Category Archives: Sanctification

Tell Me Something True

Just now joining us? This post is Part 4 of the series on overcoming a fear of people. To find earlier posts, start here:

Part 1: We All Do It

Part 2: It’s a Trap

Part 3: Why Are We So Afraid?

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“Finally,” April said to herself as she walked into the quiet kitchen. A few minutes to herself.

The counter was clean except for a lone Hershey bar calling to her. “No, siree,” she said. “Not until Thursday.” She put the candy in the bread box and closed it.

She glanced at the calendar. Wait—Tuesday already? Book study night. And Makenna had her first basketball practice. April pulled out her phone to text Kyle. Maybe he could take her.

April sighed as she picked up her book and headed to the swing on the front porch. She had been a faster reader in college, before married life and kids had forever obliterated her free time.

She almost didn’t join Nicole’s book study group, didn’t want to commit to such a daunting author as Charles Dickens. But Kyle had convinced her. “Just enjoy yourself,” he had said. “No one’s going to care how fast of a reader you are.”

So here she was. A porch swing, sunny weather, and two chapters behind in Great Expectations. Not too bad.

She was two-thirds through the first page (which was really more like half a page) when the neighbor’s garage door opened. Oh, there’s Kelsie, she thought, and started to get up to say hi. Remembering the two chapters waiting for her, she settled back down and waved to her neighbor instead. But Kelsie never looked up to see.

Looks like Sara’s in full force this morning, April smiled as she watched Kelsie try to wrestle the two-year-old into her carseat. Carson had been like that.

She sighed again as she turned back to her book. It would be nice to be on track with the rest of the group for once tonight. She focused on the words and had made it a couple of sentences when—Aa-roof!

It sounded so close April jumped.

“Baxter, no!”

Kelsie was pulling her giant of a dog out of the minivan by his collar. April watched to make sure the toddler didn’t wander out of the van while her neighbor returned the dog to the backyard.

Yes, those had been crazy days when the kids were little. She smiled with memories, but she also remembered how frustrated and undone she had been most days. She looked at the closed book in her lap. How she would have loved this kind of free time to read books like this when the kids were little.

“Sara! You need to stop it right now!” Kelsie had finally pinned the toddler into her carseat.

April remembered those moments, too. She didn’t look up this time, didn’t want Kelsie to think she was witnessing her hard morning. She heard the door shut and the engine start.

Aa-roof!

April jumped again. This time it sounded even closer. A panting, happy mess had joined her on the porch. “Well, hello, Baxter,” she said. Last time she just pointed him out to Kelsie and her neighbor came and got him, but after the morning she had just witnessed…April raised her eyebrows at the dog. “Come on, Baxter,” she grabbed his collar and started walking across the yard.

Charles Dickens could wait.

Playing with Snakes

Recognizing the problem is a vital first step. We know we have trouble with an unhealthy fear of people. But, armed with this knowledge of our struggle, where do we go next? How can we shake off these fears?

We were learning about snakes in our toddler classroom, so we got out the toy rubber snakes for playtime. The boys, of course, were all over this. Lily gave a shudder and refused to participate, choosing instead to play by herself and watch the rest of the kids from a distance. Anna, barely two years old, finally worked up the courage to touch one, and soon was quietly and very seriously playing with it. As she did, she kept repeated softly to herself, “It’s just pretend. It’s just pretend.”

Somehow, that two-year-old innately knew how to face her fear—but we’ll come back to that.

Not a Step-by-Step Plan

First, as we explored last week, before we try to work on our fear of people, we have to address the big problem—have we ever responded to the Gospel by following Jesus? We will never make any real progress without that foundation. To try to fix our fear-of-people problem while ignoring our bad standing with God is like putting new paint on a wall that is internally disintegrating from termite damage.

Yet even many Christians—if not all Christians—struggle long and hard with fearing man. Even after becoming one of God’s new creations, our old ways and struggles seep through. Fear of people hides so deeply and cleverly in each of us that our only hope to fight it is to follow God’s specific leading in our own lives. With that in mind, here are four things we can prayerfully do to fight it in our own hearts.

Understand.

