Winning

Recreation 1533

I just want to win. Really. Most days that’s all I’m asking for – to get through without lust or jealousy or coveting creeping in, or bitterness toward someone who hurt me, or guilt over how I’ve hurt someone else.

Just one day without labels undermining my confidence in who God says I am; without anger welling up or judgmentalism sneaking in; without acting on impulses that leave me feeling dirty and unforgivable.

To lay my head on the pillow and not lament like David “[O God] …my sin is always before me…” (Psalm 51:3).

That’s all I want. But I rarely get it. And it sucks, to use a less-than-upright-Christian vernacular. To want so badly to please God, only to find you’ve fallen on your face again…it can be so demoralizing. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

This is the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit (see Galatians 5:17). Life is lived on a battlefield.

But here’s the deal: winning isn’t the point! That’s right – getting to the end of our day with our good deeds outweighing our bad deeds shouldn’t be our focus in the first place.

That’s tough to get our heads around, isn’t it? Every part of us screams “Of course winning is the point! Where would we be without winning?!?

Truth: we are in the exact same place without winning as we are with winning.  No matter what our score sheet looks like at the end of the day, we are still under the watchful care of an almighty God who loves us regardless.

The real goal is living in His presence and in His will. Enjoying the journey with Him at our side instead of fretting over whether we’re doing well enough to have Him at our side. His presence is not contingent upon our performance. And when we get that, the battles throughout the day are far less intimidating.

This doesn’t mean we raise the white flag and accept the loss. It doesn’t mean that whatever we may do, no matter how right or wrong, is okay. When we spend our days enjoying the journey with Him, we discover a desire to please Him…but without the anxiety of worrying whether we’re doing it right.  No longer are we fighting against the negatives. We’re basking in the positives – love, grace, and the simple unchangeable fact that Someone far bigger than me believes in me unconditionally.

And then when we get to the end of our day, we realize that we did win after all! The stuff that wanted to drag us down didn’t gain a foothold nearly as easily. And when it did, we were able to get back up and walk on.

We don’t end the day with a perfect score. We still make poor choices along the way. But those poor choices, we find, are far less frequent and have less impact.

This is the freedom of focusing on our Companion rather than on our adversaries; focusing on His love rather than our faults. It’s resting in Christ instead of striving to win in our own strength.

And in the end, that’s the best win of all!

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Our Inner Testimony

Testimony. People 1810

We talk a lot about it as believers.

As we should.

We are Christ’s ambassadors, and the image we project as we represent our King is important. We cannot represent a compassionate God with outward shows of irresponsibility, corruption, hypocrisy, intolerance, and other subpar behavior.

But there is another aspect to our testimony that is more subtle, and extremely enslaving and limiting.  I call it our “inner testimony”.  It’s those weaknesses and struggles that remain in our private lives and never see the light of day.

At some level, we all have something that we wrestle with privately.  Maybe yours is big or maybe it’s trivial. Maybe no one knows about it, not even those closest to you. If that’s true I’d venture to guess it’s not because you’re leading a double life, but because you’re ashamed and embarrassed for anyone to know (that’s the case more often than not).

So we dig in and we fight alone.

As valiant as we might be, there are days when we come limping off the battlefield dragging our sword behind us and nursing a gaping wound.

In time, those occasional losses start to wear on us, and we become more and more prone to giving up the fight.  Sure, we still go through the motions.  We beat our chests and rattle our swords and let out the most intimidating cries we can. But deep down, we’ve resigned to the fact that this is what we are and we can’t win.  In other words, we start to believe the labels and the lies. Then comes compromise and bad habits and deeper and deeper levels of shame and thoughts of “Well, I surely can’t talk to anyone about this now”.

So you just go with it and try to ‘make up’ for it in other areas of your life. You sacrifice that fight and hope you can win everywhere else. If only you can be the very best Christian (with just this one weakness that no one has to know about…) it will all come out in the wash, as they say.

