Are you one of those people with a variety of seemingly conflicting interests? Do you love to dance but also love math? Or perhaps you love animals, but also love building things and playing the trumpet. Do you have a pastor’s heart with a love for fishing and business? Maybe you want to be a doctor but also love singing. The God who created the universe also created you, and you are not boring! The incredible variety in creation was not just reserved for rainforests, oceans and the stars in the sky, but was displayed most perfectly in you.
Most of us, when we were children, displayed a variety of interests and talents. We could ride bikes, draw, or speak, and write well. Maybe we loved counting, building and measuring things. Or maybe we spent our time quietly and deeply thinking and feeling, observing and learning. Whatever the giftings and interests we have revealed God’s gifts to us. Part of who He created us to be and a sign of how much He was invested in creating us. Like an expensive car, God created each of us with all sorts of beautiful additions!
Now fast forward to school, or better yet the end of high school. Now you are expected to choose. Out of all the interests your heavenly Father gave you, you need to pick one and invest in that one, become that identity. And you get bonus points and respect if it will make you a lot of money. Highschool is 30 years ago for me and I can still feel the pressure of feeling like I needed to choose what I would be investing the majority of my time and money into at 18. I was told by , school, parents and well-meaning people in my life that I simply could not invest in all my interests and talents. That I should pick one, preferably the one that made the most money, then make my other talents hobbies. That would set me up for the most financial success and security, while not sacrificing who I was too much. But I basically had too many interests, so I had to choose which I would be.
Can anyone relate to this? Didi God make a mistake? Should our heavenly Father have just given us one or two interests, making sure of course that they were financially viable ones? Then we could fit with the system.
No, of course not. God didn’t look at you and say, “Oops, I gave them too many interests, now they will have to ignore most of them and pick one.” And God certainly didn’t evaluate how He made us based on whether or not we could be financially secure. , He may have made us financially savvy, but I guarantee you in wasn’t for your own security. He wants to be that Himself.
“Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
So what do we do with the display of God’s variety inside each of us? Well to start with, God didn’t make a mistake. He displayed His variety and creativity in His creation and also in us. He wants us to celebrate that variety. He has a plan, and He has His timing and purpose. So ask Him a very important question.
“What do you want me to invest into now?”
3 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
The Father didn’t create you with too many interests and talents. But neither did He expect you to play Wack-a-Mole trying to hit them all at the same time. God will weave them together in His perfect timing. All you need to do is ask Him what He wants you to invest in to now. Then relax, knowing the rest of your interests will get attention and be invested into as long as you keep following the Father’s plan for your life, and let His voice be the only voice that guides you.
Letting the Father weave the beautiful variety of your giftings in the tapestry He has planned for you is one of the most exciting and faith-building journeys I can recommend. He’s got you!
Have you ever struggled with the everpopular question, what do you want to do with your life? The pressure to make a decision, to pick something, anything. Somehow, we are miraculously expected to know what we are going to do with our life by the time we leave high school. Then we can choose a post-secondary activity like college, an apprenticeship, university, something that shows we have decided what we are going to do, how we are going to live, make money, pay for housing, food, possibly prepare for a family and be responsible financially.
But where is God in this? Is He one of the voices wanting us to pick a direction? Is He asking us to decide what we are going to be in our lives so we are set up for financial security? Anyone who has gone to Bible college, ministry school or even Sunday school can blurt out some version of the answer here.
31. So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32. For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
What an awesome promise! … So where is God when we are making plans and decisions? I am well known for asking people “If you had a million dollars, and were not worried about money, what do you think God would want you to be doing?” I ask it this way because it is sadly sometimes easier to picture ourselves without money worries if we have a fat bank account, than if we picture ourselves trusting God. Only without worry and stress can we sit in peace with our Father and ask Him, "What would you have me do?” God never planned us to go it alone without Him, struggling to make sure we had enough money by ourselves; He wants to partner with us, as a loving Father.
“'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. '”
— Jeremiah 29:11.
Only when financial security is replaced with Father-based security can we really hear the answer to our question, “Who did you make me to be? And what do you want me to be doing now?” And trust that if we do put Him first, ahead of our money fears and the pressure to look responsible in the world’s eyes, He will provide what we need as we partner with Him.
