Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The ABC’s of Discernment: M is for Me

Everyone is created by God, and since God has an infinite amount of creativity, everyone is uniquely made. Oh, we may share this quirk with that person or that passion with this friend. But my particular combinations of traits, passions, quirks, skills, gifts, and talents belong to me alone, while your particular combination belongs to you alone. Indeed, even identical twins, who share the same genetic code, often have opposite personalities.

This affects discernment in that we each have a unique set of strengths and weaknesses, which lead to a unique set of personal limitations. This doesn’t mean you share none of your limitations with anyone else. Rather, like with character traits, your limitations may overlap with others’ in certain areas. Just not in every area. No one person’s set of limitations will completely apply to another. This requires each of us to uncover who we are, flag our potential problems, and then set guardrails—or personal limitations—accordingly.

So what are some of the areas we need to be aware of? The list is vast, but here are four areas to start your considerations:

  • Talents & Gifts: Every strength has a corresponding weakness. Every gift has a dark side. Every ability can be wielded for harm as well as good. When something comes naturally for us, the temptation to depend on and abuse that skill increases, as does the amount of potential damage. For example, a gifting with words can tear down as well as build up. Guardrails might include avoiding situations that encourage wrong use (e.g. spending time with known gossip, in the case with word gifting), spending time with those who are equally gifted in the same area (iron sharpens iron, and can help prevent an inflated ego), and learning from/listening to those different from yourself.

  • Passions: We all have issues that are near and dear to our hearts, things we love and long to share with the world. These topics, however, tend to be hot buttons too; a violation of something we are passionate about can also provoke out-of-control anger or hatred for those who violate that area. E.g. A love of freedom can become indignation or even rage over violated rights. A guardrail might be finding a safe environment/method (like journaling) with which to blow off steam.

  • Fear: Fear is a very powerful motivator, and we will go to great lengths to avoid what scares us. In some case, our aversion will drive us to do the unpleasant, distasteful, and even wrong. For example, a fear of failure often pushes us to maintain the status quo, even when we dislike the status quo. Some guardrails we can employ might include set times to confront areas of fear and avoiding media which feeds those fears.

  • Fallacies: Closely connected to our fears, we each have lies that we believe. We may know they are lies, but for one reason or another, we can’t convince ourselves of the truth. Often we wonder if we’re the exception or doubt the extent of the truth. Either way, we are easily dragged down when attacked in these areas of vulnerability. E.g. A woman who believes herself unlovable may be tempted to do or endure anything to keep the attention of a guy. As a result, our lies will cause us to pick our company and media carefully—we want to hang around those who reinforce the truth, not the lie.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Valued, Not Valuable

Valued and valuable are not the same.

This is the truth God has been impressing upon my heart this past week. It is a simple truth, perhaps an obvious one, apparent to most people. However, for me, I somehow missed the vast difference between the two, and truthfully, it distressed me.

For I have frequently heard in Christian circles that I am valuable in the sight of God. This was said with the intent to comfort and reassure. It did anything but comfort or reassure me. Instead, it raised a niggling question in the back of my mind, a question that would not go away but I was not brave enough to voice: What happens when I have nothing of value? No fruit, no influence, no souls won, no positive impact made—and very little potential for any of it in circumstances which seemed very isolating? Would God regret choosing me?

That doubt was a lie. I knew that and tried to refute it as such: God makes no mistakes; He promised never to forsake me or forget me; He sees me, loves me, and that would never change because He never changes. But despite knowing all this with my head, the niggling doubt lingered.

Then I realized, from watching a secular television show of all things, the difference between being valued and being valuable.

Man looks at people and sees them as valuable. Therefore, man values other people. However, this value is dependent on the person valued: what he is or what she does determines his or her value. So when we no longer have anything to offer or our status changes or another surpasses us, we are no longer valued because we are no longer valuable. As a result, we are tossed aside and forgotten, neither needed nor wanted.

This is not how God sees us. He created us and therefore values us. And since He values us, He treasures us as something valuable. So my value is not dependent on me or who I am or what I do or not do. It is dependent on God, on His actions and His character. And because He does not change, His value of me will not change either.

So God loves me and He values me. 
Therefore, I will always be valuable to Him.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The ABC’s of Discernment: L is for Limitations

We often think that reaching full maturity means gaining complete freedom. But while adults have many freedoms to enjoy, they hardly live without restrictions. There are authorities to whom we all must submit. Some rules are never meant to be broken, no matter the age or maturity. With great freedom comes great responsibility, which is a restriction in of itself. Even more, each of us will deal with personal limitations our entire lives.

Unlike the restrictions which come with the different stages of maturity, personal limitations lack uniformity and any logical progression. A child may share many similarities with other children and must pass through adolescence to reach adulthood. However, personal limitations tend to be as unique as our personalities and situations, out of which we may or may not grow.

In short, these gray areas are not wrong in of themselves but wrong for you personally, thus requiring self-restriction in that area. These areas fluctuate from person to person and may even vary within one lifetime. This means personal limitations covers a broad, ever-changing expanse—pretty much anything not directly covered in Scripture or by maturity and often crossing territories with both. As a result, a limitation can be as mundane as skipping a specific type of media when feeling blue to shunning certain locations and situations due to the effects of life-long addiction.