Here’s the truth:

If you indulge that secret weakness – pornography, sexual misconduct, sneaking hits of your drug of choice, ducking into the casino or strip club with that little bit of money no one knows you have in an area where no one you know will see you… you could very well get by. You could conceivably get by your entire life.

In theory, your outward testimony could remain intact.  After all, when you indulge you’re either by yourself or you’re completely surrounded by unfamiliar faces. ‘You’re not hurting anyone else,’ you reason (though actually, you are). And you can’t show a bad Christian testimony to people who don’t even know you’re Christian. So maybe – maybe – you get away with it.

Now, I could launch into a sermon on Numbers 32:23 (“and be sure you’re sin will find you out”). But the truth is, some people do manage to go to their grave with that secret sin tucked away safely (not because they “got one over,” mind you, but because in His divine wisdom God chose not to expose it).

But even if your outer testimony is never impacted, your inner one will be.

Because these things reinforce our chains.  They undermine our confidence, create cracks in our foundation, and on subconscious levels make us insecure and unable to fully engage. You can be effective, and to many it may look like you’re doing great things. Others may see something a little off, but something they can’t quite put their finger on.

Either way you won’t be living up to your potential. You won’t be able to live out the freedom God has for you and impact others the way He intends.  Because when your inner testimony is tainted, your whole is out of balance.

So if you’re in that place right now, where you’ve allowed yourself to be resigned to compromising your battle plans – convinced you have to give ‘this’ ground so you can hold ‘that’ – snap out of it. Find an accountability partner, resolve to win the battle on every front, and watch how your outward life can be transformed by a solid inner testimony!

Surveying the Battlefield

Military 1148Sometimes battles are lost. We won’t always win. That’s just part of the ebb and flow of this thing we call spiritual warfare. 

But when losses come, it’s good to take time to look back over the battlefield and survey the landscape for lessons learned.

When I do this after a stumble or a fall, what I find is a battlefield littered with the armor that I should have been wearing.  

The Shield of Faith was sufficient to stop any fiery darts of lust or self-doubt or anger or whatever the Enemy launched at me. But it is lying on the ground. Cast aside in a moment of fear or frustration. Or out of sheer exhaustion from the overwhelming onslaught.

The Sword of the Spirit (scripture) could have given me the ability to deliver an effective counter-punch.  After all, that is what Jesus used when confronted by Satan in Matthew 4 and Luke 4. But I didn’t reach for my Bible when temptation came, or recall scripture passages. Instead, I loosed my grip on that sword and allowed it to clang to the ground alongside the shield.

The Belt of Truth should remind me of who I am based on God’s promises. Instead, it’s slack and falling down, allowing lies and labels to form my core in the moments when I most need to be girded by the truth. When that belt is firmly in place, I see myself as redeemed, forgiven, called, favored, blessed. When it slips, I see myself as worthless, incapable, emotionally out of control, lustful, addicted, helpless. 

Because the belt has fallen away, the Breastplate of Righteousness is askew. It no longer guards my heart properly against insecurity and frailty. A loose breastplate means I am now drawing from my limited humanity which is incapable of attaining righteousness. Had the breastplate stayed straight I’d have rested in my Spirit-filled self, which finds value and worth in what He has done rather than what I can do.

If I’d cinched fast the chinstrap on that Helmet of Salvation, I would have been protected against the ungodly thoughts and carnal imaginings that invade a mind focused on this world.  The knowledge of a secure salvation would keep me honed in on an eternal perspective.  Instead, the helmet toppled off into the dirt and I became overtaken by temporal concerns, emotions, and pleasures.

Shoes of the Gospel are there to remind me of the “death, burial, and resurrection” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) that completes me. But when they are not laced up securely they fall away and I am easily overtaken by a message of false fulfillment.

That’s the whole armor in Ephesians 6:13-17, strewn on the ground at the site of the defeat.

The losses look different. The circumstances change. The opponent varies in appearance and tactic. But ultimately, it all comes back to the armor.

It comes back to too much focus on the enemy and not enough focus on the armor that protects me from him.

Let’s make a conscious effort to change that focus. The battle is ours.