Review: Worn Out by Obedience

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

Exhausted. Worn out. Weary.

These are all states with which I am intimately familiar – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. I know what it is to drain the tank to the very last drop and wonder how or why I should keep on the path that God has laid out for me. Wouldn’t it be easier to take a detour? To check out for awhile? In the name of self-care, isn’t it all right to indulge myself?

Because I’m tired.

The shepherd-warrior David felt that, too. After years on the run from King Saul, he gave up on seeking God’s will for a season. Oh, he didn’t hate God. He just sort of put God on the back burner. David took his men into enemy territory, to Ziklag, because he was tired. And that tiredness led him to believe that God wouldn’t take care of him.

Pastor Ron Moore uses this biblical story to show us how easy it is to wind up in our own personal Ziklags. We never intend to go there. We want to do the right things. Except…sometimes we don’t. We hold on to secret, precious sins. Or maybe it’s not that, maybe it’s just that we’re trying to do all the right and good things in our own strength. Eventually, that strength runs out.

Either way, enemy territory looks mighty pleasant.

Moore’s years of pastoral work is evident on every page. He relates stories of men and women who turned aside from God for a time, as little as a few days or as long as many years. Some of them wound up in Ziklag because they didn’t want to give up sin – but they were still able to put on a good religious show. Others bought ground there out of burn-out, the kind that comes from never being able to say “no” to all the good things that need doing.

This would be enough, but Moore goes a step further and shares his own struggles, never denying his own humanity. This allows the reader to explore the discussion questions at the end of each chapter in safety and vulnerability, knowing that the author isn’t out to condemn from the confines of a hypocritical tower.

Divided into three parts, Worn Out by Obedience begins by describing the ways in which we become exhausted. Are we asking God to order our days? Are we holding onto things we need to get rid of? Are we trying to earn His grace by our good deeds? Whether we are worn out by service, expectations, disappointment or sin, we risk giving in to the temptation to listen to our own advice and pack our bags, as outlined in the second part. Finally, Moore reminds us of the grace of God that enables us to get out of Ziklag and get back on His path.

Though I cannot reproduce it here and am reduced to mere description, the graphic on page 22 provides a nice summation. The Christian experience is one of hill and valleys, ecstasy and agony. At the same time, it is one of overall progress is upward, toward Christ. The pits and the progress coexist. And so, as Moore writes,

When the reality of soul weariness is ignored, we slowly slide into dangerous time of spiritual disconnectedness, disappointment and discouragement. It is during these vulnerable stretches when we are most susceptible to suspend the battle against temptation, lay down our armor and surrender to sin. As a lion goes after worn-down prey, so Satan charges after the tired believer. We have to recognize the reality of spiritual fatigue, understand the danger and takes the steps of refresh our soul.

– p. 25

The rest of the book explains how to identify weariness and how to address it in order to avoid Ziklag. However, if Ziklag is where we are, there is always grace to leave.

As this is a book from Moody Publishers, there are a few sections that are heavy on the Calvinism, but this doesn’t effect the overall message of the book. One paragraph did, however, stand out to me:

I became a Christian when I was around twelve years old, and my family was very involved in our small church. The fellowship was meaningful. The worship was uplifting. The messages were based on the Bible and applicable. But there were challenges with the church’s doctrine. I was taught that Christian could lose their salvation, that an act of sin severed one’s relationship with God. I grew up believing that I could be headed for [H]eaven in the morning, then sin at lunch and be on my way to [H]ell by the afternoon.

– p. 180-181, emphasis mine

As Moore does not name this church, it is impossible for me to know if he was taught an incorrect doctrine of assurance or if he misunderstood the Arminianism the church espoused. If the former, if he really was taught that one sin meant he had to be somehow saved again, then there were definite problems with the church’s doctrine. That would inspire terror and legalism. If the latter, he would not be the first to misunderstand the Arminian teaching on assurance and apostasy. The Society of Evangelical Arminians addresses this directly:

…a believer cannot lose his or her salvation (cf. John 3:16, 36; Rom. 5:1), since he or she by definition remains in the state of belief or trust in Christ and is hence a believer. The one who falls away from salvation is the one who is no longer believing or trusting in Christ alone and is thus not a believer. Second, the believer does not lose his or her salvation by falling into sin. Though sin may lead one to deny Christ, the act of sin itself does not cause one to lose his or her salvation. A person is justified by faith in Christ (Rom. 5:1). And a person is not justified due to unbelief. If a person no longer believes in or trusts in Christ Jesus for salvation, then that person will not be justified by God — accounted righteous in Christ and by His merit.