We must understand what exactly we are fighting, and what our hope of victory is. Our goal here is not simply to quit fearing people. “The human heart is an idol factory,” John Calvin said, and we will always be worshiping something. If we clear out the altars we have set up to other people, we will soon start following some other illegitimate god, whether money or self or living in the moment. We must realize that the ultimate battle is for our hearts and the end goal is the glory of God and our worship of Him alone. God must have first place in our hearts. When He does, idols will find no room to stay.

Pray.

Why do we think we can do this on our own? Why do we think we can somehow muscle our way through our issues without help? God knows our weakness and is ready to help us in it. As Peter slipped through the water when walking to Jesus, he called out for help and Jesus immediately gave it (Matthew 14:22-33). All we have to do is ask.

Talk. To people.

Seriously. It may be tempting to think that because we struggle in valuing people’s opinions too highly, we shouldn’t include other people as we face this problem. But again, why do we think we can do this on our own? The people around us can never take God’s place in our lives, but God has put them in our stories for our encouragement and theirs. Find someone who can sympathize with your struggle and talk it through with you, regularly if needed.

Remind our hearts of the Gospel.

When we played with toy snakes that day in the toddler class, Anna was afraid. But her fear didn’t control her. First of all, Anna participated in spite of her fear—she played with that toy snake instead of retreating to the familiar safety of the book corner or joining Lily. Secondly, as Anna participated, she reminded herself of something true: the snake was, in fact, just pretend. It would not hurt her.

We don’t retreat from people—hiding from our problem changes nothing. We are still called to live life, not in monasteries, but in the midst of people. But as we step out into the crazy new world of each new day, we can remind ourselves of something true: the Gospel.

To focus on the Gospel is to touch on everything else. Fear of man hides in different nooks and crannies of each of our hearts, and we will all gravitate to different verses, truths, promises, etc., that best help us personally in our own fights against fear of man and other things we can’t shake off easily. But here are a few that would be a good place to start:

  • God is bigger, stronger, and more powerful than any person on earth—and all of them combined. See Daniel 4:34-35.
  • God is your Father, and loves you more deeply and cares for you more consistently than anyone you will ever meet on earth. See Psalm 103:17.
  • Jesus’ sacrifice is powerful enough to save you, and to set you on a path toward becoming like Him. Because of this, change is possible, even unavoidable, if you are truly His. He will complete in you what He started. He has given you His victory, and you can be victorious in this. See Philippians 1:6, 1 Corinthians 15:58.
  • God knows what He is doing in your life. He knows about your heart struggles and how hard this is, and He sees you. You are not in this alone. See Psalm 103:14, Isaiah 45:3, and Matthew 6:4.

So realize what battle you are fighting. Pray to the God who will strengthen and guide you through it, and consider seeking out someone to talk with as you grow. And be like a two-year-old: don’t let your fear keep you from reaching out to people, and remind yourself of something true as you go.

Three Things to Remember When Facing Regret

Recently my brother and I found ourselves in NYC, on a trip we had dreamed about for years and planned for months. I couldn’t believe we were actually—finally—in New York City. Every step was exciting, every obscure building a photo op.

As the days flew by, I quickly realized things I wished we had done differently. For instance, we didn’t plan as much time for the 9/11 Memorial & Museum as I would have liked, and we had to speed through the last exhibits in the Museum. I also wished we had called our hotel ahead of time to ask about baggage storage after checkout; had we known about that cheap option we would have chosen later flights on our departure day and had one last sightseeing opportunity.

At some point in life, each of us will have regrets about harder things than travel plans. Most of us already do. When the what-ifs and if-onlys in plague our memories, here are three things it helps to remember.

We Are Not Perfect

We will not lead perfect lives. We are not strong enough or wise enough to do everything right, and to be human is to belong to that globally inclusive club of Those Who Mess Things Up. As Christians, we know that one of the Gospel’s central truths is that we will never be perfect—and we don’t have to be.

It is one of the ironic things of life that this truth is more liberating than condemning. Since we know that we and everyone around us will fail sometimes, it is not as much of a shock to us when we do.

God is Bigger Than Our Failures

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).

