The Tyranny of Perfectionism vs The Joy of Godly Discipline . . . .

God uses what He will to shepherd our hearts.
This is the third in a series of posts featuring some of the ways God
used my family and the Scriptures to draw me closer to Himself.
I share them to encourage you to trust in God no matter what “life” brings. 
 ❤️

A WORD TO THE WISE:

“Do not deceive yourselves.
If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age,
you should become “fools” so that you may become wise.
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.”

I Corinthians 3:18, 19a

For many years, feeling as if “failure” was my middle name, I struggled with depression. After surrendering my heart to Christ, the first Bible study I participated in was a six-week study of Philippians. Written by the Apostle Paul from a of filthy Roman prison cell, Paul none-the-less urged his friends toward JOY:

Battered by winter, yet signs of spring prevail!

“REJOICE in the Lord ALWAYS, 
again I say, REJOICE!”
Philippians 4:4

What did I learn from Paul’s letter?

  • That for Christians, the basis for JOY runs deeper than mere happiness.
  • JOY is a choice.
  • No matter how my circumstances change or what others do, JOY is always to be had through Christ who strengthens me.

From then on, that was all I wanted . . .
pure, unadulterated JOY in the One who saved me
for Himself.

Yet I continued to struggle in two areas:

  1. I was disorganized.  I felt as if I constantly let God down, as I struggled to care for home and family.
  2. Going deeper, I knew my children needed discipline as they grew but, I didn’t how to discipline my children as a Christian mother.

At times, feeling closer to despair than joy, I prayed and dug into the Scriptures for the perspective I needed.  Finally, this verse pricked my mind and heart:

“The LORD does not look at the things people look at.
People look at the outward appearance,
but the LORD looks at the heart.”
I Samuel 16:7

As I contemplated the wisdom of Samuel, it struck me that my problem was rooted in my ideal–PERFECTIONISM (or what I jokingly referred to as, “Better Homes and Gardens perfect”.)  I realized that I was confusing Scripture’s call to holiness** with perfectionism.  Until then, I would have laughed at the suggestion that I was a perfectionist–assuming that true perfectionists DID have their lives together!

However, the one thing I knew for sure,
was that God as my Shepherd would be far gentler
than the tyranny of perfectionism that had ruled me for so long.

Soon after, help that would answer my struggle with organization arrived.  A church friend invited me to join her and several others looking for help in organizing their homes.  Using an organizational card-system for “Side-tracked Home Executives” (referred to as, SHE), we found encouragement.  For several weeks we laughed as we listened to tapes featuring the stories of sisters, Pam Young and Peggy Jones, who sounded as if they had been more disorganized than we were.  It was their humor as well as their insights shared, not only about organizing our homes, but also a fresh perspective on husbands and children–that ministered to my heart.  In the end, their system did help me bring order to our home, but it also brought fun ways to encourage and discipline my children toward organization through:

  • “The Maid’s Box”–a cardboard box where favorite toys cluttering our home were placed until redeemed for 25 cents; and
  • “The Room Fairy”–who left occasional treats when their bedrooms were picked up.

Looking back, that season not only brought order (a healthier goal) to our home but also encouraged my heart in many other ways.

One memory that still causes me to smile occurred while we lived in England.  After my daughters found special treats on their beds from the Room Fairy, a neighbor girl said, “Aw, there’s no such thing as a Room Fairy, your mum bought those things.”  For a moment fearing that I had been found out, my oldest promptly responded, “Yes there is a Room Fairy, there’s no way my mum would buy such great stuff!” 😊

I continue to be grateful for how God freed me to trust Him with managing my home and family.

While getting organized outwardly, there was still a long way to go in tending to God’s primary concern: the inward condition of our hearts.  In my next post I will write about lessons learned as God replaced perfectionism with His perspective on discipline.  Here’s a hint to encourage you until then:

“He tends His flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart;
He gently leads those that have young.”

Isaiah 40:11

All to His Glory!

*But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” I Peter 1:15

“Lord, Turn Our Whining Into Worship”– The Necessity Of Spiritual Regrouping* . . . .

It was a jolt to my system, the day I started to read James for the first time:

“Consider it pure joy my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds . . . . “

I say “started to read”, because I was so shocked and frightened by James’s instruction that, for months, I avoided going anywhere near his letter when I opened my Bible.  Looking back I can see where it was God’s mercy, giving me space before facing a life or death challenge that would change my perspective forever.

"Lord, turn my whining into worship . . . . "
“Lord, turn my whining into worship . . . . “

After that first encounter with James, life was going exceedingly well.  In fact, we were surprised and thrilled to announce to the world that we were expecting a third child that fall.  All appeared to be well until, at 25 weeks gestation, we faced the possibility of losing our son.  During those early weeks of being hospitalized, I went back to James–convicted that I needed to hear him out.  Picking up where I had left off, I found that James’s wisdom provided the perspective I needed to help me spiritually regroup*:

“Consider it PURE JOY my brothers (and my sisters),
whenever you face TRIALS OF MANY KINDS,
because you know that the TESTING OF YOUR FAITH produces PERSEVERANCE.
Let PERSEVERANCE finish its work so that you may be
MATURE AND COMPLETE, not lacking anything.”
 James 1:2-4 (Emphasis mine)

Where I had assumed that God was all about my happiness, I realized that He wanted much, much more:

A rich, full-bodied, mature faith that trusts in Him . . .
that, pure and simple, is God’s goal in allowing trials and uncertainty
to test and grow us.

All these years later,  I have helped many a Client to spiritually regroup with the forthright wisdom of James.  When God asks, “Will you trust me in this?”  There is nothing that delights His heart more than when we say, “Yes Lord, I will trust You in this.”

