How God changes people

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For 9 years I struggled with bulimia; 6 years before I married Mike, followed by 3 more years.  A favorite activity of ours as young lieutenants stationed in Germany was to explore the German countryside by means of a nearby ‘Volksmarch’.  These organized 3-4 hour walks through villages and wooded beauty gave us time to talk.  I would ask Mike each week while we traipsed, “What am I going to do?  How can I manage or handle this scourge of bulimia!!?”   Poor guy!  My supportive and loving husband probably felt frustrated as he offered his comfort and solutions time and time again.

In my mind, it was all up to me to find a solution AND the motivation to implement it.  The problem was, I couldn’t trust myself to follow through, no matter how sincere my intentions were.

We were new Christians and I prayed my heart out, week in and week out.  But God didn’t give me a way to free myself from this addiction to food.  Instead, he removed the burden himself, in a creative way.  I got pregnant.

With that dramatic change in circumstances, I had a new, compelling interest and desire.   Caring for this baby growing inside of me replaced the desire to binge and purge.  Up until now, I hadn’t felt enough self-love to take care of my body. But now, for the sake of this new life growing inside of me, I WANTED to nurture myself with good foods and healthy practices.

The 7 1/2 conscious months of carrying another human being turned out to be what I needed to break the binge and purge cycle.  God be praised!

God CAN and DOES change people and we know that.  If you are a Christian, there was a time when you weren’t. Maybe you can’t remember that period if you have loved Jesus from an early age.  But many of us do recall feeling either indifferent or luke-warm about God.  And then something happened.  All of a sudden we were interested in reading our Bibles.  The things of God drew us in.  We might have attributed that newfound growing fascination as something we did. But we would be incorrect. Dead men don’t make decisions!

Paul writes to the believers in Colosse: When you were dead in your trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. (Col 2:13)

That means that any interest, any LOVE for Jesus comes from outside of us.  As Paul so bluntly argues in his letter to the Romans – ……God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Rom 5:5b)

Mike, too, has experienced this ‘from the outside to the inside change of heart’ regarding cars.  After those couple of years stationed in Germany, the land of VERY fast and powerful automobiles, Mike returned stateside with a growing, almost insatiable love for cars.  About 15 years ago Mike started noticing the decreasing pull of all things automotive.  During the span of 37+ years of marriage, we have bought, owned and sold 28 cars, not counting motorcycles.

But God!  Yes, God removed the interest, the mania, the seemingly insatiable desire for new wheels.  Mike didn’t set out to change.  In fact, he didn’t think he needed to change.  God has been working on Mike’s heart and shifting his values.

When we married at 22 (we’re now 60), we were not even believers.  Over the years, what has emerged as our favorite time of the day is something we would never have imagined in the first 25 years together.  The dinner-prep time, those 90 minutes when we’re in the kitchen fixing dinner and tomorrow’s breakfasts and lunches, we talk and listen to music.  Before we sit down to dine, we each get out our notebooks where we’ve observed and written down what we noticed in the day’s Scripture reading.  Inevitably Mike will have picked up something that passed me by and vice versa.  This in-depth exchange deepens our love and appreciation for God’s holiness and his Word. In our twenties and thirties, talking about God held no place in our daily exchanges.  God has planted and cultivated this now-cherished habit.

Last year I witnessed two other new desires that ‘came up out of nowhere’. (I’ve written previously about ‘dining with my school colleagues’ and ‘wanting to continue teaching and working on my craft of helping students with Second Language Acquisition’). What I love about God is how he surprises and delights me.   Maybe that’s what my family should etch on my tombstone, “Surprised by God!”

Recently, God did it again.  The change caught me unaware.  But this time, I connected it to a pattern.  (Why had no one comforted me with the FACT that change IS possible in God’s kingdom and that it is not all up to us!?)

Here’s what happened.  As I described above God rescued me from bulimia in my mid-twenties. Although the binge-purge pattern no longer ran my life, my obsession with eating and how I looked and felt about my body still plagued me.  The scales have been a powerful idol for decades.  Gradually God has weaned me mostly away from them.  But I still don’t trust myself to stick to any resolutions.