No matter how serious our mistakes and problems, they cannot be greater than the power, grace, and love of God. Far from it: our greatest failure became His deepest gift of redemption. I mean, really. Think you’ve messed things up? Talk to Adam and Eve in the garden, with fruit juice staining their hands and nakedness taunting their conscience.

He knows our hearts. He knows we will never be perfect on our own. No matter how many mistakes and failures occur between now and heaven, our imperfections are covered by His perfect grace.

Because our perfection no longer depends on what we do.

When We Fail We Lose Nothing

So we should have done it differently, and we didn’t. We may be frustrated with our own ineptness, or, in a more serious situation, grieve what could have been had we done things right. We may need to apologize and seek forgiveness, depending on the mess we made this time.

But then we move on. We don’t have to live in that failure, or build up layers of restitution until we earn our way out of debtor’s prison. All the important things are still true, untouched by our inability and failure and stupidity.

God is still on His throne. We are still His people. He is still writing our story and everyone else’s, and no matter what glitch we think we caused in this chapter, He has already made it into something good that we will see with time.

Our faith is founded (partially) on our failure to be good. Catch that? Our faith is founded on our failure. Through the sacrificial death of Christ, our perfection is found in our identity with Him. Our failures can’t touch that.

In all those little and not-so-little messes of our own making, our identity stands strong and firm in the righteousness gifted to us by Christ. We don’t lose any standing with God or drop a rung on the ladder to heaven. Our relationship with Him is a gift, and will stay that way regardless of our stumblings.

When Those Regrets Come

As we travel through life, there will be problems in the journey. Dreams-come-true morph into mild disasters and our best efforts disintegrate into Have-I-Ever-Told-You stories.

We will have regrets. As we lay them at the feet of the God who sees our faltering efforts and knows our weak human hearts, we can trust He will keep us from stumbling too far and that His grace can cover all our if-onlys. Each of our regrets drives us to Him who does all things well, and who welcomes us with all our failures still attached.

“Safer Than a Known Way: Discover How Liberty in Christ Lies in Surrender”

Pamela Rosewell had three reasons to hesitate. The twenty-one-year-old from Hastings, England, worried that if she followed God completely, He would call her to great lengths in her newfound faith. She could not risk being called to 1) travel outside her native England, 2) speak in public, or 3) be single for the rest of her life.

Anything but that.

Unlikely Stories

When I first cracked the cover of The Hiding Place and finished its last page that same night, I was hooked. Since then I’ve been thrilled to find each new glimpse into the incredible story of the watch shop on the Barteljorisstraat and the unassuming family who lived upstairs.

After devouring several resources on the most exciting points of Corrie’s life, I read The Five Silent Years of Corrie ten Boom, learning for the first time in detail of the stroke-induced silence of Corrie’s last years. What a surprising ending to such a vibrant life. The Five Silent Years was written by Pam Rosewell, Corrie’s personal travel assistant and eventual caregiver, who later wrote a second book: Safer Than a Known Way.

Corrie’s story is an unlikely one of an ordinary family of middle-aged and elderly Christians simply trusting and obeying God—and spearheading Haarlem’s resistance to Nazi horrors. Pam’s story is of an ordinary young woman intent on leading a normal and easy Christian life—and finding excitement and joy in parting with what she thought she could never give up.

For both of them, their lives were much different than their expectations. For both of them, their God was faithful.

“There Were Changes Ahead That I Could Never Have Imagined”

It really started with Sylvia.

Pam’s eighteen-year-old sister Sylvia begged her to attend a Christian conference. At 21, Pam wasn’t interested in her sister’s religious enthusiasm. “I wanted to follow Christ from a distance,” she wrote later. “To follow closely might mean He would ask of me something I could never do.”

But she went anyway, determined to participate as little as possible.

It was a determination she would not be able to keep. Despite her strongest intentions, just a few hours into the event, Pam wholeheartedly surrendered every part of her life to God. “I knew that [my surrender] was real and that it would last…God had revealed His love to me and had moved into my life on this particular night, giving me grace to surrender.”

But this was only the beginning.

Always an Adventure

Pam’s first international trip was a year-long mission assignment in Africa. Soon after, she began working with Brother Andrew in Holland and eventually agreed to accompany Corrie ten Boom on her travels all over the world. Her earlier commitment to never leave England’s shores had given way to an exciting life full of new people and places—and Pam was surprised to find that, most of the time, she actually enjoyed it.

