Does God need me? Monday, Oct 8 2007 

I thought I’d address this question on a brief break from the confessions because it’s something that I have wrestled with for a long time, and I think the clouds are starting to clear. Also, I think this relates back to the pride thing, and how it can affect our relationship to God (which is something I didn’t address before).

Basically, what I want to talk about is the idea that God needs us to do certain things so that his plan will work. I’m going to talk about a few times in my life this attitude has been exhibited and what has led me to change my thinking.

I had always been very skeptical when people say that God spoke to them through a vision or a dream. I thought that such things were flimsy and unreliable as a way of hearing from God.

A few years ago, when my faith was shaky at best, I started to feel anxious that my life was not on track with God’s plan. I started searching for meaning and purpose and what in the world God wanted me to do with my life (these questions become more prominent with the lead up to the HSC and year 12). I took every “what is your spiritual gift?” test that was available. I started reading into things in everyday life that I took to be signs from God.

(Example: I’ve been feeling lately like I’d like to be a singer and a songwriter. There’s a story in my favourite magazine about how to write songs this month. That must be what God wants me to do.)

I felt so much pressure to do what I perceived to be God’s will because it seemed like if I made one wrong move, that would ruin all the good things God could give me. My life was a constant struggle trying to walk a tightrope (that I called “God’s plan”) whilst blindfolded. It was up to me to get it right.

At the end of that year, I was to go on a beach mission team for the second time. It was, by far, the highlight of my year. A little way into the year, I startled feeling like I shouldn’t go on mission. Despite the fact that the team was struggling for numbers, I persisted with the idea (inside my head, for then) that God was telling me not to go. I loved mission, and I couldn’t understand why God would want to take that away from me. Still, I was scared to death that if I didn’t do what he’d asked, it would be chaos.

After a while, I had a dream one night. I was in church and my pastor was preaching. When I woke up, I couldn’t remember much, but one word stuck with me: Jonah.

I went to my Bible and read the story of Jonah. Jonah disobeys God and catches a boat to Ninevah. As a result, a big storm threatens to sink the boat until Jonah is thrown overboard. After that, I was convinced that God was telling me that I needed to quit the beach mission team, or the whole thing would go down. If I didn’t do what God asked, I would ruin his perfect plan. And not just for me, but for the whole team.

I wrote to my team leaders explaining to them the whole thing and why I wouldn’t be coming on team.

Thankfully, I was blessed with very wise and godly team leaders. They wrote back to me explaining that it would be within God’s will whether I went on mission or not. They told me that God’s will  is not so specific that we humans can ruin it with one bad decision. They also said that they still needed people to come on team, but they didn’t need me. They said that it was dangerous to think that the world revolved around me (those were the exact words, no kidding).

Their words cut right through me and left a sting. But they were right. I was stupid for thinking that my actions could make or break the success of something God was doing.

More recently, I have fallen into the same trap of thinking that God needs me to work in the life of my boyfriend. We have both changed a lot in positive ways since we started this relationship, which led me to believe (once more) that his success as a Christian was dependant on how much I was praying for him and encouraging him, and whether we were together at all. When we broke up for a day, God really challenged me to see that he can work without me, and that I should be thankful that he has chosen to use me.

Now I see that God does not need me for anything. I am not irreplaceable and the success of God’s work on this earth does not depend on me in any way.

What a weak God he would be if his plans could be stopped by us simply refusing to comply!

I am learning that nothing can stop God from bringing about justice and good things.

My salvation is not a result of anything I have done, or failed to do. It’s all about him.

Confessions: Pride Tuesday, Sep 25 2007 

Something has come to my attention lately: people in the Church are so ashamed of their own sin (despite being forgiven – where is the need for shame?) that they can’t bear to share their struggles with other people. This, of course, means that every time someone struggles with a particular sin (which is actually really common) they think they are the only one who struggles, perpetuating the cycle of silence and making people in the Church feel even more isolated and guilty. There is no need to hide in shame! We have been forgiven through Christ – our sin we no longer bear!

This is not me pointing the finger. I am guilty of this 100 times over. I admit (shamefully) that many times it is the condemnation of others that I fear more than that of God, if word of my sins were to get out. So this is me taking a sledge hammer and smashing the cone of silence that is destroying our Church community.

In the book of James, we are told:

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

– James 5:16

I will be writing a series of blogs in which I will confess and talk about some sins I have struggled with, and continue to struggle with. You have already heard about my battle with sexual sin. Guess what? There’s more where that came from. Feel free to comment, or just know, in silence, that you are not alone.

