at the well. You can find her story in John chapter 4. Though she has initiated a great deal of speculation, we don’t really know what her behavior had been prior to encountering Jesus. We do know, however, that she lived perpetually empty—because Christ offered to fill her. We know she wasn’t living as the radiant daughter He created her to be, because apart from Christ, we’re all living false versions of ourselves. We also know she had spent decades among other humans, navigating her way, without God, through a broken and sinful world. Therefore we know she behaved sinfully and harbored deceived thinking.

We all did, before God’s intervention. And we all do, on occasion, likely more often than we’d care to admit, even now.

Our thoughts, desires, and habits change, slowly but steadily, as we draw ever-closer to Christ and soak in Scripture (Romans 12:2).

As we “renew our minds” daily with truth, as we surrender to God’s Spirit within, He takes us from “glory to glory.” In other words, He molds us ever-increasingly into the likeness of His Son. This speaks of an ongoing progression, one I’m certain the Samaritan woman experienced, and needed to experience. By the time she met Jesus, she’d lived a lifetime apart from Him. She’d developed a particular way of perceiving, acting, and reacting. She might’ve been fowl mouthed, short-tempered, and addicted to men. Those parts of her, whatever her particular sins were, had become ingrained deep within. I suspect it took years, if not decades, for God to remove and redeem them.

At least, that was the case for me, and I’m still learning, growing, and changing.

Sometimes, I encounter people who remember me from five years ago or perhaps even one year ago, and they expect that woman today. But she’s gone. She’s been transformed. She has grown and she has experienced a new level of freedom. And a year from now, God willing, I’ll be dramatically different—more patient and loving and self-controlled—than I am today.

Some people recognize this, and they treat me as if that were true. In this, I find the freedom, courage, and the hope to keep growing. But others don’t get it, and when they treat me as if those things were not true, as If I haven’t grown, or perhaps can’t grow, I’m tempted toward shame and defeat.

How we treat others matters. I want to be one who speaks life. I want to recognize growth regardless of how big or how small, to celebrate it and call it out. I want to allow others to change, not holding past behaviors or attitudes against fall background with lantern and quote from postthem. I want to treat others with the same gentleness with which Christ treats me. I love the apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 1:6. Speaking to relatively new believers living in Philippi, he said, “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Paul was confident God would continue to grow the Philippian believers.

I want to live and love with that same confidence. I want to live recognizing that it is God who transforms, and that God always complete what He starts.

I’ll say it again: God always completes what He starts, in His way and His time, by the power of His Spirit working in all of us broken and sinful humans.

Let’s talk about this! When do you most find you struggle with unrealistic expectations, when it comes to your growth or the growth of others? How does God direct you during those times? Share your thoughts, stories, and questions with us in the comments below.

Speaking of grace, and God’s gift that came through Christ, you may also enjoy an article I recently wrote for iBelieve on all the symbolism and truth wrapped up in Christ’s birth and birthplace. You can read it HERE.

 

Growing in Grace

Woman praising and paraphrase of 1 Cor. 3:18

Imagine the peace and growth we’d experience if we truly learned to live in grace. If, instead of wallowing in self-condemnation, we moved forward in the hopeful anticipation birthed in intentional growth. Imagine if we viewed every failure, setback, and step forward through God’s eyes.

Growing in grace

By Matthew Romano

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Co 3:18, ESV).

“Beware of looking back at what you once were, when God wants you to become someone you’ve never been” – Oswald Chambers.

Before a sculptor begins shaping his masterpiece, he has a vision of what he wants to create. He begins with raw materials, such as a block of stone or marble. He starts chiseling the substance to mirror what he sees in his mind. As he crafts his vision, he’s not frustrated because it’s not yet completed. He takes joy in the work of his hands as art begins to take form and reflect the image he envisioned.

It is the same process for God.

