Monday, April 25, 2011

Disapproval and Insufficiency: Freedom in Disguise

Only the losers win
They've got nothing to prove
They'll be the ones with nothing to lose
I've been thinking, thinking
I've got a plan, to lose it all...
~Switchfoot, "The Loser"

Very often, we forget that we cannot earn God's affection and approval. It is not that we actually forget, but really that this knowledge makes us want to try harder to earn it. We come face to face with the fact that nothing we do in our own flesh will ever be good enough for God, and suddenly we kick it into overdrive, trying to do something (still in our own flesh) that will earn His favor.

That is not how it is supposed to work.

First of all, it is not like God is just being mean, sitting way up above us on His throne, refusing to accept that we might have anything to offer Him. That may be how people work, but it is not how God works. God made us. He knows what is in our hearts, and He knows how that flows over into our words and actions. He is God. He is wholly other than us, and He is holiness personified. He created us in His image, sure, but we were pretty quick to step away from that and try to strike out on our own. Which is precisely what we did (and continue to do): strike out.

So there is good reason why our best efforts are still "as filthy rags." Because He is God, we are not, and yet we keep trying to be.

Instead of being infuriated by the fact that our best will never be good enough, the insufficiency we exude while acting in the flesh is supposed to motivate us differently. We can never, ever earn God's favor. That being true, we are still faced with the fact that He offers it up to us. He sent His Son to die on the cross (bearing our sin and shame), and be raised from the dead (giving us victory over it). We cannot earn that, and yet...He offers it to us freely.

This fact should motivate us to humble ourselves, accept His grace, and move forward to please God by His grace alone. You see, we can please God. We just need His help to do it. Hebrews 11:6 -- while listing a long line of people whose actions pleased God -- puts it this way: "Without faith, it is impossible to please God (emphasis mine)."

When we find ourselves lacking the approval of the God who longs to lavish His love on us, the only action that makes sense is to receive His means of acquiring holiness and righteousness.

Stop striving. You cannot do this on your own. But God wants to give you the means to please Him. He wants to pour out His grace on your life in ways that will just continually amaze you.

Our inability to please God on our own is actually freedom, because it means we can stop trying to. We can stop wearing ourselves out to "do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with [our] God (Micah 6:8)," and start allowing Him to work that in us. This does not, of course, mean turning our backs on righteousness, but on our ever-striving flesh.

But people...people are another story...

Why not take a moment here and be blatantly honest. When people disapprove of you, it is not so much because they are so much better than you that they have a right to, as it is fear. I personally think it goes back to the fact that God is absolutely true, absolutely right, and absolutely God. Because we know that no one can be right but Him, we have this unspoken (most of the time) need to be right all the time. We (wrongly) fear the repercussions of being wrong.

Thus, when faced with another way of doing things...we usually react by stating (either through our words or actions), "Absolutely not. You HAVE to be wrong, because I HAVE to be right!"

So, there will often be times when people disapprove of us. This, too, is freedom.

You are probably thinking, "What? How on earth can that be freedom??"

In Luke 14:12-14, Jesus gives the sage advice of only inviting the poor over for banquets, because there is no way we can pay them back. (Be patient with me here, this is not evidence of my ADD, this actually directly correlates).

If someone does not know how to humble themselves and learn from you, if someone does not know how to open their heart to you, or offer you their approval or respect; they are truly poor. I do not say this so that you can condescend to people like this, bolstering yourself with the idea that you are better than them; because chances are that as much as someone may treat you like this, you treat someone else like this, too.

We are all poor, in our flesh. None of us has the grace and the strength on our own to put ourselves aside and hear someone else out. And as much as we, as Christians, are inviting Christ continually into these areas where we are weak, in order to grow us into His likeness there, there is always an area or two that will still need work (and this side of Glory, that is how it will be. We are works in progress, waiting for our true completion on the "day of Christ (Phil 1:6).").

But Jesus said to show our acts of kindness to those who cannot repay us. If someone has decided that they want you to do things their way, and they will not be happy with you until you do...

If someone has decided that no matter what you do, you will never be good enough, even if you mimic their every action and word...

If someone has decided that, while they like a lot about you, there are certain things/traits/facts they will never accept....

Stop Striving!!

Accept the freedom we have in Christ to love these people completely. I am not saying that you should do everything they say (that would be striving, people!), but that you should love them.

Recklessly. Deeply. Truly. Pray for them, ask God to show you ways to pour out His grace into their lives, knowing that -- until and unless He transforms their heart -- they will never be able to pay you back with their approval, words of praise, or affection.

The fact is, there is no way you can possibly please everyone. There is a very good chance that more than one person will disapprove of you in your life, and that those people would disagree with each other on exactly what is wrong with you (or the way you do things). The odds are that you disapprove of some of these people, too. It is by no means a one way street.

This fact is freedom. If you cannot please man, then you can stop trying. Be who God made you to be. Walk in the light of His grace and mercy. Seek His approval (but only in His grace and strength, not in your insufficient and sinful flesh). Lavish His love on everyone around you, especially those who cannot return it.

He has shown you,O mortal,what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly, and to love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God.
~Micah 6:8 (NIV)

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