We were blessed beyond measure this week! The Wonder Sweetie had the week off, so we borrowed a paint sprayer, and we caught up on much needed house fixing. The weather was perfect for each day (rainy days gave us rest, sunny days gave us space to work). My deck and fence are freshly painted, changing our house look from "rustic" to fresh and "cottage-y".
What on earth does this have to do with pharisees, you might ask? Well, this week was the next step in the path that the Lord is trying to make me walk (again). Remember last week when I said that the Lord was giving me the same verses over again? Well, He continued His work. I am not done, not by a long shot, but at least I know what He is trying to say now!
While this week was a wonderful blessing, I had a lot of time to spend deep in thought. Those of you who know me know that sometimes that is NOT the best idea (smile). I spent hours upon hours literally thinking about myself....to the point that *I* was even tired of me! I talked to God and said "I am TIRED of thinking about myself! I want to think about YOU!", yet again it was almost impossible for me to get out of that rut. I think the Lord arranged it that way, because I kinda had to "hit bottom" in my thoughts to turn around. I spent a great deal of time lamenting my lack of spiritual growth, past hurts that others have inflicted, irritations that I have with other people, irritations that I have with me, my longings and wants, my desires and anxieties.
I also spent several nights with insomnia, something that pretty much never happens to me. I can sleep just about anywhere, just about any time, in almost any condition. But, again, because I had been deep in fretful thoughts all day, I would wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep for hours.
Again, I think the Lord had to give me my head, let me run with the bit in my teeth, then had to break me down with lack of sleep and such, in order to get me to stop THINKING so much, and just LISTEN. A few choice words from a wonderful email (thanks mom!), the perfect song for the moment, and a lot of time brought me to the point of realization of what I had been messing up, which is summed up in this question:
Why is it that sometimes it is so much easier to accept punishment than grace?
I am both the most prideful and the most insecure person I have ever met (smile). I wonder how that can be so, how I can really honestly think I am a stellar person and yet also think that I am a burden. I think the answer is that my flesh and my spirit are warring. My flesh thinks I am stellar. My spirit says "There is no one righteous, not even one...", and then my emotion takes that to the point of condemnation. My flesh leaves no room for grace, while my spirit is trying to listen to the Lord. My flesh never lets the Holy Spirit lead my spirit into the glory that is the Lord's love for a sinner. My flesh is like the little kid who says "Oh yeah? I am going to hold my breath til I turn blue in the face!". My flesh is either overtly prideful or falsely humble (which is, ironically, pride).
Why do we do this? Why do we miss grace?
I think sometimes it seems noble to us. We think that we are being suitably humble by embracing punishment and condemnation. Sometimes I think we do not realize that we have rejected grace. Sometimes we struggle with the idea that we cannot earn salvation (we know it, but we still, deep down, remember society which does weigh our actions against those of others). Sometimes we are afraid that we will fall to sin if we do not keep ourselves in a constant state of condemnation. Sometimes I think it is self centeredness and a LOT of pride.
Maybe there are other reasons as well. This list is what keeps me from understanding grace to its fullest. I admit that, for me, punishment and rules are SO much easier than grace and freedom. I also admit that there is a great deal of self centeredness when I think of times in the past when others have put me down. For me to dwell on those barbs is, ironically, very self affirming because I can feel a little bit like a victim (which, in our society, is pretty much the HEIGHT of carnal nobility and the ultimate excuse for just about anything).
Sometimes I do not even realize that I reject grace!! I do not even realize that I am living "in my head" instead of at the feet of Christ. I find myself talking AT God, instead of talking TO Him.
And sometimes I am so terribly afraid that I will not be able to handle a lack of condemnation in my life. I am afraid that I will run off across the field of ruin, if the bit is removed from my mouth, and drown in the river of sin.
Yet the thing is that all of those thoughts are STILL centered on me! They are just a form of false pride. Faith in my strength instead of the Lord's. Pride in my victimhood. Fear of the unknown, and not enough faith to trust that the Lord will not let me run amuck.
Another pitfall of not accepting grace is that I find that I tend to judge others as compared to myself. I do not mean to, and in fact, do not WANT to. However, when you feel that you are barely hanging on by your fingernails to "goodness", you tend to instinctively weigh yourself against others. I have become an unwitting pharisee. Instead of accepting the fact that I am a saved sinner, I try to shine my own grubby crown by pointing out what good I do. I do not even think I am putting on a show for the Lord as much as putting on a show for me. I know the Lord knows the truth. *I* just do not want to know the truth sometimes.
Now, let me say that I know that the rules that the Lord set up in His Word are valid and golden. I am NOT saying that, when we are under grace then we are not bound by rules! We still ARE bound by the New Testament. Yes we are to dress modestly. Yes we are to headcover if we are praying or prophesying in public. Yes we women are to be in submission to our husbands, and not to be teachers of God over men. We are to love our husbands and children, to be busy at home, not to gossip, not to overindulge.
However, there is a difference between observing those rules from grace versus from fear and works. A heart that is full of grace observes rules in joy, in peace, in righteousness that comes FROM THE LORD. When we are in grace, we observe the rules, and the burden is LIGHT. We obey because we have a heart for the Lord and for others who might be led astray by our actions, even if our actions would not lead us astray. We do have to be careful not to allow our freedom to be a stumbling block. Freedom in the Lord does not mean freedom from the Lord's rules. :-)
A heart that is full of fear and works observes rules in condemnation and anxiety, in trying to earn its own righteousness. We obey not out of love, but out of trying to earn points. We are relying on ourselves, and when we do that, we WILL compare ourselves to ourselves (in self guilt) or to others.
I believe that this is what the Lord is trying to teach me, the verse that I mentioned in my last blog entry fits perfectly in this message. It is hard for us to chip away the years of fear and constant condemnation. It is easy to listen to the voice of the enemy as he tries to accuse us constantly.
But it is not just for us that grace is given. I do not understand grace fully, but I do know this: when I have touched grace, when I have felt the relief of having been made "perfect forever" even while I am still "being made holy", then my focus is on God and others. I am not trying desperately to save myself (not just spiritually, but mentally and emotionally day to day). That allows me to focus on the needs of others.
Sometimes I think that blessings are hard for us because we think that we are the only ones who reap the reward. However, when we are staring at our belly button in condemnation, fear, anxiety, resentment, anger, or any other emotion, then we are not staring at Him. When we are trying to save ourselves, we are not saving others. When we are spending our time in our heads, we are not spending time at His feet. When we are spending hours "venting", then we are not spending hours in praise. Every good think that He gives us, we need to FULLY EMBRACE, so that we can go from being weak, broken, and self centered, to being strong in Him, bathed in His amazing grace, fully of help for others and praise for Him. He is praised when we accept His blessings, NOT when we are living lives of anxiety or condemnation.
Now.....I sure know the talk......I need to start walking the walk (smile)!