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Faith Imagined: June 2009

Faith Imagined

Alisa Hope Wagner: Christian Writer

June 26, 2009

That Stinking "I" in Pride.

A while back I was reading a book about God's grace, and I had to be honest with God. I didn't quite understand the whole concept of grace. I knew it was important because I've read so much about it, but it was obvious I was missing something. I prayed and asked God to help me gain a better understanding, and I had faith that He would.

God kicked-off my lesson in grace a few days later while I was in the shower. (It seems like God always talks to me in the shower). I was complaining to God about how I always make mistakes and that it feels like no matter what I do, what I read, what I learn; I always say, do or think something wrong. I always fail. I always fall. I always sin.

I was acting like the victim in this thing called life, and I pointed my finger at God and demanded, "Why is life so difficult"? "Why do I always stumble?" "Why do I always do something stupid?"

On my spiritual journey, I have an idea of where I want to be, and no matter how I grow, it feels like I always fall short. The person I want to be doesn't put her foot in her mouth. The person I want to be doesn't have insecurities. The person I want to be doesn't have problems with eating, lusting, lying, gossiping, pride, laziness, blah, blah, blah. The person I want to be is PERFECT!!!

Oh! And that's when God pulled a fast one on me. He uncovered my "I'm-the-victim-attitude" and exposed it for what it really was: pride. I wasn't where I thought I should be and I was upset: pride. I couldn't accept the fact that I was flawed and I made mistakes: pride. I didn't want others know my struggles and watch me stumble: pride. My little pity-party was boiling over the flame called pride.

And after God nicely humbled me there in the shower, He gave me a smile (in my mind's eye) and said gently, "That's why you need my grace."

What I realized is that I didn't want to accept God's grace because my pride was telling me that I should be something that I was not. But I am a woman that says things to friends that I later regret. I am a woman who just ate about 15 Peppermint York Patties without stopping to exert some semblance of self-control. I am a woman who has to fight with feelings of insecurity and inferiority. I am a woman who has to stop herself from judging the actions and decisions of others. I am a woman who's stuck in the middle of a battle between her own will and the will of the Holy Spirit.

I am not perfect, and I will never be. I will fall on a daily basis and those around me will see it. I can't put on a show for others or for me. Accepting God's grace frees me from being hard on myself. I am not loved because I try to be the best Christian girl possible. I am loved because God created me and He chooses to love me. There is nothing that I can do to make Him love me more or less. I will make mistakes, and I should not care who sees them because I have grace. And I won't use those mistakes to justify playing the victim role again.

Just today I read some of Jeanne Guyon's writings that spoke on this topic. She lived in the 1600s, which comforted me because I realized that even women in the 1600s dealt with this problem and overcame it. She wrote:

"Always guard yourself from being anxious because of your faults. First of all, such distress only stirs up the soul and distracts you to outward things. Secondly, your distress really springs from a secret root of pride. What you are experiencing is, in fact, a love of your own worth. To put it in other words, you are simply hurt and upset at seeing what you really are. If the Lord should be so merciful as to give you a true spirit of His humility, you will not be surprised at your faults, your failures, or even your own basic nature."

Thank You, God, for Your grace. Help me to see the beauty in holes of my weakness, for that is where Your glory shines through.

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made
perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my
weakness, so that Christ's power may rest on me."

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June 19, 2009

Spiritual Plank

I've usually understood spiritual growth in two forms: First, I've experienced growth when I make small or huge spiritual strides. This happens when I feel God teaching me, and I find myself changing attitudes and actions accordingly.

Second, I've experienced growth when God gives me rest. Though this may not seem like growth, it is an important part of the process. This happens when God allows me peace in order to rest after a spiritual growth spurt or right before one is about to occur.

What is new to me -- because I just noticed it -- is what I'm calling the "spiritual plank."

Today I worked with a personal trainer at the gym (I just had third baby and I'm trying to get back into shape). I was not in the mood to work out at all. But she pushed me like normal, and I obediently did what she said without my usual enthusiasm and energy. At the end of my session, she had me do the plank. I hate the plank.

The plank is when you get on your forearms and toes, flatten the length of your body, and hold this position for a short amount of time. In my case, I had to hold it for one minute. I was miserable. I would rather be doing crunches, squats, push ups or anything else that makes me move. Better yet, I would rather be resting on my mat.

