January 3, 2011

freed or enslaved

This past week Ryan and I were in Spokane Washington where Ryan along with four others led worship for the Winter Conference for the Northwest region of Campus Crusade for Christ. For me, the theme of the week was humility, not because I showed humility but because I desperately lacked humility.

One of the speakers at the conference, Roger Hershey, challenged us to live our lives as if we have been set free. As Christians we often live like we are still slaves to the things of the world, and we forget that we have been set free from these things and live accordingly. I really appreciated his challenge. Roger also said that when we don't understand that our righteousness is in Christ and not in ourselves then we become judgmental which is a form of pride.

Even though we have been set free, Ephesians chapter 6:12 tells us that as believers, while we are here on earth we will constantly struggle against spiritual forces. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places". I have to be honest that in my own life, I don't always think this way. These "struggles" will look different for everyone but we need to understand what these spiritual struggles look like for each of us so that we can be quick to identify them and not allow them to keep us enslaved.

I think sometimes it can be harder to identify the "struggles" in our lives that are intangible, or habitual struggles that can even result from good motives. For me, this week was a reminder that I have habitual forms of pride in my life that I really don't even recognize as pride. But as I also learned this week, struggles left unchecked, often result in pride and make it hard for God to use us.

God wants a surrendered heart, a surrendered attitude, a surrendered life. If our hearts aren't humble and surrendered to Him, then we have pride in our life. Whether or not your feelings or your way is justified, your response is what the Lord is looking at. In Isaiah 66:2b the Lord says, "But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word."

Personally, I struggle in many ways when it comes to humility, many of which aren't always obvious forms of pride. We can be deceived so easily by the evil one. Just after Peter exhorts us to humility, he says in I Peter 5:8, "Be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." Yes, my struggle and your struggle might just be disguised, coming in the form of seemingly rational thoughts of why in the moment your actions, your words or your thoughts are 100% justified.

This past week I hurt someone deeply because my words and actions, which in the moment I fully believed where justified, I allowed to go unchecked. I didn't heed the warning in I Peter. I was not of sober spirit, instead I was the complete opposite of sober. I was not on the alert, instead I was blinded by the spiritual struggle going on around me (and if you are a Christian, you need to know there is always a spiritual struggle going on around you) and in my irrational, quick tempered response I let the roaring lion devour me. How useful to the Lord can I be in this moment? I let my way, my right, my belief turn into pride instead of being humble.

Thankfully, I had people around me much wiser then myself, bring to light the sin in my life. Then, I had a choice, to either continue to defend myself, my way, my right, or choose to humble myself, confess my sin and ask for forgiveness. By God's grace, I choose the latter. I'm so thankful that I don't have to stay in a useless, devoured state!

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is James 4:1-7. James also talks about humility and pride, but in a little different way. He says that when I choose to give my way or my right, over to pride instead of humility, that I have actually committed adultery with the world. This kind of language ought to really get your attention. James 4:4 says, "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?" As I mentioned before, we are in a battle, and James goes on to explain in verse 5 that the Lord, "jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us." Christian, every time you and I choose the path of pride, which can come in various forms, we commit adultery, please do not take this lightly. When this happens a bond is broken and the fellowship that we once had with the Lord isn't the same anymore. It's important to understand that I am not saying that you are no longer saved or have lost your salvation, but instead, that the fellowship between the Holy Spirit in you and God the Father in Heaven is strained. More of me makes less room for the Lord, it's as simple as that. Our un-surrendered hearts become unable in that moment to be fully used by the Lord. Thankfully verse 6 goes on to say, "But he gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

So, I humbled myself and asked for forgiveness of the person I hurt for the un-checked pride in my life. This allowed me to return to the humbled state where the Lord could better use me as He desires to. I am so amazed that this is way that my Lord and Savior works! In Romans 11, Paul writes to the church in Rome after he explains to the Jews who were really confused that God would show the same grace and mercy to both Jews and Gentiles, he says in verses 32-33 "For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all. Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable his ways!"

Maybe you are like me and you have fallen into the comfortable and easy habit of believing a lie about yourself, that you aren't good enough, or that you are lacking certain qualities and so you stay stuck in that place of belief. You need you know that when you stay in that place this it is pride and your aren't claiming the truth in Galatians 5:1 which says, "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." You have been set free! Live like it!

Or maybe also like me, you believe your way is right, and that even if you are "right" or "correct", your response to others around you is ugly and far from humility as you respond too quickly and without love. This really doesn't get you anywhere except for a prideful heart unable to be used by the Lord, and in my case, people who I love, hurt by those attitudes.

So, I want to ask you, what spiritual struggles are you fighting? Maybe your spirit, like mine isn't even sober enough to realize that you have a struggle because for so long, you have justified your actions, thoughts or feelings as rational.

Whatever your struggle is, whether it's been 10 minutes or 10 years that you have slowly been allowing un-checked pride into your life, my prayer for you and for myself is that we recognize our sin, confess it, and turn from it. It's never too late to experience the freed life in Christ!