Years into her travels, churches began inviting her to speak about her experiences to their congregations. “Although I continued to be nervous,” Pam wrote, “public speaking had lost its terror. People listened and responded. I saw that God used me and this fulfilled me deeply.”

Pam had now faced two of her three fears. God had been with her in her fears, and He had used those experiences she had dreaded to enrich her life more than she could have expected.

Through all of these things, Pam was single. She spent years caring for a woman who had been single all her life, and, in light of all she had learned through facing her first two fears, lifelong singleness was very possible for Pam.

Once Tante Corrie (as many called her) asked Pam if she was content to be single. Pam realized she was. Whether or not her singleness would be lifelong (and you’ll have to read the book to find out!), “I had to believe that this difficult way that I was now taking was…His perfect way for me.”

Safer Than a Known Way

Why do we always give our surrenders with caveats? Why do we think we have any right to ask God to meet our stipulations?

Even when we think we have surrendered wholeheartedly, we usually haven’t. As soon as things start unraveling, we grumble and question and give our human reasons as to why we shouldn’t be in this situation.

This isn’t what I had in mind. This isn’t what I expected. This isn’t what I signed up for.

If we would only give it all away—all the doubts, all the questions, all the fears.

Pam did. Soon she found herself facing the very things she had vowed to never risk. But in that road, in that way, she found so much more than just a neat and comfortable little Christian life. This life was so much better.

“Yet God has fulfilled my life through the very things I feared…I would so much like to tell people that they have nothing to lose in trusting God with all their lives…Only the Lord sees the end of my story. It is not in my control. But I do know this: when I surrender to Him, I am safer than if I had chosen a known way.”

More and More

It seems to be a first-world, 21st-century dilemma that we get whiplash from all the possibilities we have to do good around us. Sometimes we simply don’t know what to do with all of our options.

Should I devote myself to overseas missions? Pro-life causes?  The orphan and the widow? The homeless?

We seek out God’s guidance in our own lives, and that is good. But sometimes our murky understanding of “God’s will” leads us to expect unforgettable “Eureka!” moments of unearthing it. We look for black-and-white, unmistakable signs of what should be our life’s passion and greatest work.

We wonder what God has for us next, or would have us do now, or what He has waiting for us. Our questioning and seeking begs the question—is it something different? Is it something we don’t yet have?

Keep Going on the Road You’re On

During a time of great pressure and crises for the early church, Paul wrote to the Thessalonian believers. He was suffering. Others were suffering. Paul feared all the suffering would discourage the Thessalonians from their faith, but was overjoyed when Timothy reported the opposite (1 Thess. 3:1-5). In that situation, in that time, how did Paul counsel the Thessalonians to live and act and pursue their purpose?

He didn’t ask them to start any new initiatives or reforms. Didn’t suggest starting their day with a to-do list, or dreaming big to decide how to spend their time.

Paul asked them to remember.

“Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more” (1 Thess. 4:1).

More and more.

We taught you to love each other, Paul reminded the church. Remember how we talked about living in faith? Keep doing that. Just do it more.

Paul prayed for the church in Thessalonica, but not that they would discern, discover, or otherwise find out the will of God for them. He didn’t pray that they would move on to the next step or start the next phase.

He prayed that they would continue on the road they had chosen. That what they had begun to understand they would live out more often. That what they had started doing they would do more often. That the way of life they were called to would define them “more and more.”

Not Always Different

It’s as if Paul thought they already had what they needed. They didn’t need something new.

More often than not, my days are driven by my own American sense of aiming for the stars and getting something done. Something bigger than daily, seemingly-small obedience.

Really, what can we do? We keep looking around us for ideas, seeking a way we can be a part of what God is doing.

As if we don’t think it counts to just be His. As if we think we have to earn our place. As if we think He can’t lead us without our help.

But He loves as His children, He earned it for us, and if He has led us this far we can trust Him to get us home.

Now that we are here, at His table, all we have to do is follow Him. Every day.