Have we slipped into letting our desire for financial security be louder than the Father’s voice? Have we believed the Enemy’s lies that say that if we put God first in everything we won’t have enough? That giving God our direction and choices isn’t practical in our lives, that God doesn’t realize we have bills to pay? This is actually the complete opposite of what Jesus is saying in Matthew!
The trap of pursuing security in finances is you constantly have to chase it and manage it to feel any security at all. As soon as you stop chasing it and putting it first the security leaves you.
Whereas the Father is the one doing the chasing, running after you with an offer of security, partnership and identity. He will never stop offering that security, He will always be there to partner with you if you choose His family. He already knows who He created you to be and He can’t wait to talk with you about. You don’t have to create yourself!
I love Christmas… the tree, my family, the carols, the lights, the hand-painted nativity my mother made me, the weekly reminders of advent… I love it all. So please understand I was raised leaving cookies for Santa, hanging stockings by a fire, and looking for Jesus in the nativity on Christmas morning because our Jesus never showed up in our family nativity scene until Christmas morning. I love this season and will continue to love it.
But this year, for me, the jingle, the sparkle, the nutcrackers and gingerbread men, while wonderful, are simply not holding the same joy for me. I love them all, but I am too aware of the pain and confusion around me in people’s hearts to enter into the glitter and cinnamon with the same level of satisfaction. It feels like this presentation of Christmas is missing the mark this year more than ever, as if the world is offering a glittery and scented bandaid to a hurting population. And it just doesn’t cut it. In fact if we aren’t careful we can end up doing more damage by offering a cinnamon and candy cane remedy to hearts that desperately need healing and love.
We need Jesus first.
I truly hope this does not sound critical towards the wonderful season of Christmas with its trimming and many expressions of joy. But right now unless these expressions of Christmas point us towards the only source of love that will actually heal our hearts, we will find ourselves missing the only remedy which will actually bring us the joy, love and healing we are looking for.
And that remedy is the gift of a bridge to perfect Love and companionship. Jesus earned our respect by living a human life with a poor family, racially discriminated against, in a brutal, physically violent culture. He lived through trauma like ours, abandonment like ours, and loss and rejection like ours. So we would know He understands. He did this all for the sake of offering us a gift companionship and a family that will never leave us or forsake us.
And that family is God the Father’s family. Jesus’s birth is called a gift for a reason. It isn’t by accident Jesus called God Father. The choice Jesus made to become one of us and live like us was an enormous gift of a bridge to unfailing Love and companionship, the chance to become more than God’s creation but to become sons and daughters of the Father. It’s an invitation and chance to enter into God’s family as a son or daughter, an opportunity to have close access to unfailing Love, and the opportunity of a healthy and safe relationship with a Heavenly Father who dearly loves us.
Now that is a Christmas meaning that I can sing about this year and a message that will honour the hurting and confused hearts around me.
And yes, of course I will make my gingerbread this weekend, and decorate my tree, not because they are the gift of Christmas, but because they will remind me of the gift I am celebrating.
July 3, 2021 - Day with God Reflection
The past year and a half has been quite a faith-stretching adventure for my wife Marie and me. It’s been fraught with many challenges: both of us contracting Covid-19, losing two beloved grandparents, Marie being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and more recently one of our parents being diagnosed with cancer. But it has also been a season of great spiritual growth as we’ve discovered and experienced new depths and dimensions of God’s grace and goodness in our lives.
God sometimes speaks to me through lived experiences, especially when I’m communing with Him in nature. This July (2021) I had one of those experiences. I thought I’d share some of that experience with you in this short [video] reflection below.
This July, after completing my support-raising journey to serve as a P2C campus minister at the University of Guelph , Marie and I took a week off to rest and celebrate our 12-year wedding anniversary up at her family’s cottage. During this time, I set aside one of the days to spend alone with God. I decided to take a day trip kayaking to Knife Island—one of my favourite swimming spots on the Bruce Peninsula.
Kenya, our 9-year miniature poodle, also loves the water and swimming, so I decided to bring her along for the adventure. I loaded up my day pack, put Kenya’s and my life jackets on, hopped in the kayak and then launched off into the sparkling blue waters of Lake Huron.