But God!  Yes, he has changed my desire.  Visiting with Shay and Graham over Christmas prompted an unexpected change.  They have been following a plant-based way of eating for 2 years.  Whereas I have always enjoyed the occasional vegetarian meal I considered it extreme to avoid all meat and dairy.  I like meat and dairy.  But watching the documentary Forks over Knives changed me.  I happened to ask Shay a question about the smoothie she was preparing.  It was Christmas Eve and we had a block of time before heading to church.  She asked me if I wanted to see for myself what caused them to switch.  I did and I was convinced.  Plant-based eating IS healthier and CAN minimize one’s risk for disease.  For me, it was a ‘no-brainer’.

And with that, I switched.  Mike, a very good-hearted, generous and supportive husband, agreed to drop his morning yogurt and share a smoothie with me. My lunches, breakfasts, and snacks are plant-based. And I agreed to prepare an ‘every-other-night’ entré of meat.    After all, Graham and Shay have adopted a ‘reasonable’ 80 %-of-the-time- vegan lifestyle.  This allows for eating what is served them by friends, or the occasional desire to sample something not plant-based.

A few weeks into this way of life, I recognized that I no longer care what the scale says.  What I value is eating healthy.  Surprise!  When we drove down to Tampa for Christmas, this new world of plant-based cooking was not on the radar.

So here is the principle.  Don’t angst about a change you can’t seem to make for the better.  Give it to God to bring about:

  • in his perfect way
  • in his perfect timing
  • to his glory and your blessing

Psalm 37:4  Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

PS:  I think the desires the Psalmist had in mind are not what WE think we want, but rather what God wants for us as his beloved children!

 

 

How God is changing my will

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Philippians 2:13 For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.

Lots of unholy churn and inward griping have colored my past 3 3/4 years teaching French to middle-schoolers.  I have prayed for God to open the door to other jobs that pay as much but

  • don’t include a commute of at least 1 hour 40 minutes on a traffic-free day
  • don’t place me in a sometimes hostile anti-Christian environment (secular school)
  • don’t require me to face the burdensome daily challenge of teaching French well and creatively to middle-schoolers

And in His good and wise providence, God has kept me in that job!  So I have prayed, very reluctantly, for Him to change my will, my desires.  Do you ever pray like this, a kind of ‘please God, but I’m not sure if I want you to‘ type request?  This is how I’ve been praying:

  • Father, if I have to continue to work THERE, then at least change my heart so that I more light-heartedly teach/work/serve at that school.  But, Father, I’m actually hesitant to ASK You to change my heart.  I don’t think I WANT to want that, to work contentedly there.  I just want OUT!

But God HAS changed my heart through a shift in my thinking that could ONLY have come about this way.

It was a combination of a Charles Spurgeon selection from his book Morning and Evening, a John Piper devotional one night, some scripture in a prayer I was praying through that my app Prayermate had fed me and a John Piper archived sermon the next morning.  All within about 11 hours.

One of my whiny refrains I kept replaying in my mind leading up to those 12 hours was, “My heart is just not in teaching French to middle-schoolers any more!  I’m tired of the burden. And besides, I’ll be 60 in a few months, maybe I don’t have what it takes to relate to them!”  I can get REAL good at excuse making.

By means of 3 verses, He had shifted my thoughts toward the end of the 11 hours (an evening, night and early morning), which gently but abruptly changed my desire:

  • Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.
  • Ephesians 6:7 Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.
  • Colossians 3:23 Whatever you are doing, let your hearts be in your work, as a thing done for the Lord and not for men.

And just like that, with the gentle Holy Spirit memory prompting, He brought those living facts and commands into my heart and mind and something occurred instantly.

In a flash, I saw how sinful AND LAME my whininess had been.  I pictured those sins as adding to the crushing weight of sin that Jesus willingly took on for me.

The next thought was:

  •  If I can’t teach whole-heartedly for THEM, those kids, I CAN do so for God.  By His power.
  •  In fact Maria, your Father created those works at this school right now for you to do as a new creation.  He has equipped and fitted you to do just that.  And that is why He has kept you there in that job.  It has been His intention all along.  He has purposes for you to serve Him in that environment.