Maybe seeking God’s will for my life is often less about doing something different and more about doing something more. If you and I are living in love, walking in righteousness, and seeking Him daily, then we are already doing what He wants. We just need to do more of it.

We may have big dreams, and we could go on a grand adventure. There will likely be crazy twists and turns in the road ahead of us. But the heart of His will for us is to keep on keeping on in what we’ve already begun to learn, to increase, to keep growing. And to do so more and more.

“Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you” (1 Thess. 3:11-12).

When We’re a Little Stuck

It had rained the night before. We knew it as we left the outdoor craft fair and saw the mud—and another car farther down the field that was being towed out. As I put the minivan in gear and backed up, the grassy mud clumped in our tire and we sank into it, too. The van wouldn’t move.

I turned off the ignition. We weighed our options. Thought about it. Time can change a lot of things, so after about three minutes I tried again.

We tried pushing it. I tried forward and then reverse. And then forward again. I turned the steering wheel both ways.

The harder I pushed on the gas pedal, the more the wheels spun and the deeper we were.

Going Nowhere

We’ve read the verse: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). We know it. And we try to live it, too. We think of starting a Bible study or beginning a new church ministry or adopting an orphanage. The idea sits in our mind, where we return to it often. But the timing never seems to work or no one else is interested or we aren’t really sure we’re ready yet.

All of which could be true.

But we want to do something—anything, maybe—so we pick something and run with it. When that little project is over (or flops) we pick something else entirely different. We tally up the tasks on our to-do lists and make room for one more, hurrying from one thing to another and spinning our wheels faster and faster. But never getting back to that Bible study or church ministry or orphanage, and never having time to.

We’re stuck.

Time to Get Unstuck

The craft fair organizers must have figured on a muddy field frustrating some of their attendees. And that some of us would need help. Two men with a tractor, a tow rope, and a four-wheeler went car to car, pulling them out of the mire. My mom flagged one of them down to tell them of our situation, and then we waited.

I watched cars going by on the gravel road next to the field. Just driving by. Not a care in the world. Sitting in a minivan that I was powerless to move, I almost envied their ease. Maybe I did envy it. A little. Was it really that easy to get around just a couple hours ago? Now all our plans were dependent on that tractor—and it was busy.

When it was finally our turn, one of the guys hooked the strap onto the back of our car and told me what to do.

“Don’t turn the wheel,” he said. “Just go straight—and use the gas. Don’t stop.”

They pulled us out. Just like that. I tried to be helpful, holding the wheel straight and keeping an eye on the tractor while slowly accelerating backwards. “That’ll do it!” one yelled and unhooked the strap from our van. We thanked them profusely and I put the car in forward. Stepped on the gas.

And I was stuck again.

Not Just About a Yes or No

Following Ephesians 2:10, Paul doesn’t talk about how to discern the will of God. He doesn’t tell us what big decisions to make. He doesn’t give us a list of works to do.

No, Paul begins telling the Ephesians that, whether Jewish or Gentile, they are one in Christ. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, all believers are one body, united and reconciled to God. The Father.

“For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household” (Ephesians 2:18-19).

The God who saved us and planned works for us to do is our Father. Our Father!

Ephesians 2 isn’t just about guidance or knowing whether or not we should lead a Bible study. Our Father put us where we are in life to grow closer to Him and more aware of His work as we live out His plan for us. He already knows even our deepest secrets, and He invites us to live in such a way that we get to know Him more.

There’s a depth and complexity there that goes way beyond one or two life choices. He gives us things to do but He knows where we are. He knows our hearts. And He will lead us in every moment.

Sometimes that leading is as clear as a sunny day in Florida. Sometimes we have more than one option but can make a decision with a little thought. Sometimes we have to wait awhile. And sometimes we need help. Again.

We’ll Get There One Day

The tractor came back around and they hooked up the tow rope. Again. One of the guys traded places with me and told me to ride his four-wheeler while he drove our van out of the field to the road.

“But I might get stuck!” I warned him, afraid of my newfound propensity in going nowhere.

“You won’t,” he said.

The man with the tractor pulled us out again, and his partner smoothly guided the minivan to the road. The little four-wheeler lurched around behind them but never got stuck.

And we were on the road again. With a story to share for it.