After about 10 minutes of paddling, Kenya’s initial excitement changed to nervousness as the sight of the shoreline slowly faded from view behind us. And then, almost as if someone had flipped a switch, a powerful wind began to blow over the bay, stirring up white-capped waves which began to pummel the side of the kayak, drenching us both with crisp lake water.
Although it would increase the time and distance of the voyage, I veered off course to the left of Knife Island so that our kayak could attack the waves head-on, rather than being parallel to them. I did this to protect Kenya and me from being sideswiped by the waves and risk tipping over.
However, I couldn’t explain my good purposes for heading directly into the waves to Kenya. She began to whine and shake as our little aquamarine kayak rode up 3-foot waves and then swiftly down the other side, again and again. In her fear and discomfort, I imagine Kenya must have thought I was uncaring, or at the best oblivious to her discomfort. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth: I love her and am for her.
Twenty minutes into the water crossing, we were both wet and weary. Kenya was now looking for a way to climb up out of the kayak. But every time she’d try to abandon ship, I would grab hold of her firmly and pulled her back into the cockpit of the kayak. Each time I would pull her in close to my chest so she could feel my warmth and hear my heart beating. Eventually she surrendered to my love and strength, and in budding trust tucked her little wet nose and head into my chest and under my straining arms as I paddled us into another big wave. Now she was no longer focusing on the winds and the waves, her focus was on me. And she was able to rest and recover, tucked safely against my chest and snuggled under my strong arms.
I then began to worship God over the sound of the crashing waves, singing songs of joy to my Father and Redeemer, declaring my own growing trust in Him. As I continued to worship God in song, Kenya’s shaking and whimpering was stilled, even though the wind and waves still raged around us.
After a little while, Kenya’s trust and courage grew strong enough for her to turn and stand up with front paw perched firmly on the kayak deck to face the wind and waves without fear. There was now a renewed light of excitement and adventure in her brown eyes.
Almost an hour later we arrived at Knife Island, tired but exhilarated. We spent most of the day there basking in the warmth of the sun and God’s goodness and diving into refreshing waters of Lake Huron and God’s amazing grace.
Reflecting on that recent Day with God, I feel like the Lord was giving me a profound and prophetic picture concerning the waters of life God has brought Marie and me through the past year and a half. The Holy Spirit illuminated my eyes to see that we were like Kenya in adventure and God was me planning the adventure, paddling the kayak, steering us into and through the wind and the waves, and holding us tightly and close to His heart under the shelter of His strong arms, as He brought us to a good and spacious place.
Like Kenya, we had hope-filled excitement and expectations when we launched off on this new life and ministry adventure with God back in Fall 2019. However, we really didn’t know what kind of voyage it would be, how long it would take, or what waves and wind we’d encounter along the way. We did know one thing: God was with us; He was the One steering the ship, even when it didn’t feel like it at times.
Like Kenya, our scope of vision and knowledge of God’s larger plan was very limited, like one peering into a mirror dimly. I’m reminded that God’s thoughts and ways are infinitely higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). Like Kenya, we could not understand the Lord’s wisdom and goodness in steering us headlong into the white-capped waves, rather than taking us on the shorter, but more perilous route.
Like me, God was expertly navigating the kayak through rough waters. He knew exactly what He was doing, where He was taking us, and how to get there safely, even though it meant a longer voyage than we had hoped or asked for. His strong arms were in complete control the whole time, even when it felt like the kayak would surely tip or be overtaken by the heaving of the waves.
Like God, my plans for Kenya and myself were good—I desired to bring her to a beautiful place, but this meant leading her across treacherous waters to get there. In a similar way, God’s plans for us were, are, and will always be for our good and His glory, despite the difficult circumstances we may find ourselves in. He knew that that this adventure would require us to choose faith over fear, and trust over timidity.
However, we, like Kenya, so easily lose heart and feel like abandoning ship. But every time this happened, God’s strong arms would grab hold of us and pull us in close, so that we could hear the Father’s heartbeat and hear His voice singing songs of joy and delight over us.
Hearing God sing over us brought comfort to our souls, and like Kenya, the Spirit began strengthening the feeble legs of our faith so that we could stand tall and gaze out at the horizon knowing that the Captain of our souls was in control and would bring us safely to His desired haven where the sunshine of His love and the refreshing waters of His grace would satisfy our weary souls.