The first one is about pride, because I think it is a big part of what often stops us talking about our sins.

Pride has been a constant struggle for me, but it can be so elusive; so hard to identify.

Last year this caused some real rifts between me and my friends. Yet, I don’t think I was ever consciously aware of it as a problem. I had a few friends who were Christians and to the others, I was the “good girl”. My Christian friends looked up to me as someone who had it all together – I didn’t worry about boys, I got good marks, my family was nice and I was passionate about God and truth. My other friends would talk to me occasionally about my faith, but our conversations were often limited to shallow things. To tell you the truth, I liked everyone thinking that my life was on track. My pride stopped me from letting them get too close, which meant I didn’t have to get hurt. But they didn’t really see me. I remember one day when my Christian friend said to me with a sigh, “Jess, your life is perfect”. At that moment, I felt my heart break into two pieces. I felt a lump in my throat. I wanted to tell her that inside, I was just like her and that I struggled with the same insecurities everyday… but I didn’t. Turns out, that lump in my throat was my pride. And it did NOT want to be swallowed. So I kept the pain inside and let her go on thinking that.

I couldn’t bear the thought that my wonderful image would come undone, despite desperately wanting someone to know and love me for who I was. After a while, I noticed that my friend started to change. She would go out drinking, started dating a non-Christian guy and became a lot less interested in talking about God. The hardest part was that she would hide things from me. She would open up to our non-Christian friends about her problems, but steered clear of me even though the effects on her life were obvious. One time I confronted her about dating a non-Christian. She said she knew I was right in saying she shouldn’t be doing it, but that she hadn’t come and told me about it because she knew what I would say. She thought I was too judgemental. In my pride, I didn’t want to ruin my reputation as someone who had it all together, despite the fact that my friends were pulling away from me.

Pride is also something that I struggle with today. Coming to live in a community of Christians can be really encouraging, but it can also put a lot of pressure on one to “look Christian”. I suppose this has been intensified by me becoming a Bible study leader. Suddenly it felt like the small torch which occasionally shone into my life had become a massive spotlight, and the heat was making me sweat. My pride had been fed by the fact that I was wanted as a Bible study leader, and caused me to think that leading well meant not letting anyone see the sin. I still wanted people to think I had it all together.

I remember going out with the other Bible study leaders for coffee and a catch up one evening. They had all done it once before, but it was my first time. Imagine my surprise (and anxiety) upon hearing that we would all individually share our recent struggles and have one member of the group pray for us. The pressure built as the other leaders took their turn to share heart-felt struggles from their life and the insecurities that some battled each day. Still, I was too prideful to share how I had been struggling sexually with my boyfriend. Although what I said was honest, it wasn’t what had really been on my heart.

Pride has kept me, and still does to some extent, from sharing things with my room mate. It always seemed to me like she had the perfect life and I was scared to tell her things because I thought she might judge or look down on me (sound familiar?). I wanted her to think that everything was great in my life. For a long time, I didn’t tell her about the struggles with sexual sin my boyfriend and I were going through. He had an accountability partner and he strongly encouraged me to talk to her and open up. I stubbornly refused, saying that I didn’t think she’d understand. Liar. I really just didn’t want her to see my problems. Sometimes I still keep things from her because of the same fears and pride.

Recently, before Blake and I broke up for a day, I opened up and told her about my doubts and fears in the relationship. I told her how I had been feeling and that it scared me. We talked for a while and her words were filled with compassion, understanding and wisdom. Not the judgement and eye-rolling “I can’t believe you have this problem” that I expected. She encouraged me to open up to Blake with the same openness I had shown her. And later that night when I came in crying and distraught, she hugged me and my pride fell into little wet patches on the back of her shirt.

In my relationship with Blake, pride has been the cause of many an argument. I am unwilling to admit I’m wrong, and he is frustrated with the way I cling to my opinion without allowing challenge. In the middle of a (somewhat) heated “discussion”, Blake emphatically declared, “Jess! You can be so stubborn sometimes!”. I bit my lip and did not say the words burning in my mind: “That’s because I’m right!”. It’s sad, but that’s how prideful I am at times. Honestly, I have no real resolution to offer on this one. I still regularly hold onto my pride instead of letting Blake see, and relate to, the real me.

As you can see, pride is a sin that spans far and wide and is one that’s easy to mistake for good intentions sometimes. It is a constant struggle for me, but God is good and he finds ways to challenge and humble me.

Read Isaiah 2:6-22.

The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled
       and the pride of men brought low;
       the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.

-Isaiah 2:11