That was a Wednesday.  I lived with new freedom and awareness throughout the day, actually enjoying myself.

Cautiously I embraced Thursday.  Same thought-altering feelings prevailed. And Friday as well.

It’s Spring Break this week.  The days are flying and soon Monday will come.  But I’m not dreading it.  With His help, I CAN do what He has willed for me, what He commands me to do.

Here’s the truth:  what God commands, He equips us to do and we have no reasonable defense to resist.  Thanks be to God!

A gentle Father

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Stop hand

 

 

 

I don’t react kindly to criticism.  In fact my mother-in-law once told me I was spoiled (I’m an only child – maybe it goes with the territory)!

So when my husband held up a hand to stop me from butting in while he was speaking, I felt shut down.  When I voiced my objection, he said he didn’t appreciate being interrupted. Not much I could say to that, for my remark definitely and abruptly had been an attempt to cut into his explanation. And it wasn’t the first time.

“I’m just raising a question!” I sputtered.  Even as I tried to justify my rudeness, I began to see for the first time how this breaking into someone’s verbal train of thought was actually habitual with me.

Scenes from visits with my adult sons flashed through my mind.  How many times in our discussions about God had I inserted MYself with MY views right in the middle of their sharing.  Much to their credit and my shame, they always patiently yielded to me when I cut in to pass on my brilliant God-moment.

Back to that incident in the kitchen with my husband.  This was not the first time he had gestured to me when I started to jump in with my 2 cents worth.  In fact, I had showcased the very same annoying habit the previous evening with friends over for dinner. Stung, I self-righteously felt wronged when he had put a halt to my butting in with discrete body language.

But this night I had seen my action for what it was – just plain rude and unloving. It was like the Holy Spirit opened my eyes.  A bit humiliated, I nonetheless discerned an emboldened desire to pray for help in retraining myself.

Since that ‘teaching moment‘ in the kitchen two weeks ago, God has provided reinforcement of not only my need to change but the truth that I CAN change. He has brought podcast remarks and scripture across my path, reminding me of supernatural power available to those who have been transferred into God’s kingdom of light (evidently, there is enough light for even me to see the need to change!)

Kingdom of LIght

Peter encourages us to make every effort to add moral goodness to the faith that we have been given (1 Pet 1:5).  But this is AFTER he has reminded believers that we have been given FAITH to become partners in the divine nature of God as we KNOW and TRUST Jesus’ promises.

What I’m learning is that all of the promises of power in the Bible are ours as God’s regenerate children.  But we have to act on them, using the faith that we’ve been given. (we don’t ‘gin up’ the faith ourselves)

John Piper created an acronym to assist himself and us in accessing God’s help during those moments when we see our need:

A – Admit you are helpless  – sounds like an AA principle!

P – Pray and tell God what you need

T – Think of one of those encouraging promises from God’s word and Trust it (like- I can do ALL things through Him who strengthens me – Phil 4:13)

A – Act on the promise, though you don’t FEEL any power. Take the action necessary, trusting that God is 100 % faithful to come through as He has said.  This is walking by faith and not by sight.

T – Thank Him after the fact for supplying the power, provision and/or whatever you asked Him for

**

Humble heart

 

 

 

I’m ashamed to admit that this is only the second time in my life that I have attempted to change my behavior in response to God’s nudge.  Oh, I’ve tried self-transformation before, but these adjustments have been me-centered, to make me happier or make others think better of me (grand-parenting skills, weight, fitness, sleep habits, intellect, hobbies).

The first time was 14 years ago when serious fissures in both my and Mike’s view of marriage threatened to torpedo our covenant.  I read books and prayed and sought out wise Christian women to guide me in adopting a Biblical view of marriage, something that was foreign to me even though I had been ‘in church’ since the age of 9.

But it has been years since that crisis. And thanks be to Him and the manner in which He got our attention, our marriage is now a source of true joy for both of us. It obviously took God hitting me with a padded 2×4 to get my attention.  At least this time, the catalyst to change my unloving interruptions was less painful.

I wonder what else is in His divine lesson plan for me!