We praise God that Jesus, our Captain and King, is still sovereign over the winds and the waves!
In part one and two of this series, I outlined some of my past experiences while making a living and embracing the secular music culture. I also detailed some of the various adjustments that I needed to make after being born again. In this last part of the trilogy, I would like to address a couple of personal concerns I have observed along the way, as Jody and I have been ministering in different churches over the past 23 years.
Having been raised in the slippery slope of secular music, it is difficult for me to hear worship minstrels say things like, “We had a great show last night at such and such a church,” or, “We’ve got a gig next Sunday morning.” This is the language of the world. I believe we should have an entirely different desire and focus.
We are called to worship the one true God with our whole being. The best musicians in every field are those who allow their hearts to express their inner affection through their music, and passionately express the love they have. It is awesome that we, as children of God, have the opportunity and privilege of pouring out our love and adoration for our beautiful and loving Father. Worship is a time to draw near to God with our deepest hearts, and not a time to draw attention to ourselves regarding our gifts.
I don’t believe it is healthy for us to look to worldly musicians as examples to glean from. We are blessed to have so many great godly musicians that we can learn from today. When we inappropriately look up to a particular person, they may become a type of teacher or mentor. YouTube is an excellent resource for both good and bad influences. We can inadvertently start to imitate the people we are watching on the internet. Jesus said, “A student is not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher” (Luke 6:40). Sometimes we get more than we bargained for when we set our eyes upon a prize. Many great worldly musicians have very serious relational issues, and many struggle with depression and addictions, among other things.
We are born again, and we are a royal priesthood. We are the children of God. Music was created by our Heavenly Father, and the majority of people on earth have a special love for it. I believe that we should be discerning, regarding the distinction between worldly music and music dedicated to God. James says, “Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4). Jesus said, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:16). Billy Graham was quoted in 2016 as saying, “This cosmos has its own entertainment and diversions that so permeate the atmosphere that it makes the way of the cross seem antiquated and irrelevant. In much of the entertainment media fostered by the cosmos, the name of God is profaned, sex is glamorized, and high, ethical living and Christian moral standards are laughed at.”
I know that many may disagree with my viewpoint on this distinction of worldly and godly music. I’ve had passionate discussions with Christians who vehemently oppose this concept. I've been told more than once that music is ‘amoral,’ which means it is neither moral nor immoral. Let’s agree to disagree on this issue. In my experience, all forms of music have an effect on us regardless of the lyrics. There is a vibration in the sound that has the power and capability to stimulate and awaken pure or impure motivations and desires.
God desires us to be holy, the definition of which means, “devoted entirely to God or to the work of God.” That’s us! We are called to be holy. Here are some synonyms of holy: blessed, consecrated, hallowed, sacred, sanctified. We are the ‘called out’ Levites who are expected to consecrate our hearts and hands in order to be ready to worship Him in spirit and in truth. This reminds me of a song by Mercy Me, written by Chris Tomlin called “Give Us Clean Hands.”
“We bow our hearts, we bend our knees
O Spirit, come make us humble
We turn our eyes from evil things
O Lord, we cast down our idols
So give us clean hands, give us pure hearts
Let us not lift our souls to another”
O, Minstrel of Worship, I hope that you are still excited to be part of this high calling of God?
Psalm 24:3-5 says:
“Who may climb the mountain of the LORD?
Who may stand in his holy place?
Only those whose hands and hearts are pure,
who do not worship idols
and never tell lies.
They will receive the LORD’s blessing
and have a right relationship with God, their saviour.”
In my last article entitled “From the Stage to the Platform,” I enlarged on some of my personal history, in an attempt to lay out some of the details from my journey in the secular music arena. After I got saved, I had to readjust my focus from being the centre of attention, to centering my attention upon the only One who is truly worthy. I also shared how God’s love finally brought me to my knees after 46 years of fighting against Him. The Lord was wooing me. I had heard the Gospel many times, but I had other plans and selfish desires that I thought were more important. I resisted His advances with a steadfast resistance. O, how deluded I was! I couldn’t be more thankful for the day of my salvation.
I know now that there is no real life until Jesus enters our hearts. Everything is basically an illusion that feels real, but ends in meaningless death. It reminds me of the Scripture that says, “You can rationalize it all you want and justify the path of error you have chosen, but you’ll find out in the end that you took the road to destruction” (Proverbs 14:12 TPT).
