When Are you Going to Follow Jesus and Get Your Life Straightened Out?

Before I fell headlong for Jesus and became a Christian, I was not a calm woman. I did a bunch of ridiculous (and dangerous) stuff. I also had completely stupid ideas about life, which I won’t bore you with.

During this darling phase of my life there was one particular woman who drove me bonkers. Every time she saw me (a lot) she asked, “When are you going to start following Jesus and get your life straightened out?” She was relentless, and because she was my mom’s friend, I couldn’t find it in myself to tell her to bug off. I may have been an immoral hellion, but I was still a Southern girl with Southern manners. And by the way, her question is a particularly Baptist (and Southern) one.

Christians are always harping on you to get your life straightened out and of course, they have the answer for how to do that (and no, I don’t mean Jesus). Stop doing this. Stop doing that. Stop. Stop. Stop. Law. Law. Law. They care more about propriety than they do Jesus most of the time. She wanted me to get my life straightened out foremost and first of all.  There were several people rooting for that change of direction, including myself.

Its like my anxiety attacks. I’m told, “Well, just stop them. Just stay calm.”  Loved ones assume I have some measure of control and if I wanted to I could just quit the panic attack mid-stream. Like here I am refusing to stop a panic attack because feeling like I’ve got the stomach flu while having a heart attack is so much fun. Who would want to stop that?

Turns out I am quite literal. So, one day I piped up and said, “Which one of those do you want me to do? Follow Jesus or straighten out my life?”

I’ll give her props. She was dead honest. She said, “Well, I’m supposed to say follow Jesus, or both, or something like that, but really I’m just so sick of watching you make an idiot out of yourself that I want you to straighten out your life.”

Geez. And, I was worried about my Southern manners.

But then she dropped her guard and said, “But sweetie, if you never get yourself tidied up, you still need Jesus.” Truer words never spoken.

I am a bit tidier today–well, a lot actually–although I still have a lot of really insane ideas about life, but I did need Jesus. Not to straighten up my life, although he has helped me do that because I really couldn’t do it myself, but to be my friend, my confident, my comforter, my help and my Savior. Yes, my life needed all sorts of help, but my soul needed more. I needed someone to stand in my place before God and say, “She’s mine.”

Because ultimately her question was spot on. If I could not straighten out my life (and I could not) then how would I ever stand before a perfect, holy God? But, Jesus can. He can stand before God in all His perfection, and say, “She’s mine.” And that is good enough for God. So, by following Jesus I am given his righteousness. Which is Grace. Grace. Grace.

Why I Don’t Like Church But Go Anyway

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

I’m a Christian girl but I am taking a hiatus from church membership presently. When one is looking for a home the search invades all aspects of life including church. Or at least, it serves as a pretty good excuse for not going, and just hip-hopping from one church to the other, or doing the on-line internet thing, keeping one ear tuned to the sermon if it proves to be a good one. Like listening to the Christian radio station while driving. Not too terribly involved, but if something pops up, you listen.

Although, if I am honest, I was never much of a church girl. I am always a Jesus girl and I am not shy about it. I adore him. But church? Or Jesus’ Bride, as Scripture calls it? Well, I just never got into the groove of it. I find it boring. For several reasons.

1. I could never get anyone to simply ANSWER my questions. I now know that they likely didn’t know the answer, and that truly some of my questions were a bit on the bizarre side. (Did Jesus have any of Mary’s DNA? How did that work?)

2. I always found the songs a bit dull, and adding rock bands, worship leaders and disco lighting did not change my mind.

3. The sermons never spoke to anything I was dealing with (and it is all about me, right?).

4. They don’t let you raise your hand during a sermon to get clarification on a point, which literally puts me over the edge because my need to know is insanely obsessive  But, if they let me, they’d have to let everyone, and then we’d never get out of there, which is a common complaint anyway without the Q&A at the end.

5. Prepare to so roll your eyes at this one: I simply can never think of a thing to wear. In my defense, I spend Mon-Sat in Carharts covered in dirt, so it is hard to drag out something suitable and fashionable–something I won’t be tugging at during the service–and feel like I look good. I have spent the whole hour and a half completely self-conscious about my dress. I am the female version of Shallow Hal over here.

6. And, lastly the old favorite: church is full of hypocrites. Oh, don’t groan. It is. And, on my best days I am able to acknowledge that I am the worst of the lot. But, when I am feeling sorry for myself and don’t want to go, I can always throw that one around.

Still, with all that, I have spent most of my life going to church. And, all of my adult family life. I was very glad that my kids loved our family church. The fact that they loved it was enough of a reason for me to go every Sunday, but I also made good friends there, and found a niche teaching Bible Study (one sure fire way to answer those questions, study Scripture!). And, I do believe I will find another church, and get involved and do the church thing again, just not yet.

While figuring out where I want to live, work, spend the rest of my limited days on earth (you get past 50 and suddenly time gets very limited), or even where I have the option to do all that–there are some realities to be considered–I don’t feel the need to figure the whole church thing out just yet. Which is a bit refreshing and a bit of a relief. One thing at a time.