God has a vision for us to become like Christ. In Him, He sees us as perfect, without spot or blemish in Christ. He is gradually molding and chiseling us to reflect His Son. He works on our hearts with joy and He’s not angry or upset throughout the process of our spiritual formation. Rather, He takes delight in doing the work that He knows will eventually be completed.

Unfortunately, we often fail to see ourselves as a work in progress. We tend to focus on our sins and imperfections. We cannot press forward we’re continually contemplating our present shortcomings, or reflecting on the pain of our past.

Perhaps we have listened to careless words spoken over us – and unknowingly embraced them. I remember one of my high school teachers yelling at me in front of the classroom, “You’re never going to amount to anything!” At the time, these words didn’t seem to bother me and I just laughed at him. But looking back in retrospect, a few months later I made the decision to drop out of school. If we take these words to heart they will begin to shape our self-image.

Words can create worlds for us. Every word we’ve digested internally has greatly impacted who we are today. That’s woman holding heart shaped snow and text pulled from postwhy it’s imperative to meditate on what the Lord says about us. When we welcome Jesus into our lives as Lord and Savior, He grants us not only forgiveness, but also the gift of a new identity. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Co 5:17, ESV).

As I focus on the goodness of the Lord and the words He’s spoken to me within the Bible, He transforms me to become what He created me to be. I may not be all God intends yet, but I know Him who creates beauty from what was once nothing. God is the potter and we are the clay (Jer 18:6). If we allow His hand to shape our lives, we’ll be led into a glorious destiny of purpose.

What must you put behind to become what you’ve never been?

Check out his book, The Call: An Invitation to Revival and Transformation:

The atmosphere within the United States and most of the world is ripe for another great spiritual awakening. The current state of affairs is one of profound division, even within the church. The saints themselves have a difficult time distinguishing what is right and what is wrong because we have abandoned our first love and have embraced the love of the world.

In this season, the Lord exhorts His people to prepare themselves like a bride adorned for her husband and beckons the church to answer “The Call” toward revival that will spread like a holy fire in the hearts of many. Who will answer “The Call” to battle this present darkness with weapons of righteousness? Only when God’s own people are revived can we expect to see transformation in America and throughout the world.

The Call: An Invitation to Revival and Transformation takes the reader on a journey of spiritual awakening alongside the author. Each chapter inspires the reader to answer “The Call” of God toward freedom, holiness, and purpose. This book will mentor people to hear the voice of God, think with the mind of Christ, be alert to the tactics of Satan, engage in spiritual warfare, learn to pray and meditate on the promises of God, and much more.

Buy it HERE.

Grab the study guide HERE.

Watch the trailer HERE.

Get to know Matthew!

Matthew J. Romano is an ordained deacon of Christ Church New Jersey. He has been walking with the Lord for over 25 years. His passion is sharing Christ with the lost and teaching believers to walk passionately with the Lord. He currently serves the body of Christ as a deacon, altar ministry to pray for the needs of God’s people, life group leader, guest teacher and speaker of the Word of God, and as a certified teacher in the School of Prayer. He is the author of The Call: An Invitation to Revival and Transformation and The Call: A Study Guide to Revival and Transformation.

Find him online HERE.

Connect with him on Facebook HERE. 

Before you go, for those who are local and want to participate in the live teaching of Becoming His Princess Bible study, hosted this winter by Wildewood Christian Church (Papillion), registration is now open! To sign up, go HERE.

Grab your free e-copy HERE.

Grab your print copy HERE.

About the study:

Do you ever feel insignificant or unseen? As if what you do or even who you are isn’t quite good enough? Does your confidence level vary based on who you’re around and how their bank account or how accomplishment list compares to yours? If so, this study, based on the life of Sarah from the Old Testament Scriptures, is for you.

For seven weeks, we’ll follow her uncertain and at times terrifying journey from the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur to the land promised to her husband, and ultimately, the place of rest God beckons each of us toward. He met her in the middle of her pain, her shame, and all her striving, and rewrote her story—through grace. A grace bigger than her greatest failures and that proved sufficient for all her insufficiencies.Step by step, God taught this once-scorned woman to live as His beloved, His princess.