Let’s look at Israel’s great leader Moses. “Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill. As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle” (Exodus 17:10-13).
I see that these two men were instrumental in helping Israel to be victorious against the Amalekites by serving Moses. I am starting to see that the dynamics of a worship team may be very similar to the biblical story of Aaron and Hur. When the members of the team are submitted to the leader(s), and are able to lay down their agendas to uphold the arms of the worship leader(s), it makes leading worship a joy instead of a burden.
Times of worship are not times for individualism. It is not time for individual members to shine. It is time for Jesus to shine through the team. If the team has this purpose in mind, there will be true unity. This may be a lofty goal, but I have experienced it many times. I sometimes see the illustration like a picture of a surfer surfing the powerful waves on the ocean. Picture this: we all get on one surfboard, and as the waves (Holy Spirit) propel us, it soon becomes effortless. Notice that we are not on a bunch of different boards, but we are all together on one board. This is my desire every time I am involved in worship. I love it when we all pull together in sync, and we all feel the effortlessness of worshiping the King of Kings!
How do we get there? It takes a unified desire, purpose, and focus. Unity requires submission and it requires serving. When the worship team members are able to lay down their agendas and uphold the arms of the leader(s), it can be a beautiful thing. Resolve that the next time you are involved in the worship experience, after you have worked the musical parts out, remember to work the unity out also. After you have joined your parts together, join your hearts together. I pray that we would desire more of this unity, as we go forth into the future.
The team members are like parts of one body. Imagine how painful and futile it would be if one leg wanted to go west while the other leg wanted to east? What if one eye was looking left while the other is focussed to the right?
We are called to worship the highest and greatest King in the universe. There is no one like Him. There never has been and never will be! Lord of Lords and King of Kings is who He is! We need to give Him our best, as a team, submitted to one purpose and one desire! I believe this approach always pleases His heart. Let’s talk about these things with our teams and let’s focus on bringing these ideas more and more into reality.
In the world, we used to call it a show. It is not a show! There is only One in the audience! We are all called to be a part of the worship team. We may not all be called to get on the platform, but we are all called to worship the One who is worthy of all of our worship. This unity goal is reachable! It takes committed hearts to be joined together as one. We need to serve His higher purpose. Let’s focus our gifts back towards the One who gave them to us in the first place. “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17).
I grew up loving music and I started singing at five years old, when my older brother taught me how to sing the latest songs on CHUM radio. I had no idea that music would become such a deep passion! It also, at times, became an obsession for me.
I always wanted to be on the stage since seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show, and eventually, it became a reality. The “stage” is lit up so the performers can be seen by the audience. Ultimately, the reason I wanted to be on the stage was to receive a sense of love. I was seeking a deeper sense of value and worth.
I finally surrendered and got saved at 46 years old. I slowly started to understand that the platform in the church was much different than the stage I had become so familiar with. The stage is designed so the performers can be seen and, at times, adored by the audience. The platform is designed to praise and worship the audience of “One.” The Lord is meant to be the focus, and the church members become a group of worshipers. Only the Lord is worthy to be worshiped and adored. We are designed to worship, but we are not designed to be worshiped.
Everything had to be realigned for me as I slowly transitioned from the stage to the platform. It was no longer a show but a service. I was no longer the one who was being worshiped, but I was used to usher people into the presence of the only One who is worthy to be worshiped.
Often in church situations, when someone has a prominent worship gift, they are quickly fast tracked onto the platform. The modern church culture depends on good preaching, good worship and snappy video and lighting effects. When a new member comes into the church with any of these much-needed gifts, he or she is often swiftly lifted up. This is very dangerous, as this is exactly what happened to Jody and me. When this happens, our dormant pride has a very good chance of reviving itself and beginning its destructive, declining tactics! This declining fall happened to us once or twice in our journey! The old patterns of self-importance began to resurface.
In the secular music business, it is vastly preferable that we try as much as we can to sound exactly like the original recordings. It is sad to see a very similar trend in the church world. If our hearts are sold out for Him, then our musical style preference should take a back seat to our open hearts releasing our praise to Him. Sometimes I hear musicians warming up to a familiar "secular" song on the church platform. I personally wonder why? Perhaps some people have not experienced the effect that some of these songs can negatively have on some listeners?