But, here’s my point. I do still go to church, maybe not the same one every Sunday or even the right one (gasp, been going to the very left wing Episcopal church lately), but I do show up in my unfashionable and uncomfortable dress, and I leave happy. I leave very happy because being in God’s house with God’s people whether I like the music, or the sermon, or the people, is refreshment to a world weary soul, and we are all world weary. It is exactly what is needed after a long week of work and another one ahead of me. It is God’s Word incarnate, present in that place despite the tedium and boredom and lack of snappy songs. Being in the presence of God isn’t limited to a church, of course, but it is a sure-fire way to ensure it.

When the people of God ask the Spirit of God to be among them, He is. And, that is invaluable. Boring sermons, lackluster songs and horribly out of style dresses not withstanding.

Gentleness: The Fruit of Surrender

In Galatians 5:22, gentleness is listed as one of the 9 characteristics of the Fruit of the Spirit. It is from the Greek word, prautes, and is defined in the NIV Key Word Study Bible as “meek…but not in a man’s outward behavior only, nor in his relations to his fellow men, or his mere dispostion, but in an inwrought grace of the soul expressed primarily toward God. It is that attitude of the spirit by which we accept God’s dealings with us as good and do not dispute or resist.”

Those last two words–dispute and resist–cause me to pause. How much of my life has been spent disputing and how much has been spent resisting? The opposite of resisting is submitting, a word most of us genuinely dislike, whether in regard to other people–submitting to their needs first, or to God. Submission is complete surrender. It is letting go of your right to decide and putting your life into God’s hands. If we summarize this attitude into laymen’s terms, we could say that gentleness is complete surrender to God’s will in our lives. We submit our lives, our wills, our desires, our dreams, and our hopes to God, then we fully accept His will for our lives and live in accordance with it.

Now, if you’re like me, this thought just went through your head, “If I just knew God’s will for my life, I would submit to it.” The fact that many are searching for God’s will in their lives is evidenced by the extraordinary number of Bible studies that explore this very topic. Walk into any Christian bookstore and some variant of “Discovering God’s Will for Your Life” will be among the top ten picks. BUT, we need to back up a step first. Before we begin seeking God’s will in our lives, we need to first submit to God’s will in our lives. If we don’t, we’re only playing games with ourselves and with God. WHAT WE’RE REALLY SAYING IS THIS…YOU TELL ME WHAT YOUR WILL IS AND THEN I’LL TELL YOU IF I’M GOING TO SUBMIT (resist or dispute.)

The NIV commentary goes on to say, “Prautes is the acceptance of God’s dealings with us, considering them as good considering that they enhance the closeness of our relationship with Him.” In other words, God is first seeking a relationship with us, one built on trust and submission, before we get down to any business of what His will is or is not. Let’s be honest: when we say we’re looking for His will, generally we’re either looking for a way out or a way in. We want into, or out of—a marriage, a job, a ministry, a neighborhood, a house. It’s all about solving our immediate problems, but God’s Word says, “Seek me first and all this will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

There should come a time in every believer’s life when we finally understand that God is good and His dealings with us–even when we cannot understand them and they bring us to our knees sobbing–are good. Disputing this with Him assumes your thought processes are either like His or better than His, that your reasoning skills and understanding are like His. Isaiah 55:9 clearly states that His thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His ways are higher than ours. Sometimes you will not understand why He allowed something to happen. You don’t need to understand to submit. You only need to trust.

I learned this lesson through a relationship with a boyfriend. The relationship ended and I kept trying to sort though it and understand what had gone wrong. We were, practically speaking, perfectly suited to one another. While sorting away, I had a thought that I knew came from God. It was simply, “Cinthia, you may never understand this, but even so it is over and it is time to move on.” Sometimes we may not understand, but even so it is time to move on. The day may come when the Lord brings understanding–it is His to give–but until that day, stop disputing and resisting and move on in submission to what the Lord has brought into your life.

These can be scary words. We are all fallible, fearful human beings and do not trust easily. The Lord knows that. Our lives are precious and deserving of our best in living them out. We should not cast our pearls before swine, but instead be cautious in these days when there are so many ways to spend a life. It is only in seeking the Lord and relating to Him and letting Him relate to us through His Word that we can begin to trust Him and submit to Him. So, He designs our circumstances to give us that chance–an opportunity to show us He is faithful. Do we resist Him? Do we dispute Him? Or do we draw near and submit?

Let us yearn to be like Peter, saying, “Lord, to whom else shall we go?” (John 6:68)

People, to whom else shall we go? We look for peace, we ask for joy, we desire understanding and we yearn for purpose. We believe all these things are wrapped up in some mystery called God’s will for our lives and that if we could unravel it, all would be well, not understanding the mystery is in God alone. We find these things not in jobs to be done or questions answered, but in the “attitude of spirit by which we accept God’s dealings with us as good and do not dispute or resist.” We will find it all in complete surrender and gentle submission to our Lord.