As we follow her journey recorded in the pages of Scripture, He’ll help us do the same. We’ll learn to center our identity in Christ, recognize His power and presence in our most challenging circumstances, find rest from our striving, and live daily in His grace.

Transformation

Lyles7.aA few years ago, one of the Proverbs 31 gals said something on the radio that really stuck. When talking about her faith-walk, she said she quit expecting perfection and instead focused on imperfect progress. (Paraphrasing from my imperfect memory. 🙂 )  Wow, there’s a lot of wisdom there, huh? And what a positive, growth-encouraging outlook! Today author of Winds of Wyoming and Winds of Freedom, Becky Lyles shares her thoughts on transformation, triggered by a book she read titled “Scars and Stilettos.”

Note: Becky is giving away a copy of one of her novels (winner’s choice) to one of y’all, randomly selected through the comments left on this post. 

Transformation by Becky Lyles

I just finished reading an intriguing book titled “Scars and Stilettos–The Transformation of an Exotic Dancer” by Harmony Dust. If you haven’t read her story, I highly recommend it. “Scars and Stilettos” is not only a look into the broken hearts and lives of women trapped in a degrading occupation, it’s a great account of God’s love and healing.
Harmony experienced instant redemption when she became a Christian; however, she did not have an instantaneous lifestyle change. “Jesus healed my heart,” she writes, “but the transformation and renewing of my mind was a process, requiring action and commitment on my part. I had to replace old ways of thinking with new ones; lies with the truth. And when I found that painful memories and the wounds that accompanied them did not magically disappear, I enlisted the prayers and listening ears of my friends and sought the help of a Christian therapist.”

Harmony’s story is a good reminder to me that although God graciously gifts those who seek Him with immediate salvation (“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” Romans 10:13 NIV), he doesn’t always dole out “quick fixes.” I need to be patient with those who are “in process.” Actually, each of us is a “work in progress.” Our transformation won’t be completed or perfected until we step across heaven’s threshold.

The scripture verse Harmony was likely referring to uses the word “renewing.” “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2 NIV).

This gerund form of the verb “renew” (make new, regenerate, restore) indicates progressive, continuous action. Harmony had to commit to ongoing change. As she says, the journey is never over. “Be gracious with yourself and stay committed to the course. We are all in the process of becoming: becoming healed, becoming whole, becoming closer to God, and becoming all that we are created to be.”

She adds: “God is a gentleman. He never forces us to change or gives us more than we can bear. He walks us through this process one step at a time. In His strength, we are able to face our giants one by one.”
Thank God he doesn’t leave us to tackle renewal on our own. In 2 Timothy 1:14, Paul wrote to Timothy  “With the help of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, carefully guard what has been entrusted to you” (NLT).  In Hebrews 4:16, we’re invited to “come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it” (NLT).

One more: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13 NIV). Whatever your challenge, take Jesus’ hand and be encouraged by the words of an old gospel song.

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I’m tired, I’m weak, Lord, I’m worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home

Precious Lord Take My Hand
words & music by Thomas A. Dorsey

To learn more about Harmony Dust and Treasures Ministries, visit http://iamatreasure.com.

Winds of Freedom:

RLyles.Winds of Freedom.CoverWinter storms blast across the Whispering Pines Guest Ranch, and a cold wind blows through Kate Neilson’s soul. Despite her pain, Kate’s well-being takes a backseat to the needs of loved ones: her best friend, who’s been ensnared by evil; her failing great-aunt, whose dementia care keeps Kate guessing; and Laura and Mike Duncan, whose ranch and livelihood are threatened by a land-grabbing neighbor.

