Monday, September 24, 2012

At just the right time... the happy toppling of strongholds

Got an unrecognizable spiritual block? In a funk and stuck? Yeah, me too.

God responds to our prayers and requests, often surprising us with unexpected grace. Sunday was one of those mornings for me.

I almost skipped church. Our granddaughter, on a sleepover overnight, had a cold and probably should stay in. However, I had promised to volunteer before the first service so my husband stayed home with Kinsey. Off I went.

I'd puzzled over a blockage in my spiritual progress during the past few years: what was keeping me from wholeheartedly pursuing God? Was I wearing out from studies? At an impasse because that sometimes "just happens?" Or could there be some root cause I hadn't thought of? When I prayed, I remained frustrated at the lack of clarity about moving forward in my spiritual journey.

Don Ross, our lead pastor at Creekside, alternates topical and expository (exploring a book of the Bible) preaching. We're currently in the middle of four weeks about Dealing with your own Worst Enemy: how to leave behind the past to freely embrace faith and practice. Last week, he talked about confessing our sin and sins as a release from guilt. Very cool and interesting. I thought about the talk for a few days.

Cain and Abel: Durer woodcut
This week, Don poured scriptures over our heads again. Using Genesis 4, the story of the first death--premeditated murder, he examined the  anger that can result from being hurt by others. He talked about bitterness which provides a stronghold for undermining spiritual health. Don spotlighted the power of anger, the choice of forgiveness, and the resulting freedom from hostility, fatigue, and depression. Hmmm. The symptoms sounded like my internal churning at times.

Was I harboring unforgiveness? Had someone hurt me, whom I was "holding to account?" Immediately, I scribbled four names on my note sheet as God brought four events to mind. My writer's hand captured them: 1, 2, 3, 4. What?! That required no effort at all.

Don offered his listeners three practical responses: 1) forgive and move on; 2) consider forgiveness but hold expectations of others (hope they'd admit to hurting us); or 3) hang on to deep hurts.

OUT! GO! GOODBYE! "I'm ready to move on," my heart shouted as my body sat quietly on the back bench.

Happiness and relief flooded me as I drove home. "I almost missed it!" I said aloud in the confines of the car. "I almost stayed home today." Oh, thank God!!! for a word spoken in a season of openness and inquiry.

This morning, the music inside my body plays happy worship. God reminded me how he has continually refreshed my life by taking away such barriers to freedom and ministry:
  • As young adults, one of the guys from youth group apologized for his hurtful words, spoken years earlier. I didn't remember at all. His words had fallen to the ground unarmed and he had suffered alone. After I gladly forgave, his joyful demeanor remained in my memory.
  • One morning, driving home from an errand, God spoke "forgive, forgive" into my heart. Nothing more, just "forgive." I began considering what that strong urging meant. Later that day I found out one family member's treachery to another. My heart had been prepared. 
  • More recently, two of us mutually admitted our lack of cooperation. Since then, we've become friends and I look forward to seeing him rather than avoiding our meetings.
Is a spiritual stronghold taping you to the spot though your feet long to run and dance? Here's what I learned about moving forward:
  1. Open your heart to God. Pray. Acknowledge your inability to do life without God's help. Ask him to make the path clear.
  2. Participate in a community of faith where God is speaking, ready to hear what God says. I got to church that day because I was "working" that morning.
  3. Trust God to approach you when the time is right. He rarely forces his children to obey but provides ongoing opportunities to follow him.
  4. Do what God asks. When your heart starts to pound (or your spirit resists) at confrontation with a biblical truth, you get to decide: yes or no? Obey or rebel? The choice is yours each time. If what's right seems too hard or your will stubbornly refuses, ask God's help. He'll strengthen you so you can thrive rather than exist.
Happily removing things that strangle us
Are you ready to release a stranglehold on your soul and walk in freedom? It may take a while to unwind the cords wrapped around you. The God of grace and lovingkindness invites us to become willing to travel with him, step by careful step. He protects us as we walk toward him in newness of life.

Read more:
*The LORD is God, shining upon us. Psalm 118:27

*(God says) "Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand." Jeremiah 18:6 (NASB)  

*It is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:13

Moravian Prayer: Work in us, dear Lord. Shape us into the vessel of your will as we do your works of grace. Bend us into your likeness, Lord Jesus and may the Holy Spirit complete in us all your gifts. Amen.

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