Instead, I was holding the plank position and my entire body was shaking. I don't think there was a single muscle that was not straining to hold that position. Thankfully, the minute ended and I collapsed on my mat. But what I realized later that day is that I'm currently in spiritual plank.

I don't feel like I'm making any spiritual strides at the moment, but I don't feel like I'm in spiritual peace either. I feel like I'm in a holding position.

I still feel close to God, but I don't feel like I'm experiencing any wowing revelations. I'm not upset with the world or my life, but I'm not feeling all that amazed at the moment (though, I must admit, I have tons to be thankful for).

I just feel like I'm waiting and counting the days until God says, "Time," and allows me to collapse or He says, "Get up," and He puts me to work. It kind of feels like something is just around the corner, and God is stabilizing me and strengthening the core of who I am.

At least the cool thing is that normally I would get all emotional doing the spiritual plank. I would sense this time of readiness and not trust God. I would complain to Him that the spiritual plank stinks and would continually ask Him when it would be over.

However, I won't allow myself to fear and complain this time. I'm not a little kid anymore. I can handle a little pressure, a little waiting and a little work-out from the Father. He's my personal spiritual trainer, and I trust that He will only push me to my breaking point . . . and that is both a comforting and thrilling thought.

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June 15, 2009

Got Make-believe friends?

I think about my friends a lot. I think about their lives and families. I think about any struggles they're going through or about any wonderful blessings they've been given. I pray for them through out the day whenever they come to my mind.

When my friends are on vacation, I pray that they are enjoying themselves and that God is refreshing their souls. When they come back home, I'm so anxious to hear about what they did and how they relaxed.

When a friend is experiencing a cloudy season, I want to hear about how they are feeling and what God is showing them. I want to see them build strength under the weight of their struggle and grasp onto an outpour of provision that only comes from God.

My friends (and family!) occupy my mind while I work-out, wash the dishes, drive my car and do anything else that allows my mind to wander. The interesting thing is, though, I don't remember being like this. Thinking and praying for my friends continuously each day is a new habit I have formed.

As I was walking at the gym, I wondered what had changed in my life. Why did my mind and heart seem to have more compassion for those friends that God has placed in my life? I know for sure that God is constantly changing my heart to be more compassionate. But, why does my mind seem to always go to them? I'm just a normal friend like anyone else. Compassion and mercy are actually very low on my spiritual gift list.

Then I remembered a few months ago when my daughter was born. I started watching a little TV whenever I had to pump milk or breast feed. There was one particular show that I would watch, and I noticed that my mind was occupied with it. Even when I wasn't watching it, I was thinking about the show and characters and what was happening. I stopped watching the show because I noticed that I was getting too wrapped up into the storyline.

It took a few weeks, but my mind stop thinking about the show so much. Then I found myself once again thinking and praying for my friends.

It is well known that our minds dwell on those things we pour into it, but I don't know if we fully understand the implications. Now I'm not one to bash TV or music, I just think we need to be cognizant about how much we pour into our minds. Is there room left for our friends, our family our God? Are we watching so much TV that we don't even think about our friends or pray for them? Do some of us not even bother with having friends?

TV friends are easier, I must admit. They do their thing, making you laugh, cry or feel a dozen other emotions. Then, after thirty minutes, they go away. No mess. No hassle. No hurt feelings. No compromise. No insecurity. No arguments. Easy as pie.

But we are forgetting something. Jesus made loving others just as important as loving God Himself. Now that is pretty amazing. Sometimes Christians are so concerned with squeezing in their daily quiet time with God, but we forget to have our daily time with our friends.

How can we possibly make time for friends? We are busy. We have kids, jobs, spouses, ministries, churches, groceries, dishes, school, and a thousand of other things to keep us busy. But none of that matters if we don't have love. What is this life for if we don't have love? What are we doing here running in our own hamster wheels if we are not concerned about love?

I know that I'm not one to talk. Loving is just as hard for me as it is for anyone. I am naturally extremely introverted. It wasn't until I started being obedient to the Holy Spirit that I've been able to focus on others and not on my own insecurities. However, I find that not watching TV forces me to be more extroverted. I'm a lover of stories, especially the ones that God weaves together, and my mind craves the beauty of friendship. So instead of imaginary TV friends, I surround myself with flesh-and-blood friends who are just as lovely and messy as I am!
May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for
everyone else, just as ours does for you. 1 Thessalonians 3:12 (NIV)

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