The Danger of Wanting to See Results

The Danger of Wanting to See ResultsOne summer in high school, I noticed a billboard on my way to work that said, “We took immediately and made it faster.”

We live in a culture of microwaved food, vitamin supplements, and exercise programs promising to burn our fat faster.

You want to grow your hair faster? There’s a shampoo for that.

Now that my son is a toddler, he loves to run as fast as he can (not usually paying attention to obstacles obstructing his path).

Why would we want to do anything slowly if we can get a similar result faster?

Growing up, I measured my nine-month schoolyears by twice a year report cards.

I went on short-term mission trips.

The Danger of Wanting to See ResultsGetting married was one of my first decisions where I couldn’t picture the end.

When I got pregnant with Isaiah, we waited the designated nine months to meet him, and then he was here.

For good.

There was no putting him back where he came from.

There would be no days off unless they were carefully arranged.

For the first months of his life, he would even receive all his sustenance from me.

No Test to Ace
I realized that in motherhood there were no periodic evaluations, final exams, or times specifically devoted to reflecting on my performance.

It was just . . . doing life.

No one was telling me if I did a bad job.

When we felt the Lord redirecting us from the goal of moving overseas (you can read more here), I spent time questioning my purpose.

What if I couldn’t see how God was choosing to use me?

What if He didn’t choose to use me at all?

My mentor Natalie reminded me that “Being used by God is a byproduct of my relationship with Him.”

The Danger of Wanting to See ResultsMy focus can’t be about achieving results, because . . .

God wants my heart.

If I use my performance or relationships with others to make me feel significant, I will always be disappointed in the end.

If my contentment in Jesus is based on how I can or cannot see Him using me, it will be easy to fall into the comparison trap (you can read more here).

Mothering Like Jesus
At the height of Jesus’ ministry, He often went to quiet places to be alone with His Father. He blessed children when He could have spent the time healing more people and seeing immediate results. (Mark 10:13-16)

Do I want my son to see a mom who is obsessed with evaluating performance?

What might he conclude about my love for him if that’s my highest concern?

Melissa Kruger, in her excellent biblestudy on Walking With God in the Season of Motherhood, wrote that our “hope is to have God impact our own lives in such a way that His imprint on our hearts makes a lasting impression on our children…. If we want peaceful, hopeful, kind, and compassionate children, it is essential that we grow in these graces ourselves. In the beauty of God’s design, He is in the process of parenting us as we parent our children.”

A Patient God
If we look at God’s plan of redemption, we are reminded again and again of His patience.

He is not in a hurry.

If He were, He wouldn’t have made Sarah barren for so many years.

He wouldn’t have put up with the Israelites flailing around in their sin and choosing to remember Him only when they were in trouble.

He wouldn’t have preserved a remnant when conquerors came, one after the other.

He wouldn’t have come to earth as a baby and then entrusted the message of the gospel to a small group of disciples.

If God were in a hurry, I’m pretty sure none of us would have had the chance to be born.

The Danger of Wanting to See ResultsGod wants us to abide in Him as grapes on His vine Jesus (John 15). He wants us to enjoy Him, ready to be squeezed into a precious bottle of wine when the time is right–so that if visible results do come, our first response won’t be to feel good about ourselves.

It will be to worship Him.

Here are seven snippets of truth my mentor Natalie shared with me for when I struggle to see results.

1. Submit your time table to God.

2. Remember that only Jesus brings true satisfaction.

3. Rejoice that His burden is light. (Matthew 11:30)

4. Realize that you don’t need to have all the answers at once. (He’s got it under control.)

5. Recognize that God’s kingdom almost always looks different from the world’s view of success.

6. Invite Him into every part of your life (even the boring diaper changes and laundry).

7. Ask God to help you rejoice in the beautiful works that are being done by others.

Will you ask Jesus to help you enjoy Him today?

How to Jump Out of the Comparison Trap

How to Jump out of the Comparison TrapHer children are so much better behaved than mine.

She works full-time and still finds energy to bake cookies for the kindergarten class.

At least I don’t act like her.

Do you wish you could escape from the running commentary in your head?

I used to think that I should be much more concerned about my outward actions than what was bouncing around in my thoughts. After all, who was I hurting if I didn’t voice my judgments out loud?

Like a weak seam, every time I chose to compare myself with someone, a piece of my heart would tear a little more. As the hole widened, it allowed more and more destructive thoughts through. I figured that if I felt guilty enough, I could whip myself into shape.

But it only grew worse.

Timothy Keller, in his book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, says that “the way the normal human ego tries to fill its emptiness and deal with its discomfort is by comparing itself to other people. All the time.”

