I love to do things well.
I don’t always love to struggle or practice or do the hard work required to do things well.
Call it perfectionism, call it laziness, call it whatever you want. It’s probably some combination of all of it at the end of the day. The bottom line is simple-I tend to avoid things that are hard, regardless of how much I want the end result.
My desire to play the piano well never exceeded my disdain for practice. My desire to fit into the jeans I could wear “x” number of years ago doesn’t come close to my masterful avoidance of exercise and healthy eating.
Those things can be frustrating, or even discouraging. But there is one end result I desire, for which I cannot afford to avoid the process.
I want my heart and my mind and my affections molded to be more like Christ’s!
The trouble is, that doesn’t happen incidentally. Oh, to be sure, the process of sanctification is a work of God’s grace, and not something I can create or produce on my own. But that doesn’t negate the active role God allows me to play in the process!
The Westminster Shorter Catechism describes sanctification as “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness”. Sanctification is definitely a work of God, but there are things He uses to accomplish this work in us. Probably more things than we’ll ever know, but at the very least we know He uses time in the Scriptures, prayer, other believers as iron sharpening iron, and even suffering to shape us to be more like Christ.
What amazes me about this grace of God is that it’s not just behavior modification. For God to sanctify us means that an actual transformation takes place in our hearts and minds, which causes us to think and respond more and more like Christ!
I so desire that transformation!
It would mean that instead of tolerating a difficult person I would actually have the mind of Christ toward them!
It would mean that instead of pretending to be happy when really I want to curl up in a ball and sleep I would actually have the joy of the Lord as my strength!
It would mean that instead of repeating a cycle of the same sin over and over again I would love the glory of God more than any temporary satisfaction this world could ever offer, and I would despise sin enough to turn from it!
It would mean that I would not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but would be transformed by the renewal of my mind, and that by testing I may be able to discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
Yes, I desire that transformation! I desire it WAY more than I desire to play the piano proficiently or lose some weight.
So why do I often try to avoid the very things God uses to accomplish the work of sanctification in my life?
A couple of months ago a respected teacher and leader challenged me (and group of women I was with) to not “outsource our spiritual warfare”. As I considered that challenge, and whether it was something I was doing, it occurred to me that I have a tendency to try to outsource pretty much every part of my spiritual growth. I began to ask the Lord to show me the ways I do this, and change me.
It has been incredibly encouraging (ironically) for God to show me some of these tendencies, as I’m confident that He does not reveal our weaknesses or sins for any reason other than pruning that we may bear much fruit. I pray the same for you, that you may be encouraged to ask the Lord to show you ways you may be attempting to outsource your spiritual growth-and ask Him to prune you in those areas!
I’ve tried to outsource my study of the Word.
I believe it is by the Word of God that we are transformed, through the Holy Spirit. And yet, as much as I’m fascinated by the intricacies of the Scriptures, I have a tendency to want to jump straight to commentaries in my study time and books about the Bible in my personal reading and devotion time.
Let me be clear. Commentaries and solid books about God and His Word are wonderful gifts from the Lord! They can be anointed and incredibly helpful as an addition to our time reading and studying the Bible.
But they are not the Bible.
I began to realize as I would study to teach a particular passage or idea I would read it, but the very next thing I would do was research it. Meaning, read what other people had to say about it.
As God began to show me this tendency, He also reminded me that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
I want to want to do the hard and uncomfortable work of sitting a while in the Scriptures themselves and allowing the Holy Spirit to be my teacher.
I say “I want to want to” because I don’t always want to. But I also know that there is an equipping promised through the study of Scripture, that isn’t promised through the reading of excellent authors and theologians.
So, while I’ll continue to use commentaries and read great books, my prayer is that God continue to teach me not to outsource my study of His Word. That He will teach me to trust Him to be my teacher and trust His Word to do what it alone can do.
I’ve tried to outsource my prayer life
It should come as no surprise that the admonition to not outsource my spiritual warfare caused me to consider how actively involved I was in my own prayer life. Prayer is just a portion of spiritual warfare, but since that’s not what this post is about, I won’t digress. Perhaps more than any other area, this is where I’m convicted the most.
Prayer is one of the areas I’m still most likely to believe lies from the enemy. I don’t have anything new or important to say… I haven’t prayed much while things were smooth sailing, so what right do I have to come to Him now?…My mind is too distracted, it would be better for me to wait until I can focus better (which of course, that time never comes)… and on and on.
It becomes too easy to ask others to pray for various requests, and somehow think God gets the message in my asking of others. But as He has been pruning me in this area, I’ve had more and more moments of turning off the car radio and facing the awkward silence with sincere prayer. It has been a humbling series of joyful and often convicting encounters with the One True God. Through them, I’m beginning to see more clearly how he uses those encounters to shape my mind and affections to be more like Christ’s, in a way that nothing else can.
Through prayer, the Holy Spirit brings to mind the truths of God’s Word to replace anxious or misguided thoughts, and also to convict and encourage. I’m seeing the outworking of Philippians 4:6-7 where Paul says, “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
I’ve tried to outsource my suffering
I know, I know. How do you outsource suffering? But I manage to find ways.
Perhaps one of the primary ways I’m tempted to outsource my suffering is to think that if I just learn from the lessons hard-learned by others, then I won’t have to learn them the hard way myself.
Self-help books, blogs, even mentoring relationships…wherever I might be able to glean some insight and wisdom from someone who learned things the hard way, sign me up!
But at the end of the day, my quest for wisdom and insight is not ultimately an attempt to know all the things. It’s not really even an attempt to ensure that I’m glorifying the Lord in particular areas of my life.
It is, at its base, an attempt to circumvent suffering.
And yet, James tells us to “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4).
And Peter reminds us that “in this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
It’s in and through the suffering that we are shaped to be more like Christ, not in finding ways to avoid it.
I’m certain there are more ways that I attempt to avoid the process of sanctification while still desiring the end result. My prayer is that as God shows me these tendencies, He will develop in me a desire for holiness that eclipses any desire to outsource His designed process of sanctification.