The church platform should be a place of holiness. I believe we are called to holiness. We are called and honoured to worship the Lord. God is worthy to be honoured with all of our hearts, in Spirit and in Truth.
Lately, and really for the past few months, I have been feeling called by the Father to pull away from my environment of busyness, to-do lists, and from activities of creating more things to do. To step back from the frenzy of reengaging around me, and instead deliberately create a large space in my life for just the Father and me. As my world seems to want to dive into a fast-paced life of freedom out of (hopefully) post pandemic isolation, it seems counter cultural to step back, at a time when everyone is rushing forward!
To step back into Him and protect time for His presence to take centre stage in my life, my work, and my relationships. Rather than allot Him a slot in my days between the work, programs, and activities that my post pandemic freedom allows, I’m feeling called to refrain from engaging in the “more,” especially if it takes away from us, our time, from His place on the throne of my life and my heart.
The extrovert in me, who laughs loudly, weeps freely, and loves people dearly would normally dive into these new events with a passion. I have already done so many times before, only to end up losing myself and my Father in the buffet of events and projects my life presented me, becoming driven by the need to produce and provide instead of noticing my need to learn to follow.
So I am being called to step back now, into His presence, to protect the slowness, to protect our relationship, the Father’s and mine, to protect the throne of my life as being fiercely and functionally only for my Father and my Lord. To protect time for His presence to flow, for worship. To protect our intimacy cultivated through a long-enforced time of quiet.
Quiet because of global decisions that slowed my life down, and that the Father and I used to grow together.
And one way God is calling me to invest into our time together is through praise and worship. Not the event of worship but the act of praise and worship, and giving this the time and priority which is sorely needed. I enter His courts with praise (Psalm 100:4), and how better to enter His presence? The Lord inhabits the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3).
Do you know what means? The psalmist tells us that God inhabited the praises of Israel. He uses the word yâshab, which according to Strong’s means to abide, to sit, to tarry, to remain. This is what the Father does with us when we praise Him, and then we enter into worship and deeper relationship with HIm.
Because cultivating a close intimacy with my Father, to walk through each day with Him, both of us hand in hand, experiencing and living life together, is more vital, more life giving and freeing than any collection of new activities and events our newfound freedom can offer. Our continual act of worship and praise is our circulatory system for His presence.
I am continually learning that only by deliberately investing into my relationship with my Father over everything else, with my time and priorities, will I ever truly be able to contribute to, rather than consume, whatever I engage in. I am then able to bring the fruit of our relationship with me.
Be blessed, loved ones.
God’s kingdom is a kingdom of growth and change. Growth results in change. An acorn does not look like an oak tree, and yet the tree began as that small acorn.
My father told me once, “life is a never-ending series of change.” And he placed the challenge before me early on in my life. Fight change and you will be fighting life itself, for the rest of your life. Or learn to accept and hopefully embrace change and life will be a platform for growth and be good.
We know not all change is good: an ill-timed death of a loved one, a relationship, a marriage. Sickness and job loss, family tragedy can all bring change we would rather not have. But if we really believe God...
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Rom 8:28-29
His purpose was that we were to be conformed into the image of Jesus! I don’t know about you, but the more I look like Jesus, the more different I will look! I cannot crave the familiar and grow at the same time, and neither can the Bride of Christ.
Growth by its definition changes
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Rom 12:2
But how do we grow and take care of ourselves at the same time? This can be confusing because growth is often uncomfortable, so loving ourselves while growing is vital. The trick is to learn what that looks like, and what it does not look like. Allow me to share what I have learned about self-care vs self-indulgence.
Growth and self-indulgence work against each other.
Growth and self-care work synergistically.
Self-indulgence is born out of a goal for self-comfort and pleasure, often sacrificing a moral compass for pleasure and comfort. Self-indulgence can be motivated by escapism, boredom, lack of hope and so much more. It spirals downwards and can be often fed by the need to cover shame. We feel shame so we try to defend ourselves by seeking pleasure as proof that we deserve it and that we have worth, because we ultimately believe the lie that shame speaks that we are worthless. Ugh anybody else relate here? I know I do!