I couldn’t change my behavior until God led me to the root of the problem: my nature without God.

This nature has a best friend called Pride.

Keller says that “spiritual pride is the illusion that we are competent to run our own lives, achieve our own sense of self-worth and find a purpose big enough to give us meaning in life without God.”

How to Jump out of the Comparison TrapIsn’t that what Adam and Eve ultimately wanted when they said they wanted to be like God? (Genesis 3:4) If they were like God, would they need Him anymore? If we were better than everyone else, would we?

Keller quotes from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, saying that “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next person.”

Better is only better if we become the best. Think of someone really successful–what happens if they don’t maintain their current level of perfection? Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?

For a while, I tried to just ignore my thoughts. That worked about as well as climbing Mt. Everest in a swimsuit.

I needed an identity change. Keller reminds us that “it is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance.”

We can’t do it on our own. But because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, paying the price for our sins, we don’t have to. Romans 8:1 says “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” He has become our righteousness, so when the Father sees us, He sees Jesus’ perfection. Because we are identified with Jesus, the Father’s verdict “You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased” applies to us as well (Matthew 3:17).

Keller explains that the apostle Paul, by calling himself the chief of sinners, acknowledges his sins but does not connect them to himself and his identity. Neither does he connect his accomplishments to this identity.

When our identity is not based on our performance, we can grow in gospel humility.

Keller puts it well when he says that “The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less. . . I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself.”

It’s not about me or them. It is only from this place of security that we can join in the fight for our thoughts. Here are some things that have helped me when unhealthy thoughts come knocking.

1. Remember it is a constant battle.
There have been times when I felt I could never change. Knowing it is a constant battle has helped, especially when I remember the Spirit is on my side, interceding on my behalf (Romans 8:26).

2. Practice the discipline of stopping your thoughts.
This isn’t something we can grit our teeth and do. After we ask for and accept God’s forgiveness, we can say, “I don’t want to go there, God,” knowing He’s the One who can bring true transformation.

3. Ask for God’s vision and perspective.
Sometimes, we can’t see the light at the end of the laundry or our thought patterns. My mentor challenged me to pray, “Jesus, please minister to me” when I feel stuck. Flip through the book of Psalms, and you can find countless cries for help. God always hears.

4. Talk to yourself.
K. Donovan, in her book Growing Through Stress, cited Martyn Lloyd Jones as sharing about the importance of “talking to myself instead of listening to myself talking.” When I let my mind roam free, it is easier to let destructive thoughts in. If I am proactively thinking about God’s promises and truths, it will leave less room for the other thoughts.

How to Jump out of the Comparison TrapAnd in the mornings when I’m so tired I can’t remember if I’ve showered or not, sometimes I need to listen to others speak the truth to me through online sermons, audio Bibles, and womens’ conference talks. (Click on the bolded words for some links.)

5. Give thanks.
Is there some way I can thank God for the person I find myself thinking about? Maybe I can say a quick prayer for them. Appearances can be deceiving.

Sometimes it also helps to just start telling God everything I’m thankful for.

Timothy Keller’s short book, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness brought so many of these concepts together for me in a clearer way than I’d ever heard before. It takes about an hour to read, and you can find it here.

And if you’d like to share some of these truths with the children in your life, you can check out Max Lucado’s “You are Special” here.

Carolyn Mahaney also wrote an excellent post on comparison entitled, “A Loving Rebuke.” 

Only God can change our comparison to blessing. Fight in His strength.

Why Forgetting About Heaven is Dangerous

Do you ache for heaven?

Most of the time I’m aching for a lot of things–more sleep, the casserole’s timer to go off so I can eat, time to read a novel, relational connections with my friends and husband, my son to stop whining and eat the lunch I made for him.

HeavenThese aches can pull us down, making us feel ungrateful and trapped in the responsibilities of life. That’s why it’s essential that we take time to meditate on the root of the ache–the heaven-shaped hole in each of our hearts.

Why it’s okay to look ridiculous
If you’ve chosen to follow Christ and have asked for His forgiveness, believing in His death on the cross as payment for your sins, you have a hope that no one else can claim. But it’s so easy to get distracted. . .

Your friend’s kid made it on to MasterChef Junior while yours can barely manage a piece of toast?
Your boss seems to relish your mistakes?
You can’t seem to get off the ground financially?

It can be so easy to compare myself to others who seem to have better lives now, instead of seeing this life as preparation for a glory-filled eternity.

Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15 why this might look ridiculous to those who don’t follow Jesus.

