Thoughts on Sanctification
|"This is my journey through recovery, showing how my Creator is using the the 12-Step Christian recovery model to give me relief from the behaviors that bring me pain." --Sid|
Have you ever been treated inappropriately by people who seem to be, or even claim to be, God's chosen vessels on Earth? What about the abusive parent who tried to put the "fear of god" into you? What about the look-good-on-the-outside church member who gossips behind your back about you? What about the church officer who won't help you in your time of need (Luke 10:30-32 )? And, what about a church pastor who accuses you of the unpardonable sin because you question his theology?
Have you ever wondered why so many bad things happen to you? Have you asked, "Where was God when...?", or wonder, "Why did God let that happen to me?", or even dare to think, "Why did God do that to me?!" As a Christian, it may seem unthinkable to to voice these questions, but I have discovered that these concerns are common -- even among seemingly devout, church going, Christians.
It is a great temptation to distrust God when things like these happen. It's easy to start believing that God really doesn't care about "me". We may even come to believe that God is abusive. Because of this, Step 2 is a difficult step for many -- even for Christians.
Yet, we feel this great need for help and comfort from a power greater than ourselves. In Step one, we admitted that we were powerless and out-of-control. So now, we really need a greater power, who will restore us to sanity (Step 2). But, is the God of our understanding willing, or even able, to do that for us? Maybe not.
But wait. Is the God of our understanding really the true God? Is it possible that the powers of evil have used their servants, masquerading as Christians, to convince us that God is evil?
If that is true, then one might ask, "Why doesn't God do something about it?" Why doesn't he step in and remove that pastor who teaches lies and makes false accusations? Why doesn't God stop the abusive parent from harming his/her children? Why doesn't He remove those unhelpful church officers from their positions? WHERE IS THE JUSTICE!! In considering possible answers to those questions, it may be helpful for us to look at a bigger, more encompassing, question: When Adam and Eve first sinned, why didn't God just wipe them out and start over again with me? Certainly I would have made better choices... or... would I?
More and more, I am coming to believe that God values our freedom of choice above most everything. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to serve a god who doesn't give me a choice as to whether I serve him or not. I am trying to see more of the big picture -- the great controversy between Christ and satan. It is satan and his servants that bring evil to us in this world. Those people who should be examples of God's love and mercy (professed Christians) are not choosing God's way when they abuse us. They are choosing to listen to another voice -- the voice of evil.
I shudder to think of how many times I have listened to the wrong voice and treated others in a less-than-Christian-like way. And, I am thankful that God does not strike me down for making bad choices. So, why do I want Him to do evil to other people who also make bad choices? That's just not God's way. "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9 ).
I must agree with Paul when he said, "Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." (Philippians 4:11-13 ). I invite you to look, with me, at Psalms 23 where God promises to be with us in the "valley of the shadow of death" and where He promises to "prepare a table" for us in the presence of our enemies.
"The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever." (Psalms 23:1-6 ).
This is the God of my understanding -- a God of love and mercy. This is the God that is restoring me to sanity. This is the God I love. Won't you join me now in serving the true God of Love?
"Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." (Step 2)
Egotistic: Thinking very highly of oneself; vain; boastful; indifferent to the well-being of others; basically... selfish.
Altruistic: benevolent; considerate; generous; humanitarian; kind; basically... self-sacrificing.
The Christian walk, to me, seems to be one of a lifetime of progression. It often begins with a highly egotistical view of life with a perception that "I am the center of my world. It's all about me". Then, as we allow the love of God to constrain us (2 Cor 5:14 ), we become less focused on ourselves and more focused on God; more interested in the welfare of others; more altruistic.
For me, a great place to start (and keep coming back to) in this process is to remind myself of the words of Jesus, when He said "I can of mine own self do nothing... I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father" (John 5:19,30 ). That's humbling... Why should I think more highly of myself, than Jesus thought of Himself? I want to be more like Jesus :-)
"For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith." (Romans 12:3 )
"We admitted we were powerless over our problems, that our lives had become unmanageable." (Step 1)
The year was 1994. Having sunk lower than a snake's belly in my behaviors, I heard something that gave me hope. I heard the testimonies of several individuals who were, by the power of God, having consistent and lasting victory over temptation to do those things that had controlled them for many years, and had brought them and others a great deal of pain. Could it be, I wondered, if there might be a way out of my painful behaviors, which had controlled me for 25 years?
