Outward Conformity vs a Changed Heart

Sometimes Christians can a have harsh or disdainful view of the world. Instead of speaking the truth in love, we point out everything that is wrong in society without pointing to the One Who is righteous.

 We are rightly grieved by the deteriorating state of mankind. The level of injustice and depravity leaves us stupefied at times. However, when we relay, replay or re-post issues and news, we add our own expletives and insults to the mix. We mock, condemn and stir up strife in opposition to the Word of God (Proverbs 6:16-19).

 Somewhere in the recess of our mind, a scripture speaks to our heart, reminding us about God loving the world, or something along those lines…

 In our rush to be heard, we have a tendency to forget how we once were, before we knew Christ.

 I don’t know about you, but before I accepted Christ as my Savior, I did not have the ability, much less the desire to please God. Sure, I had a conscience and a certain level of discipline, but as far as loving what was righteous (and not simply what was “right”), it wasn’t there.

 It wasn’t there because I had not opened my heart to God. He is the one who brings change. He is the one who breathes new life.

 Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about shrinking back from boldly speaking the truth. I’m not talking about being a people pleaser or maintaining peace at all costs. I’m talking about seeking God’s best for people, where they have a heart to repent and choose Him. Outward conformity to a chosen standard does not make a person right with God. If the unsaved populace did start to act more like Jesus and play nice, it might make our interactions more pleasant, but God would not be pleased. Outward conformity does not equal an inward change:

 The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” Isaiah 29:13 NIV

 We need to extend the same grace and mercy to others that God has given to us. Instead of trying to get people to act like we want them to act we should be the witnesses Jesus has called us to be, one of His “living epistles, read of all men” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3).

 God has given each of us the freedom to choose, whether good or bad, right or wrong, righteous or unrighteous. He desires that we would all choose life, but with free will comes the ability to pick your path. We have to allow people to make their own choices in life. Hopefully our lives will so reflect His love, mercy, compassion and power that it will draw people to Him and they will want the life He so freely offers:

 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

Heart of Light

 Mercy, grace and peace to you all.

Bruised Reeds and Smoldering Embers

I have previously written about some dark periods in my life. Times when pain, fear, confusion and uncertainty were the emotions that exerted control over my thoughts, and as a consequence, over my life.

Even after I became a Christian, my negative experiences, and my perception of those experiences continued to color my view of life, and as a consequence, my belief in God. The thought of God being gentle and compassionate did not even register with me. That He is holy, sovereign and not to be trifled with was secure in my mind. Loving, merciful and full of grace was not my revelation of God at that time.

 This is why it is so important to read the bible along with our prayers and worship! Just because we believe something doesn’t make it true or truth. Jesus said it’s the truth we know that sets us free, with the implication that we must accept and apply the truth to our lives, even over what we feel and how things appear to be.

So, back to the dark perception part…

 I became pregnant about a year after remarrying my husband. God had healed and restored our marriage after a period of separation and divorce, and then I gave my life to Christ. Our 9 year old son was ecstatic that he was going to have a new brother or sister to go along with our newly restored family.

Life was good.

Until the darkness hit.

At week 18 of my pregnancy, all movement from the baby stopped and I felt ill. An ultrasound revealed no movement and the fetal heart monitor was heart-breakingly silent. I had to go through 4-5 hours of induced labor to deliver a still-born son that I had been certain was a blessing from God.

 I did not understand. How could this be? Had I done something wrong? Did I make God angry? Had God left me? Did I just imagine that God was real?

 All manner of sinister, doubt-filled thoughts crowded my mind. They were loud, too. They would not shut up while I numbly attempted to function during the day and they tormented me at night as I tried to sleep. I started to doubt the existence of God and lost the ability to pray verbally for a while…I could not find the strength or conviction to form the words that I hoped would be heard. The truth was I felt ignored and rejected…or worse, punished. I knew I shouldn’t have been so happy. Things were going too good.

 “A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice.Isaiah 42:3

reed bent by storm

 Thank God that He hears the cry of our heart. He knew I was suffering. He knew that I was confused and barely holding on. His compassion and gentleness is so great but it so often becomes obscured and rejected by us in the whirlwind of our pain and doubts.

 About 2 weeks after the loss, a social worker came to visit with us regarding my father-in-law. He was in advanced age, suffering with dementia and being fed through a stomach tube due to a ruptured esophagus. He was still mobile and able to communicate with people, he just needed a lot of medical attention.  He was receiving home healthcare and she was checking to make sure that all was going well for him.

 The social worker must have noticed my pained expression during the visit because she inquired if I was ok. I told her no and let her know about our recent loss. This beautiful woman then proceeded to gently share with me her own such loss many years earlier. As she spoke and encouraged me, I realized that God was reaching out to me through her. She was a Christian whom God had comforted and cared for during a very similar experience. She let me know it was ok to grieve and feel off, and to not be overly concerned if people didn’t know what to say to me, or how I was “supposed” to feel or act during this time. Things weren’t normal or routine and I felt awkward, self-conscious and disconnected.

 I felt better for a bit after her visit, encouraged that God was still around. Then I got hit with an incredibly fearful thought (at least it was to me at that time): What if God was mad that I had started to doubt Him? Would He leave me again? All the comfort and peace I was starting to feel departed the instant those ugly questions entered my mind.

 At this point I want to emphasize that God does NOT leave us, but I was not established in that truth yet, so doubt could play havoc with my mind. Thankfully, for whatever reason, I decided to pick up my Living Bible and start reading it. I don’t remember how the Holy Spirit led me to this scripture but He did and it was just what I needed at the time:

 “Even when we are too weak to have any faith left, He remains faithful to us and will help us, for He cannot disown us who are part of Himself, and He will always carry out His promises to us.” 2 Timothy 2:13

 I grabbed hold of that scripture and wouldn’t let it go! He wasn’t mad at me. He wasn’t going to leave me by the side of the road somewhere, spiritually speaking. And as I slowly moved forward through the pain, having good days and bad, He continued to establish me in His truth.

 He will do the same for you. He sees you, He does care. Let the truth in His word overtake any dark, doubt-filled thoughts that are trying to keep you from receiving His help today.

 Praying that God will speak the word that you need to hear. Blessings!

What next?

Unclear direction sign

If you need direction today, I have some wonderful promises to share from the scriptures. God assures us that He will never leave us or abandon us, so if you are standing at a fork in the road and aren’t sure which one to take, relax…God has your back!

Choose to believe what God says in His word over any fear, anxiety or confusion you are experiencing. He expects us to live a life of trust and connectivity, firmly relying on His faithfulness to His word, in His ability to lead us and to protect us as we navigate this earthly realm.

This is the essence of real faith: believing God, not simply believing that there is a God. You can take Him at His word, so here are some excellent ones related to wisdom and direction:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.  Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.Proverbs 3:5-6 New Living Translation

 “Who is the man who fears (reverences) the Lord? He will instruct him in the way he should choose. His soul will abide in prosperity and his descendants will inherit the land.” Psalm 25:12-13 NASB

 “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for Thou art with me…” Psalm 23:1-4a New American Standard Bible

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding,  for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed. The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens; by His knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew. My son, do not lose sight of these—keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble. If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.Proverbs 3:13-24

 “Let your heart hold fast my words; Keep my commandments and live; Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding!” Proverbs 4:4b-5a NLT 

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5 NIV

The mind of man plans his ways but the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9 NASB

 And finally, one of my favorites from Isaiah:

 “And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.Isaiah 30:21 NASB

Blessings as you go out today!

This way sign larger