But whether the limitations are small or great, many or few, we all have personal limitations. And by learning to live within those boundaries we discover a freedom that a restriction-free life can never provide. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Gift of Time

Each day, each year, is a gift.

It is easy to lose sight of that midst the everyday. After all, we have places to go and people to see, activities to finish and problems to straighten out. And trouble! Sometimes it seems like that is all life is comprised of.

However, problems don’t change the fact that our days are a gift. God is not obligated to provide us one more minute of life, much less one more day. Yet He continues to extend our lives, minute by minute, day by day, until we accumulate another year of life. It is truly by the grace of God that we live.

May we remember that this day and every day which God grants to us on this earth!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The ABC’s of Discernment: K is for Kindness

All of us want to dwell in security, free of guilt and shame. There’s nothing wrong with that desire. Indeed, it can be a wonderful force, driving us to Jesus Christ.

However, most of us seek less honorable ways of handling that desire. Instead of seeking forgiveness, we blame. Instead of repenting of our sins, we point fingers. Instead of changing, we measure and compare ourselves to others in order to build ourselves up.

This ingrained habit doesn’t change when we become a Christian. Rather, it often takes on a veneer of spiritualism: “I attend church every week.” “You’d never find me hanging around that crowd.” And the danger of comparison doesn’t go away as you mature. It just changes its emphasis: “They’re so legalistic they won’t even do xyz.”

While God has listed plenty of clear rights and wrongs in Scripture, He has also given us much flexibility and space in which to grow. An infant can’t eat solid food, but that doesn’t make eating solid food wrong. It simply means an infant must grow before he can eat it. Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with the infant just because he can’t join you for a t-bone dinner yet. Give him some time to grow up first.

So when dealing with “disputable matters,” as Paul calls them (Romans 14:1), please remember to exercise kindness. We each are on a journey to maturity, and no two journeys are exactly alike. This doesn’t mean we should flaunt our freedom. Nor must we suppress it, never getting to enjoy the liberties Christ has given. Rather, “the man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does.” (Romans 14:3 NIV)

Therefore, grow. Become mature.

And remember to treat others with kindness along the way.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The ABC’s of Discernment: J is for Journey

None of us starts at the end. We’re born as babies before growing into adults. We crawl before we walk. We learn the alphabet before reading. We earn a driving permit before a license. In short, we must journey through multiple stages before we fully mature.

This process also applies to discernment. When we become a Christian, we don’t instantly become mature with the ability to separate good from evil. Rather, like our physical counterparts, we start out as babies. Then we must journey one step at a time toward the discernment that comes with maturity:

Stage 1: Infancy. New to this whole spiritual thing, infants have little or no discernment at this stage. This requires them to have very strict boundaries and much “adult” supervision.

Stage 2: Childhood. Discernment is now slowly developing, and a child’s true “north” of good is being set into place. As a result, the stuff of life is primarily seen as either right or wrong, with nothing between.  Boundaries rapidly expand at this age, but children still require a fair amount of supervision.

Stage 3: Adolescence. Knowledge comes to full bloom at this stage, and adolescents become aware of all that could be. However, personal boundaries are still being figured out: just because you can doesn’t mean you should. As a result, adolescents have a fair amount of discernment, but tend to stretch the boundaries to their maximum, sometimes to the point of being unsafe, and accountability is helpful in learning to navigate gray areas.

Stage 4: Adulthood. Maturity is reached! Having consistently trained themselves, adults know (for the most part) what is right, what is wrong, and how to handle gray areas. They still have blind spots and must keep learning, but they’ve reached the point where they serve, rather insisting they be served: it’s time to turn around and help the next generation grow up in their discernment!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Unconditional Surrender

This week I’ve been learning again the lesson of unconditional surrender to God.

Let’s face it. I’m hardly where I thought I would be at this time, still single and unpublished, among other things. My long-cherished dreams of family, a writing career, and a life of impact remain unfilled, and with each passing day, it seems more unlikely they ever will be.

I knew when I began this journey that the path God directed me toward was full of risk and the odds were strongly again me. But I also knew that I serve a big God, and odds mean nothing to Him. So I set out, believing that if I walked patiently in obedience, God would open the doors.

Fifteen years later, I’m still waiting.

Don’t misunderstand me. God has provided me everything I’ve needed and so much more. I’m blessed beyond measure in so many ways. But that which I yearn for the most remains beyond my grasp, and frankly, that hurts.

As a result, I’ve thrown a lot of questions at God the past few months. Whys and hows and whens, sometimes in anger, sometimes in despair, many times in confusion. And He hasn’t been exactly forthcoming with answers.

Instead, He has reminded me again what unconditional surrender means: When I became a Christian, I gave up my “right” to demand anything of Him—not that I had that right to begin, any more than clay has the right to demand answers of the potter. But at that moment, I voluntarily submitted to Him, acknowledging that I was not my own; I had been bought with a price.
That means God is free to do with me whatever He pleases. He can bless me—or not. He can use me—or not. It’s His choice.

Does this mean I won’t continue to question? Of course not. And some of those questions will be thrown out in anger and despair and confusion. But I hope that each time I do, I will circle around and be able to say,

“Here I am. I’m Yours. Do with me as You wish.”