 

Unnatural Grace – a book recommendation

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It’s just not natural!  – a theology of grace

I’ve been captivated by a book.  Six years ago Episcopal priest Paul Zahl committed to paper what he has been teaching for the 30 years as a pastor.  Grace in Practice, A Theology of Everyday Life (2007) is changing me.

Very quickly he demonstrates how humans consistently fail to give each other grace. Yet each of us longs desperately to receive grace.  What is grace? –one-way love, the kind of love we crave because it’s freely given with no strings attached.  If there is an expectation on the part of the dispenser of grace, then it’s not grace, but manipulation.  And we are born with an innate ability to sniff out this kind of hypocrisy.

Christ is the ultimate example of grace. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation.  We can’t be good enough; we can’t manipulate our way into heaven,   “For when we were still sinners, Christ died for us” Romans 5:8

Lest you think that some people get by fine without grace due to their skill, hard work & maybe a bit of luck and that only down–and-out folk need grace, Zahl shatters that illusion right from the start.  How? –by explaining 3 givens that are true about every human that has ever lived:

a)   We are all guilty & inadequate to meet God’s standard due to original sin.  We live under an objective sentence of guilt and inside we FEEL this guilt.

b)   We are worse than we think; actually we are TOTALLY depraved which Zahl explains means that there is no part of the human condition that escapes depravity.

c)    No one has free will; free will is a myth we can’t shake. We’ve drunk the Kool-aid.

Read the book to follow his very convincing explanations and illustrations.

Because of the above givens, we crave grace.  But those we live with or work for don’t give us grace.  Instead they try to change us with exhortations (or worse, with commands or manipulative advice) to do better.  He calls that the Law.  No one ever gets better by the Law.

To be fair, Zahl makes an interesting distinction between what he calls necessary or natural law, the kind of law that protects us, but has no moral (read:  guilt-producing) baggage.

That kind of ‘first’ law maintains safety among groups of people.  It has nothing to do with self-improvement, relief from guilt or a thousand other problems we have.  When moral law (you should call your mother more often, you should do your homework consistently, you should stop drinking)  is applied, not only does it not help us, but often we dig our heels in further and do just the opposite of what the Law intends. Amazingly we do get better when grace is given.

In order to communicate what he means by grace, Zahl widens the theological term, ‘imputation’ and applies it to phenomena we have all witnessed.  This principle of passing on power through naming originated with God, “God gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were” – Romans 4:17b

Remember the time when your coach might have confidently said to you as an awkward 7th grader, ‘I think you’ll make a mighty fine basketball player’?  The power of that grace-filled imputation summoned your gifts and talents and motivated you to work hard to fulfill that expectation.  You were drawn to the drills and endless work that resulted in your becoming the good basketball player, all because your coach invited you and did not compel you.  Zahl promotes grace not only because it’s biblical, but because it works.

The letter (the Law) kills but the spirit (Grace) gives life” – 2 Cor 3:6

Zahl doesn’t discount the Law. He describes how we need to allow the law to drive us crazy, so that we come to our senses.  I now see how it is necessary to be killed by the Law before Grace is even an option to consider.  We have to exhaust ourselves in trying to satisfy the Law and finally abandon our efforts and die to it before we turn to Grace.

I won’t go any further in describing Zahl’ work, but here are some quotes & paraphrases.  I hope they will whet your appetite enough to order the book.  Each night in December I could not wait to finish the dishes and find my cozy spot and read.  I felt hope rising:  hope and excitement in being able to offer those whom I love this kind of grace that brings out the best in people.

  • Grace is too good to be true.  It’s totally unfair
  • ‘theological anthropology’-takes in original sin, total depravity and our un-free will, our bondage
  • Marriage needs perpetual absolution.  Husbands have to forgive wives for being women. Women have to forgive their husbands for being men.
  • Everyone needs the same amount of love – 100 % unconditional one-way love
  • For grace to be grace there must not be any conditions, no partial role for me.
  • Grace is listening to another person without bringing the conversation back to you.
  • Grace never tries to fix, but trusts God to do this.  Grace listens
  • Grace in the marriage produces grace with the children

 

 

 

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