“How are you feeling?” she asked me.
I should have been more honest, I thought.
After leaving the room to get ready for bed, my roommate came back, turned off the light, and climbed up to the top bunk. As I laid there in the darkness, I felt slightly unsettled inside, with a plethora of feelings and emotions going on. It had been a hard day. I had spent a few hours crying out to God over some sin that I was struggling with, nearly drowning in guilt and remorse, but all the while trying to keep my head above the torrents of the lies of doubt and condemnation, fighting to trust in the sufficiency of the work of Christ. For so long, I had been in a pattern of foolishly choosing the approval of others over the approval of God. If I felt that I should do something in a certain moment, many times I would ignore the urge, fearing what others would think if I did what I felt He might have been calling me to do (which is ridiculous). This, I was convinced, was disobedience, and I could tell that this pattern of disobedience was ruining my joy. Last week, on Maundy Thursday, to be exact, I felt convicted of this sin and had had enough – I wanted to stop listening to “fear of man”( or “fear of what other people think”, call it what you will) and listen to God’s voice and obey. And I was crying out to God multiple times a day for help in this area. But while I was trying to be obedient and was hanging onto the hope that He would change me in this area, change doesn’t always happen overnight; sometimes it takes a while. I was frustrated over how slowly the change seemed to be going. My uncle had told me a couple years ago, “Count the steps, not the falls”. When you fall, don’t let it get you down – pick yourself back up and try again. When you take a step forward, rejoice! But at that time, although “steps” were being made, all I could see were the “falls”, and I wondered if things would get better. I needed to stop doubting. I had repented of my mistakes, I was forgiven in Christ… but I was worried about the future. Would I make the same mistake again? Surely I would. Would there still be grace for me? Oh, the doubts. Oh, the fear.
This, my friends, is why I was feeling so unsettled. My roommate and I had planned to talk about it that night, if we had the chance. I needed to get it off my chest. But all was quiet, and the lights were off… Would it be too late to talk at this point? She probably wanted to sleep, I assumed.
I stared up at the plywood that supported the mattress above me. I suppose I’ll just have to tell her tomorrow.
“Goodnight.” I said quietly.
After a moment’s pause, she added, “If you still want to talk, we can.”
So I told her about my wanting so badly to change, but feeling frustrated that change was happening as quickly as I would have liked it to. I told her about my awareness of those passages in the Bible where it says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments (John 14:15)” and “No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him (1 John 3:6)”. And, oh, did I want to know God to the fullest, and truly love Him, and to be in full fellowship with Him. I was trying so hard to do what is right, but my sinfulness was getting in the way, and it was discouraging me. I just wanted to be DONE with this bad habit of fear and disobedience, and be bold for Him, no matter the cost.
“I just know that actual fellowship with God comes from being obedient to Him,” I said. “…and if I’m not obedient, well, that’s… that’s not helpful there.”
When I was finished talking, she said, “Hmm, that’s hard.”
There was silence for a moment. Then…
“I really love you, Madeline.”
Aww. “I love you too,” I said.
She said something else, most of which I can’t remember, but it was very encouraging… she always is. The one thing I do remember, though, was to the effect of “I’m really encouraged by your heart for God; the way you pursue Him.”
Really? And I felt that I was doing a terrible job pursuing Him. But wait… was that the case? This I knew: though I had been trying to deal with this sin for a while (and often failing in the process), I wasn’t unrepentantly enjoying it – I hated it and wanted to change. Knowing that change cannot happen apart from His working in me, I kept on bringing all of my mess to Him and asking Him for help with it, because I knew that He, my Father, loves to help His children. Every time I sinned, I would repent, look to Jesus for forgiveness, pick myself up off the ground, and keep on pursuing God, and keep praying, and praying, and praying for His help to do His will. And not just to do it, but to desire to do it. Okay, LORD. I’m going to need Your help. I cannot do Your will apart from Your Holy Spirit’s help. I want to do Your will, but my affections are prone to delight in the wrong things, and I often foolishly trade Your Joy for lesser, artificial “joy” which never satisfies and leaves me feeling miserable. May I see You as more beautiful than my comfort zone or other people’s approval – because, oh, are You EVER more beautiful. Is that even a question? Help me to listen to Your voice, NOT the empty promises that earthly comfort claims, and help me to do WHATEVER You want me to do. I want to do it. Please help me to do it. While I saw that I still had quite a way to go in this journey toward overcoming this sin, the fact that my sin was detestable to me and that I was relentlessly asking God to help me change was something to be encouraged about. At that moment I was so caught up in my failures that I hardly noticed the good parts about this war that I was waging, but Sara noticed: I wasn’t giving up on this fight against sin. I was keeping on pursuing after God and His righteousness. When I failed, I would keep pursuing Him, asking Him for help.
Hearing her words, I smiled. “Thanks.”
Feeling encouraged, I rolled over on my side and eventually fell asleep.
Sanctification – the conforming of me, by God, into the image of Christ – doesn’t happen overnight. It is a lifelong process. Though patterns of sin can be overcome by God’s help, sometimes it takes time. But though I stumble along the way, I shouldn’t stay lying on the ground as if all hope is lost, wallowing in the enemy’s lies that I am no good, that there is no more grace for me; that things are hopeless, that God is tired of me, etc, etc. (These are not true in the least!) No, when I do fail, I will cling to the cross, trusting that the blood that Christ shed for all my other sins is still sufficient to cleanse me from this sin now. I will look back and see all the things God has helped me overcome, and have faith that He is able to help me overcome the things I need help with now. I will keep on running the race, by the grace of God, forgetting what lies behind and striving forward to what lies ahead, moving forward toward the prize.
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14 ESV)
“‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
Keep running after Him. Pursue Him. Don’t give up.