As this comes up in the penultimate chapter, and Moore does not spill significant ink in trying to convince his audience of Calvinism or in attacking those who do not find TULIPs lovely (neither of which is the point of the book), it is only a minor detail and one that a casual reader may not even notice. The mindful non-Calvinist need not fear being blindsided or belittled, not should he fear manipulation.

I recommend Worn Out by Obedience to anyone who wishes to avoid burn-out and wandering off of God’s path, but especially recommend it to those who, like myself, have strayed more often than they would like to admit. The struggle is real. The climb is steep. There may be miles to go in order to get back on course. But there is more than enough grace to save us, more than enough love to console us and more than enough Spirit to empower us.

Signature

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Never Once

Gentle Reader,

According to my self-imposed little schedule, I’m supposed to post today.

But I don’t really have anything to say. Maybe the rhinovirus has taken it out of me. So, instead of words, I give you song. Soak in its truth.

My journey to faith. (15)

The Detox Diaries: Joy is Strength

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Gentle Reader,

Yesterday I wrote about hands. Today I write about joy.

This is no coincidence.

I cannot tell you off the top of my head what the dictionary definition of the word joy is, and I won’t be looking it up. Instead, I offer up my own definition, one that I cobbled together a few years ago in the midst of a very dark time:

Joy is the ability to look past the darkness and into the Light. Joy searches beyond the moment and looks for Eternity. Joy is the action of shifting our eyes away from the situation and gazing into the face of Christ.

I’m sure that this isn’t precise and it’s probably not 100% theologically accurate, either. But it makes sense to me. The writer of Hebrews seems to have the same stance:

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – 12:1-2 (NKJV, emphasis mine)

The joy wasn’t found in the agony of the Cross. The joy was beyond the Cross, in the results found in the aftermath. Jesus looked beyond the excruciating pain of the moment and down the halls of forever, into the face of each person who would choose Him because He chose them. We are His joy.

Joy is anticipation. It is the willingness to endure suffering because of the promise of something greater, something better. It looks for the ways God blesses each day, even the smallest.

That is why joy is strength.

As the Lord works in my life, pruning and shaping so that I might become fruitful and healthy, there is a good deal of pain. Physical pain found in illness. Emotional pain found in the consequences and implications of that illness. Mental pain in grappling with new and changing information.

But I have joy.

For really reals.

There hasn’t been a day in the last month when I haven’t found something to smile about, even if it’s a tiny thing like watching the breeze ripple through the branches of the tree in my front yard. There are reminders all around me of the goodness and faithfulness of God. Every time I want to give up, He plops an “I love you” right into my lap. A word from a friend. A Bible verse or twelve. The sound of the birds chirping in the early morning. The softness of doggy fur. MercyMe’s new album.

Every time I fear being swallowed by the darkness, His light pierces and clears the cloudiness.

This joy? It is a gift.

It is also a choice.

I am a pessimist. Straight up, glass cracked and empty. Given the opportunity, I will find the negative. When this whole detoxing thing started, I knew, without doubt, that I was going to have to force myself to take the opposite tack. Trade in the pessimism for optimism. Not denial, mind you. A correct perspective, rather.

This holy gift of joy isn’t something that God will force me to take, much like anything else He offers. I have to unwrap it. He will take 99.9% of the steps, but requires me to move that final millimeter. He won’t make me search for the better in the beyond. I have to turn my mind to Him and ask for the eyes to do the searching.

Ultimately, joy is all about perspective.