In these uncertain times, I find myself returning to James often to spiritually regroup.  That is why the opening prayer of a sermon I listened to recently got my attention:

“Lord . . . turn our whining into worship.”

Initially I caught myself smiling as I reflected, “Turn our whining into worship?”  I remembered a childishly scrawled addition to a grocery list I found many years ago requesting, “kids whine”.  It was referring to a favorite sparkling juice our children enjoyed during special meals when wine was served to the adults.  Even now, the irony of the misspelling of “wine” to “whine” makes me chuckle!

But then it struck a much deeper cord in me . . . “Lord, turn our whining into worship.”  I thought about;

  • How easy it is to complain to God about our troubles, even shifting blame to Him for allowing the fruit of our choices to impact our lives.
  • How easy it is to give way to fear, as the world blatantly denies Him.
  • Even now, I catch myself (a supposed “mature Christian”) entering into a whining, “poor me”  attitude when things to differently than I want them to.

To be clear, it is not whining when we seek help from God.  In fact, He urges us to run to Him with our fears and whatever weighs heavy on our hearts:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened,
and I will give you rest.”

 (Matthew 11:28)

However, the “rest” we are invited to enter, does not necessarily take us out of the battle.  We ultimately discover rest for our souls when we choose to trust in Christ–whether our circumstances change or not.  Such rest comes as we answer the question God asks each of us, “WILL YOU TRUST ME IN THIS?”  

When faith says, “Yes Lord, I trust You no matter what . . . . ”
Guess what happens? We leave the realm of whiners and uncertainty
as we enter into a worship that reflects a maturing faith!

The Bible is full of wisdom to help us grow through difficulty. Recently I have found encouragement and direction from God’s instruction given to Solomon at the dedication of the Temple.  It is helpful and relevant to you and I today as we pray:

“If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray
and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways,
then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin
and will heal their land.”

II Chronicles 7:14

Yes, we live in uncertain times
where it is easy to give way to fear or to be run by anger.
But such times offer us a myriad of opportunities to
spiritually regroup and deepen our faith,
as we trust in Him with humble, glad hearts.

All to His Glory!

*To spiritually regroup refers to those times when we are convicted that our emotions are running us rather than our faith in Christ.  We spiritually regroup when we confess our fears, anger, bitterness, pride, etc, as sin against God.  We spiritually regroup when we choose to trust Him to work out His Perfect Plan for our ultimate good and His Glory.

Christian Joy Is Not Man-Made . . . .

There is a difference between “joy” as it is experienced in the world and Christian joy.

  • Joy in the world is much like that of happiness contained in a helium balloon.  Such joy can appear to be almost wondrous as it floats high into the sky.  However, the enjoyment is only temporary as it drifts out of sight and ultimately “pops” as circumstances change.
  • Christian joy is not tainted by adverse circumstances or the actions of others.  Christian joy is instead filled with the hope and wisdom of faith in Christ Jesus.  

    Christian Joy is not man-made
    Christian Joy is not man-made

If you are struggling with circumstances that are out of your control, or are trying to make sense of the hateful ugliness being reported in the news, then I encourage you to stop and consider the wisdom of James.*   In his letter directed to, “the twelve tribes scattered among the nations,”  James sought to encourage and exhort God’s people living in uncertain times (times similar to our own) to persevere in their faith to discover the “pure joy” of an ever-deepening relationship with Christ.  What is the essence of Christian joy?  Here is what James says:

“Consider it PURE JOY my brethren,
whenever you face TRIALS OF MANY KINDS . . .
because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work
SO THAT YOU MAY BE MATURE AND COMPLETE,
NOT LACKING ANYTHING.”
James 1:2-4 (Emphasis mine.)

The first time I read James, I thought his call to “pure joy” was some sort of weird, masochistic invitation to delight in suffering.  (You can bet I kept a wide berth between myself and James for quite some time!)  However, after going through some personal trials of my own, I remembered James and went back to discover the blessing I did not appreciate before. That last bit, about needing to persevere in my faith (trusting in God’s goodness rather than allowing hurt or disappointment to darken my perceptions) hit me like a fresh shot of sunshine that suddenly burst through a massive bank of dark clouds.  As I thought about God’s goal for my life–to work out a mature faith within me–all the defenses I had erected in the past to protect myself crumbled.  I realized then, that the joy James described was what I wanted too.

But, how exactly is Christian joy to be worked out?  Is it just a matter of “keeping a stiff upper lip” and trusting that everything will somehow work out?  Thankfully, I kept reading James and found the answer to my question:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God,
who gives generously to all without finding fault . . . .
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt,
because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”

James 1:5-7

So, what is the essence of Christian joy and how is it even possible in the world we live in?

  • To rejoice in trial means that we refuse to doubt God’s Goodness as we seek His wisdom by faith.
  • Christian joy refuses to give way to fear but is strengthened as we resolve to stand in faith.
  • Christian joy is not naive but rests in knowing that the things of this world are only temporary, that our Hope (and therefore our joy in Christ) is eternal.

Christian joy is about going deeper in your faith to gain maturity.
It stretches beyond mere ascent to belief in Christ,
as it determines to embrace the benefits of maturity God affords under trial.  

No matter what you may be facing, James directs us to rejoice in the sure knowledge that this is not all there is.  In essence, James is calling you and I to step out of ourselves (like Peter stepped out of the boat so long ago) to gain a maturity of faith that is out of this world.  So-o-o-o-o, what are you waiting for?  Give thanks to God for His Goodness as a mature faith is worked out in you . . . .

All to His Glory!

*An  interesting side note: James was a half-brother to Jesus yet only refers to himself as a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.  (James 1:1)