As I began to realize my powerlessness, and the all-powerfulness of a LOVING God who wanted to deliver me from my addictions, I began to become willing to surrender my heart and my life to Him. Just as soon as I began to surrender myself to Him in the moment of temptation, He began to deliver me. I began to have victory over temptations that I had previously believed to be impossible. What Jesus said about Him being the vine is certainly true: "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." (John 15:5 ). And, it's also true that, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." (Philippians 4:13 ).
I PRAISE GOD for His faithfulness to deliver me from my besetting sins as I choose to trust and obey Him. This is why I write and facilitate small groups each week. I have a burning desire to share this spiritual awakening that I am having with others. If you are ever in the Walla Walla area, I would love to have you join me and others for a time of discovery and healing each and every Saturday morning. See the 12-Step Schedule for more information.
If you wish, you can read more of my testimony here, where I have written about the power of the will and throughout my recovery blog.
"Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs." (Step 12)
"... as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And a voice said, 'What are you doing here, Elijah?'"(1 Kings 19:11-13 )
Many times I have wished that God would communicate to me in a strong voice, like a mighty wind, clearly stating His will for me, laying out a master plan that I could follow for years to come. But I don't hear Him speaking to me in that way. The closest to that is what I "hear" from His Holy Word. He provides me with a huge amount of instruction in the Bible, for which I'm thankful.
But what about that "gentle whisper" of God? Every day, there are times when a thought will pop into my mind, and I wonder, "where did that come from?". Sometimes, I recognize it as a temptation. But, often it seems to be the "gentle whisper" of God, saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it" (Isaiah 30:21 ). I'm trying hard to recognize that voice, in the midst of so many others. Sometimes it comes as a result of my prayer, asking for wisdom (James 1:5 ). Even then, it could be a long time afterward that I remember, "oh yeah, a while after I asked for wisdom, I got an idea that helped me solve that problem. Thank you Lord!"
Other times, it comes without my asking. One day, when I was taking our burnable trash to our wood-fired boiler, some papers on the top caught my attention, and that "gentle whisper" prompted me to look more carefully at those papers and ask around to make sure they were to be burned. I'm sorry to say that I dismissed that thought, and put them in the fire anyway. Later, I discovered that one of those papers was homework that my son hadn't yet turned in. God cares about the little things as well as the big. I read somewhere that He "is ever sending messages" to those who will listen.
Sometimes I wish that God was more pushy with his directives, but more and more I realize that God has a great deal of respect for our freedom of choice -- even when we make the wrong choice. Maybe that's why He says, "Come now, and let us reason together..." (Isaiah 1:18 ).
"The Lord says,
'I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
I will advise you and watch over you.
Do not be like a senseless horse or mule
that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.'
Many sorrows come to the wicked,
but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord.
So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him!
Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!" (Psalm 32:8-11 )
"Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out." (Step 11)
"If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12 ). "Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak" (Mark 14:38 ).
My Loving Heavenly Father is my constant companion, ever sending impressions of His will for me. I believe that He would never lead me in any way other than I would choose to be led -- if I could see the end from the beginning, as He does. When I surrender my carnal will to His all-knowing will, life is so much better. I still have difficult situations to deal with. But, I have the peace of God, knowing that He is right there with me, giving me guidance every step of the way. This is why it is my desire to continually seek His will, and choose to follow the impressions He gives me. I can always trust Him to provide a way for me to do what He asks. Even though I don't always do it, it is my deepest desire to live my life in humble submission to His will. This is why I continue to make an introspective inventory of my life, praying for wisdom and strength, and then making amends when I am convicted of my mistakes.
I believe that this process of recovery is synonymous with the process of sanctification, of which Ellen White makes this statement:
Why do we not dwell more upon this? Why do we not strive to make it easily understood, when it means so much? Why do not Christians open their eyes to see the work God requires them to do? Sanctification is the progressive work of a lifetime. The Lord declares, "This is the will of God, even your sanctification" (1 Thes 4:3 ). Is it your will that your desires and inclinations shall be brought into conformity to the divine will? (Selected Messages, Vol 3, 202.3)
"Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it." (Step 10)
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