But self-indulgence is its own unquenchable reward, constantly seeking pleasure with the goal of validating ourselves. Because without the reward of pleasure we feel the shame. And this is where addiction creeps in…
Self-care is self-explanatory. It is caring for ourselves but it may or may not involve pleasure. What? I might not feel good?
Yes, it might not always feel good. But it is good.
It could be exercise or a doctor’s appointment or counselling. It could be a night off with friends, sleeping in or a vacation. Sound better now? Of course, self-care can feel good! It is behaviour that exists because of the underlying truth that we are worth caring for. It is guided by the truth that we have value, that we are worth investing into. And it is brutal to engage in when you are struggling with shame.
Self-indulgence numbs us and self-care validates us, and when shame is an issue, authentic validation is horribly difficult to accept much less voluntarily engage in.
Self-indulgence avoids growth and authenticity; self-care seeks it out.
Self-care has as its goal health, wholeness, connection and relationship with God.
And while goals of health and growth often require us to engage in behaviour that is not fun and may not feel good in the moment, they produce lasting fruits in our lives we so desperately need.
Reconciliation … a long word, which I think is fitting. It is a process that requires time and intention to be successful and highly values relationship when done well. It requires both parties wanting to understand and value the other’s journey and pain. The willingness to walk in someone else’s shoes, to empathize with their process. This requires listening, and humility, the willingness to admit we do not understand someone else’s heart fully. A real desire to know someone. That we may have got it wrong, that we may have reached incorrect conclusions, that we may have judged someone, labelled them ignorantly, overly simplified their character because we did not choose to understand their heart. Reconciliation is not easy, and in order to be successful it must be fuelled by love and a deep desire for relationship. It is a goal that is not void of justice but prefers the higher goal of relationship, where mutual honour and humility are the foundation.
God’s heart is for relationship, always. We were created to be in relationship with Him first, and then with others, and part of preserving relationships and growth is learning how to overcome damage that our inevitable failings in relationship will cause. Without learning how to walk through the process of reconciliation, relationships are doomed to remain superficial or even end through an inability to heal. We see this in families, between friends and groups of people, even countries.
However, we cannot move towards reconciliation without fully owning the damage that has been done by ourselves to others. That means no excuses, no minimizing, no avoiding taking responsibility, no victim blaming and no denial. When we are in the wrong, whether through our inaction or through action, we need to fully own it, and validate the other’s pain. This cannot be rushed. A person’s pain is validated by listening to them and giving them a voice.
If we value someone deeply we will we need to listen. Really listen to their heart, their pain, their perspective. The goal is to understand. You don’t always have to agree, but you do need to empathize with their pain. However, the question to ask yourself is this: have you cultivated a character that is safe to be vulnerable with? Note I didn’t ask how you see yourself, rather how others see you. After all, the goal is to be in relationship with others. Not with ourselves.
I want to stop here for a moment and ask…. Are you reading this thinking of someone else? Because if while reading this your thoughts are moving towards the wrongs done to yourself, and how you wish they would read this. May I humbly suggest you stop reading and come back to this later? As long as we focus on how we wish others would change, and what others are doing wrong, we miss the very real and powerful chance to be part of the solution ourselves. By focusing on the one thing we can control that we have complete responsibility for: ourselves.
Reconciliation also means asking for forgiveness, directly, when we have done harm. Not because we are owed it, but because in asking for forgiveness we are acknowledging our wrongdoing, and that we are in a place where we need forgiveness. It is vulnerable, because it places us in a position not to be forgiven by whomever we have hurt. We may come face to face with the real possibility that the other party does not value the relationship as much as we do. And as horribly painful as that is, we know we will always have the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father, and the chance to grow and bless people even if someone chooses to close the door on relationship. We can still be part of God’s solution.
If reconciliation is an option, it will not involve punishment, but it often involves restitution. Before you react to that statement hear me on this. Punishment’s goal is justice only, often fuelled by revenge, a wrong for a wrong. Punishment by its very nature encourages correct behaviour out of fear of a deterrent; it does not encourage a safe place to grow out of our wrong behaviour. Restitution operates from a recognition that we may not be able to make “right” what we have done, but we are fully committed to working on not repeating our mistakes again. And that commitment involves sacrificially building bridges and changing ourselves and our behaviour to make things right from our end.
Restitution has as its goal restored healthier, healed relationships.