There is no denying pain. We’re idiotic when we do that. To go through the pain with the knowledge that God is there and He is going to make it all good? To look for all the ways in which He smooths the winding, uphill, cliff-hugging path? That’s strength. Weakness gives up. Strength keeps going.

Joy fuels the strength that pushes us one more step. One more day.

My journey to faith. (15)

To read all the posts in The Detox Diaries series, go here.

This post also appeared on the Far East Broadcasting Company Gospel Blog on June 24, 2014.

7 Years

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Gentle Reader,

Tomorrow Chris and I will be going out to celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary, the weekend being more conducive to such things than a Monday, when the actual date falls. We are inaugurating a “competitive anniversary” tradition by engaging in the sport of bowling. Say a few prayers for him, as he’ll surely need encouragement after getting pounded into the ground.

I can’t believe that it’s been 7 years. Some days it feels more like 70, but today I wonder where the time as gone. Probably flown away to the same place that missing socks go, I suppose.  It seems like just yesterday that I was anxiously clutching my father’s arm as we made our way from the dressing room, out to the garden and past the motorcycle accident (I kid you not) up to the doors of the chapel. I’ll never forget how he patted my hand and told me that we could leave and go get a hamburger if that’s what I wanted to do. The offer was tempting, but I moved forward.

I’m glad I did.

We don’t have a perfect marriage. In our first week together we had a fierce argument and I hid in the bathroom, sobbing. Not too long after I asked my mom if I could come home. She said no. I didn’t think that was very fair.

There has been agony. Adjusting to living apart from my family for the first time. Learning how to make a new home with this big, gregarious guy in 450-square feet  of harvest gold and pumpkin orange awesomeness. Both of us sick our first Thanksgiving. Waking up on Christmas morning to the awkwardness that is establishing new traditions. Extended family tension on all sides. Chris’ descent into depression. Buying a house we couldn’t quite afford. Losing close friends. Leaving a church. My own struggles in the area of mental health. Broken down cars, overdrawn checking accounts, surgeries.

There has been fun. Locking myself out of the house in a snowstorm and having to wait for Chris to come to my rescue. Watching him compete in a hula dancing contest at a work function – and winning! Thursday evenings with popcorn and the NBC comedy line-up. Our failed experiments with short hair. Chris running, full force, through the fence he’d just finished putting up. A family of birds building a nest in our kitchen vent. Our dogs: Bugsy’s “cookie dance.” Blue’s obsession with the ball. Benny’s need for perpetual petting. Regular trips to thrift stores.

There has been sweetness. Taking walks together at dusk, not saying much of anything. Discussing our days as we make dinner together. Flowers for no reason. Little notes of encouragement. Pondering Scripture together. Praying. Sitting on the porch listening to the crickets. Secret (or maybe not-so-secret) glances across crowded rooms.

This relationship, this togetherness, takes a lot of work. A LOT. We don’t agree about everything. Each of us is convinced that the other is wrong most of the time. If we ever buy another house, it has to have a larger bathroom. There’s some passive-aggressiveness on occasion. He snores. I steal blankets. But in the hustle and bustle that is life, I am thankful to have a husband who makes this marriage a priority, who inspires me to make it a priority. There are days when we both think, “Really? You’re still here?” but those moments pass. When they don’t pass quickly, we talk about it. And usually end up laughing.

I have a great deal of respect for Chris. He works hard. He has a genuine desire to live a godly life and to be a positive influence on everyone he meets. He has a fabulous sense of humor. No man I know dresses better. He likes to learn. He builds things. He cooks (major bonus) and he doesn’t complain too much about doing housework. The sadness that dogs his days moves him to choose joy. He takes my innate pessimism and spins it to the bright side. Encourages me to have fun when all I want to do is yell at someone. And he never eats the last of the chocolate.

Seven years of hope, sorrow, laughter, struggle and growth. We are not the same people who made that covenant before God on June 17, 2006. We are…better, I think. Stronger for having experienced some intensely difficult things early in our marriage. Gentler with each other, less expecting of perfection. Possessing a deeper understanding of the reality that love is often more a choice than a feeling. Blessed.

My journey to faith. (15)