Becky Lyles is a freelance writer and editor whose articles and stories have appeared in magazines and compilations. Her nonfiction books, “It’s a God Thing! Inspiring Stories of Life-Changing Friendships” and “On a Wing and a Prayer–Stories from Freedom Fellowship, a Prison Ministry,” are available on Amazon and can be ordered through bookstores. Her first novel, award-winning “Winds of Wyoming,” was released by StoneHouse in early 2012. The sequel, “Winds of Freedom,” debuted the summer of 2013. In addition to writing fiction and nonfiction, she serves as an editor and a mentor to aspiring authors and as a transition coach for women transitioning from prison to “the outside.” She and her husband, Steve, love living in beautiful Boise, Idaho.

LivingbyGracepicLet’s talk about this! What are your thoughts when you hear the phrase, “imperfect progress”? What’s the difference between shooting for growth and aiming for perfection, and how might either goal affect our spiritual walk? Do you think you are more patient (have more grace for) others faults or your own? What are some things you do to renew your mind?

Let’s Celebrate!

Although I’m not one to make New Year resolutions per say, I do love the annual chance for self-evaluation and goal-setting. As a coach’s daughter, I live by goals. Daily, weekly, annually. For me, there is nothing more satisfying, motivating, than reaching a goal, except perhaps when I reach one I purposefully set just outside my comfort zone. But I have to be careful that amidst all my self-evaluation and goal setting, I’m not shooting for perfection. Occasionally, amidst my reaching, I need to stop and take stock. To look back at how far I’ve come and rejoice in what God has done.

Before you begin your New Year, with all that’s wrapped up in that, take a moment to look back. Through God’s eyes. I’ve heard it said the closer you are to God, the more apparent your sins are. This makes absolute sense! It’s like standing beneath floodlights dressed in white. Suddenly you notice the slight yellow to your shirt, every stain, every discoloration. Or more accurately, like going to the dentist for a crown, viewing all the shades of teeth, realizing yours are anything but white.

When we draw near to a holy God, we’ll begin to evaluate our lives through a holy lens as His Spirit reveals those blemishes He plans to change. Why? Because He’s in the process of refining us, molding us, transforming us to be more like Him. A glorious thing! An exciting thing! And an expression of His pure love.

But let’s go back to our teeth analogy. Have you ever stopped to look at those before and after shots in the dentist’s office? The ones that shock us most are those that started out the worst, with inflamed gums and crooked teeth.

The same is true in our spiritual walk, only we rarely take time to ponder the before and after. Instead, we compare ourselves to others, zero in on our shortcomings, and beat ourselves up over every failure.

But today, I want you to celebrate…who you are in Christ, what He’s done in you, what He plans to do.

On Tuesday (thanks to some nudging by Patty Wysong–waving) I’ll share a bit of my less-than-glorious holiday experiences. I’ll talk about a time when I was less than wifely, less than lovely, squelching the agape love of God with selfishness and pride. But this morning, as I look at that time of marital bickering, I realize even then I’d exhibited growth. As did my husband. We argued, and our pride rose up, but unlike our fights of fourteen years ago, we didn’t hurl hurtful words or bitter accusations. So, even in our moment of weakness, we demonstrated a sliver of strength–God’s grace, moving in us. And that was cause for celebration.

What about you? What has God done for you in 2011? Share it here, and write it down so that the next time you feel like a failure, you can pause and rejoice in how far you’ve come. Then, pull out your plotting, goal-setting, heart-evaluating pen and ask God to show you where He wants to take you in 2012. And start the new year with confidence, knowing He who called you is faithful and will perfect the plans He has for you. In fact, He’s got it all covered. All He asks is that you draw near, listen, and obey. He’ll take care of everything else. Because, as Philippians 1:6 says, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Let’s talk about this!

Join me at Living by Grace as we celebrate the grace-filled transformation God has brought in our hearts, our families, our marriages–our lives.

(Have an amazing grace story you believe would inspire, comfort, or challenge my readers? Shoot it to me in an email at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail.com.)