During Lent, I will have the privilege of co-leading live discussions on two Walking with Purpose Bible studies: Fearless and Free (with Kristy Malik) and Harmony (with Sarah Swafford). Over the past two weeks, I have started to pray through the studies and want to share with you what it has been bringing up in my heart.
Before I started, I was giddy at the thought of the prayer time I would get. I could not wait to dive into God’s Word and spend more time with Him than my busy life typically allows. As an eternal optimist, I literally pictured myself walking with the wind of the Holy Spirit next to a stream in a meadow during springtime. My expectations were far beyond reality, as usual. For starters, it’s winter and I don’t live near a meadow, but more importantly, the glories of sainthood are still far off. Only two lessons into each study, my brokenness is rearing its ugly head, and I am trying harder than usual to hide it from God.
It’s not that I’m necessarily embarrassed to let God see my failures. I know that God sees the darkness in my heart, and He loves me anyway. My desire to hide comes from the fact these are still my failures. There is no doubt that God’s goodness and mercy have completely changed my life. My behavior looks different today than it did when I was living away from Him. But it’s the deep-seated stuff, the heart-issue sins, that I can’t seem to overcome completely. How is it that I have been on fire for God for so many years and still struggle with jealousy, gossip, pride, comparison, vanity, and a whole host of other sins? How is it that the freedom and joy that I know is mine through Christ still feels slightly beyond my grasp?
I wonder if you have looked in the mirror lately and found yourself frustrated that you are not further along in your spiritual journey. Have you walked into the confessional ashamed that you are confessing the same sins? Or avoiding the confessional altogether? Are you finding it difficult to understand why you haven’t overcome your vices when you really love Jesus? Take heart, friend. You and I are further along than we think.
You may feel stagnant in your walk with Christ, like you are constantly taking two steps toward God and one step back, but His view of things is different. St. Paul reminds us in Philippians 1:6 that, “He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Even if you can’t see it or feel it, God promises us that He will bring our transformation to completion. This is a promise that we can claim even if some of that transformation is completed in purgatory.
Can we actively make better choices? We can, and we should. Should we take every thought captive to Christ and seek therapy when necessary? Absolutely. Should we put in the work to love God with all our heart, mind, body, and soul at every moment of our lives? You bet. There is no doubt that our personal choices actively move us toward or away from the kind of life God wants us to live, but the deep transformation, eradicating sin at the core of our being, is a work that we cannot accomplish.
John Mark Comer, a Christian author, spoke of this struggle in his own life in a recent interview. He explained that he comes from four generations of hyper-perfectionism and OCD, which manifests in him being a neat freak, controlling, angry, and critical of his wife and kids over a messy house. He then explained that willpower alone isn’t enough to eradicate that sin from his life—it is woven into his body at a cellular level from generations before. He said that he needs deep healing from the Holy Spirit; to be re-habituated through practices that index him toward love, peace, kindness, acceptance; and to rediscover what it’s like to live in a messy world yet be at peace.
While hiding sounds safe and trying harder seems like the natural solution, neither is helpful or effective. There is an easier, more effective way, but it requires humility, admission, submission, and patience.
To begin, we must not only admit our failures to Him, but we must recognize, without shame, that we are powerless to overcome them on our own. After we accept this, we have to submit to God. Most of us don’t like the idea of submitting to anything, but if we don’t, we won’t get anywhere. Submission requires us to overcome our pride, stay faithful, and give Him space to work in our hearts. We do this through prayer, silence, time in Scripture, and repentance. We rid ourselves of the constant distraction and consumption that often gets in the way of God’s work. We also have to leave behind the expectations that we place on ourselves and receive the healing He offers.
In the midst of all this, we must be patient with our progress. As we continue to walk with Him, He will do the work that sets us free. And when He does, we will be able to look back and see some progress. We will see that we are a bit freer, a bit more like Him. We will recognize how He was moving through those moments when we felt like we were getting nowhere. Then we can praise His name and give Him the glory because it was His power that overcame our weakness.
In a recent conversation with a friend, I confided in her my frustration with the sin that I cannot overcome. I told her how desperately I desire to live a life of total freedom in which I don’t let little things get to me, and I annoy the rest of this cynical world with a spirit of unbreakable joy. She responded by telling me that she was beginning to experience that type of freedom in her life. Some of the struggles over which she had no power had started to melt away, and she knew that she had nothing to do with it. She said that when she fears the struggles will return, she hears in prayer that the Lord has taken them away for good. He did the work, and the healing is permanent.
Encouraged by our conversation, I am refusing to hide. I am instead making an offering to God of these struggles that, yes, I still have. What are you doing with yours? Do not try to hide them. Do not try to ignore them or let them be the source of your shame. Give them to the Father; He is not surprised or scandalized that your struggles are still your struggles. He wants your holiness more than you do, and He is more patient than you are with yourself. He is walking beside you, finishing the work that He began.
 John Mark Comer. Interview with James Bryan Smith. Things Above, audio podcast, January 20, 2021. https://apprenticeinstitute.org/2021/01/20/conversation-with-john-mark-comer/.