13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. . . 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

bridge-19513_1280How to jump off the treadmill
How can we keep running in the joy of Christ if we aren’t focusing on the finish line?
When we forget about the eternal reward that’s being momentarily delayed, life can start to feel more like a treadmill.

Dr. Randy Alcorn, a former pastor and Bible teacher who has devoted decades of his life to studying Scriptures regarding heaven said that, “following Christ is not a call to abstain from gratification but to delay gratification. It’s finding our joy in Christ rather than seeking joy in the things of this world. Heaven–our assurance of eternal gratification and fulfillment–should be our North Star, reminding us where we are and which direction to go.” (Heaven, p. 455)

But how can we look forward to something we know so little about?

How can we picture a place when the images in Revelation seem so different from our everyday lives?

In my theology class in college, we studied about heaven in Millard J. Erickson’s book “Introducing Christian Doctrine.” It was the beginning of my heaven meditations as I was reminded that not only will we be worshiping God, but there will also be meaningful work and rest.

But what really started to put meat to the bones of my understanding was Randy Alcorn’s book, “Heaven.”
He explained that not only do we have heaven to look forward to when we die, but Jesus is coming back to create a New Earth where all of His followers will live for eternity.

Revelation 21:1-4 says:

21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

It was a whole lot easier to picture a future like earth, with all the incredible blessings it contains.

Everything is spiritual
Alcorn says, “When we think of Heaven as unearthly, our present lives seem unspiritual, like they don’t matter. When we grasp the reality of the New Earth, our present, earthly lives suddenly matter. Conversations with loved ones matter. The taste of food matters. Work, leisure, creativity and intellectual stimulation matter. Rivers and trees and flowers matter. Laughter matters. Service matters. Why? Because they are eternal.” (p. 443)

It won’t be one unending church service, like Tom Sawyer pictured, but communion with Christ in everything we do. Randy Alcorn says it beautifully:

“In liberating us from sin and all its consequences, the resurrection will free us to live with God, gaze on him, and enjoy his uninterrupted fellowship forever, with no threat that anything will ever again come between us and him.” (Heaven, p. 304)

All the barriers to our intimacy with the Father will be removed. He will never feel distant again.

We’ve always been God’s image-bearers (Genesis 1:27), but that image that was marred by sin will be perfectly restored. The beauty and goodness that we experience now give us glimpses of what that will be like.

As I’ve gone through Alcorn’s book on Heaven, here are a few things that I can’t wait to experience as I worship God.

Heaven1. Discovering new things.
God is the author of all knowledge and creativity, and none of it will be tainted by sin as we pursue it. I’m actually kind of hoping I can learn to play the cello.

2. Rest
Hebrews 4:11 encourages us to enter God’s rest through Sabbath, but in heaven, we will get to experience true soul rest, a rest that Jesus gives us tastes of now as we come to him with our weariness (Matthew 11:28)

3. Eating
Would it help my eating habits now if I was able to save some of my appetite for the Great Wedding Feast of the Lamb? What other kinds of delectable morsels might we get to try?

4. Work
Alcorn reminds us that “Work wasn’t part of the curse. God himself is a worker. He didn’t create the world and then retire (Heaven p. 329). Just imagine all the enjoyment and fulfillment you’ve gotten from aspects of your work and take away the nasty bosses, tiring hours, and boredom!

5. Marriage to Christ
Earthly marriage is a shadow, a copy, an echo of the true and ultimate marriage. (Heaven p. 336) Everything good and tingly and fun and seemingly perfect about marriage will be even more soul-satisfying in our marriage to Christ. When we struggle to fight selfishness and work through miscommunication in our marriages, we can be reminded of how complete and satisfying relational intimacy will be on the New Earth.

But what about sex?
Alcorn says that since the intimacy and pleasure of sex was designed by God, “I don’t expect him to discard it without replacing it with something better.” (p. 338)

If questions about heaven have been keeping you from focusing on the finish line, the second half of Randy Alcorn’s book is filled with about 200 pages answering questions people have raised. It’s called “Heaven” and you can get it here. 

Exercising our imagination
We have so much more than the good feelings people get from practicing gratefulness. Not only can remembering our blessings lead us to thank the Giver of everything good, but we can let each smile, kind word, tasty meal, and intimate conversation carry our imagination heavenward.

HeavenAnd as Alcorn says, “With the Lord we love and with the friends we cherish, we’ll embark together on the ultimate adventure, in a spectacular new universe awaiting our exploration and dominion. Jesus will be at the center of all things, and joy will be the air we breathe. And right when we think ‘it doesn’t get any better than this’–it will.”