Where the Weeds Grow

Although I love my next-door neighbor, I needed more than a wimpy strip of grass between her driveway and mine.  So last Fall I hired a landscaper to replace the swath of grass with trees and shrubs.  The first step was to kill the grass, then the guys went to work digging, planting and mulching.  I carefully watered my new landscaping, worried over it when we had a late freeze, and these days enjoy watching the plants grow.  What else is growing?  Crabgrass.  All throughout the area, I have been battling crabgrass.

Search Me O God

Have you ever tried to dig up crabgrass?  There’s a reason why it’s so difficult.  The green, leafy part we see is just the beginning.  Crabgrass grows from a network of strong, deep roots that spread laterally through the ground a couple inches below the surface.  It’s tough to pull out completely, and when you do you see why: it’s all connected.

As I dug and pulled and sweated over the weekend, on my knees doing battle with crabgrass, I couldn’t help but think about sin.  Sin.  The word used to make me cringe, especially as a new believer.  It is a tough concept for people steeped in an “anything goes” culture and who believe that we are all fundamentally good.

As a new Christian, I had to learn what sin is (falling short of perfection) and accept that I am a sinner (because I’m not God, I’m not perfect).

That was sixteen years ago, and how delightful it has been to discover that one of the most beautiful aspects of walking with God is how He continually, gently, and mercifully shows me where I’m sinning and helps to root it out.  What I know now about sin is that admitting it and allowing the Lord to heal it is one of the most amazing ways to directly experience His glory, His mercy, and His blessings.

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

Romans 6:13

God forgave our sins through the justification and salvation of Jesus, but He didn’t then just walk away.  No, God also cares deeply about conforming us to the likeness of Jesus by coming alongside us and transforming us.  As we desire to be more like Jesus, He guides us and helps us.  He pulls sin out by the roots and changes us, if we allow it.  Confronting sin isn’t an exercise in humiliation and judgment, as I probably once thought.  Rather, it is one of the amazing blessings of walking with God.

I’m speaking from experience here, friends.  I struggle with my share of anxiety, resentment and wrong thinking.  As I’ve battled these sins, God has gently lead me back to Him time and again.  Shown me that He is all I need.  That my trust falters when I don’t seek Him first.  That His plan is so much better than mine.  As I have prayed and He has provided, I find myself walking in freedom.  Far from perfect–far from sinless–but ever closer to the One who is.

Unlike me, God doesn’t sweat and swear with the difficulty of getting all the roots out.  He isn’t surprised when we fall short of perfection.  He expects it.  After all, Jesus died so that we could be forgiven of sin and walk with a perfect, sinless God.  Yes, your sin is already forgiven by the power of the cross; now comes the invitation to walk confidently in that forgiveness.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;

   test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,

   and lead me in the way everlasting.  Psalm 139:23-24

Today, take your sin before Jesus, even that problem that has been especially difficult.  Ask God to not only dig up the obvious, outward evidence of sin, but to reveal and heal the wrong thinking that might have taken hold deep inside you.  Believe me, He is able.

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Inspiration for the Messed Up

This article originally appeared on That Mommy Blog on June 22, 2014.

People who know better, do better.”  Have you heard this saying?  It’s from Maya Angelou, who was a sage among us mere mortals, and it was popularized by Oprah.  I think it means that in any given area of life, people won’t do better until they’re educated in that area.  We can forgive ourselves for mistakes we’ve made when we realize we just didn’t know how to act right.

But what happens when we do know better, and we still don’t do better?  I’ve been asking myself that question a lot lately, as I struggle with some familiar shortcomings.  I’ll just look up one day and think, “My God, haven’t I already conquered this?!?”  If you are even remotely self-aware, you might begin to notice that when you go astray it’s down a very familiar road.  There are the same stumbling blocks, the same places you’ve been bruised before.  Possibly, you too find yourself walking that dark and dreary road in spite of believing that you’ve already conquered this area of struggle in your life, that God has enabled you to move past this issue or temptation.  For me, I can get so discouraged when I realize that my negative attitude is repeatedly an issue for me.  Maybe for you it’s relational drama, food, anger, or a sexual sin.  What I have noticed is that we don’t all just “do better” even after we struggle, go to God, learn how to behave better, and move on.  Sometimes we find ourselves, against our better judgment, repeating the same old stuff, different day.

I’m not immune from discouragement here, but I do have a few thoughts and I wanted to share them in case you ever find yourself in this scenario.  First, I know God works with us through our issues, even when we repeat them time and time again.  Just as he doesn’t always offer immediate cures for physical illness, he doesn’t always heal our psychological hang-ups after our first bout either.  Sometimes, he is allowing us to continue to grow by showing us there is more work to be done.  Sometimes, he is humbling us and preventing pride from leading to a greater fall.  Sometimes, we haven’t genuinely asked for healing.  Sometimes, he wants us to seek him more, or teach us about a specific type of prayer, or show us any number of truths.  I’m not advocating dwelling on past issues if you are truly over them (if you are, great!  Praise God!)  but I am saying this: you are not alone in repeating yourself.

A second thought here: perhaps, in the places where we struggle most, it isn’t so much about knowing as it is about doing.  Do you struggle with envy?  With attitude? With pride?  Be intentional about asking God to give you contentment, to soften your harsh mindset, to make you humble.  Your shortfalls are guideposts to where your character needs work; use them to direct your prayers for God’s intervention in your life.  Then simply do.  Once you have done better once, it becomes something you can practice and it gets easier over time.  And once you have done better, you can know better because the truth will play out in your own life and give you wisdom.

I’m reading a study right now by Dick Woodward called A Spiritual Compass.  Woodward points out that Jesus himself advised us to first do and then to know.  In John 7:17 Jesus tells us to obey the instructions of the word of God, and then see if by obeying we can tell whether they are true.  That’s shorthand for letting your actions lead you to faith.  Don’t stop trying, because each small victory makes it easier to grasp, deep in your heart where change “sticks,” that the path of righteousness is superior to our chosen path of sin.

Finally, please don’t be discouraged when you try and fail.  I say when, not if.  You are a person, and this is a process.  When I was working as a child advocate I had to learn to meet parents where they are.  I couldn’t meet with a single mom who hadn’t even graduated from high school, who lived in public housing and struggled with addiction, and expect her to be the role model her kids needed.  It was enough to just make sure the kids were safe at home; I couldn’t expect her to have deep insight into why they were acting out or to recognize the importance of curfews or tutor them in algebra.

Similarly, I believe God meets us where we are when we earnestly seek him.  And because we are human (meaning flawed) we may have to earnestly seek him from the same sinful place over and over, broken in self-disgust, humbled by our inability to “do better” this time.  The good news?  He meets us there.  I know, because he has met me here, time and again.  I hope that you can be encouraged to know you’re not alone and no one is perfect: don’t give up!  Seek him, and keep on doing better.

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