Being in a personal relationship with God means you deal with reality – the reality of what is happening in your heart and mind. You deal with the reality of your relationship with God. You deal with the reality of your relationship with others. You deal with the reality.
To find spiritual freedom and transformation means we must make a commitment to live in reality. That means we give time and space to be with God. That means we slow down to have a handle of what is happening in our emotions. That means we slow down to process what is happening in our relationships.
The reason this series can be so hard for some to walk through is we are inviting people to deal with the reality of their life. And that’s not easy to do. Doesn’t it seem easier to ignore and avoid the things that pop up like control, depression, fear or anger? Doesn’t it seem easier to attend church but not have a personal relationship with God? Doesn’t it seem easier to binge watch your favorite TV show, sleep in, drink wine, watch football, go hunting or shopping? All those things are easier than dealing with reality. None of those things in-and-of-themselves are wrong but most times people fill their lives up with those things to avoid reality.
That’s why Proverbs says:
29 “For you closed your eyes to the facts and did not choose to reverence and trust the Lord, 30 and you turned your back on me, spurning my advice. 31 That is why you must eat the bitter fruit of having your own way and experience the full terrors of the pathway you have chosen. 32 For you turned away from me – to death; your own complacency will kill you. Fools! 33 But all who listen to me shall live in peace and safety, unafraid.” TLB Proverbs 1:29-33
This is what Sam was saying a couple o weeks ago. There are two ways you can chose to live. One way leads to death. One way leads to life and transformation. That is why we are inviting you into a relationship with God – inviting you into reality.
Think about what we asked of you. Do an honest assessment of life and ask, “Is my Christianity working?” Discover how to be yourself instead of living a life that others what you to live. Feel the full weight of your emotions because your emotions are the best indicator of what is happening in your heart. Look at your family and go back to discover what messages they sent you about life. When you walk through life and hit the wall, because you will, recognize what God is up to. These are all real things.
And I must add, religion doesn’t deal with reality. It gives you ways to ignore and avoid reality. I would also add, religion is a clever way to avoid a relationship with God. This is why religion is so damaging. Example 1: I will follow a list of rules and live a legalistic life but all along I will avoid the true condition of my heart and relationships. Example 2: I will get real busy doing Christian activity that makes me feel good and tires me out but all along I will avoid the true condition of my heart and relationships.
Do you see it? Relationship with God is about reality. Religion doesn’t deal with reality, it’s only a distraction to keep you busy and avoid what truly matters: the condition of your heart and relationships.
This whole series is about us giving you the practical tools to deal with reality and be transformed. This week we are dealing with the reality that you have limits in your life. You can’t do or be anything you want. I know, this goes against everything we tell our children in school – right?!? No, you can’t be or do anything you want.
Couple of examples of our limits. Our physical body is what it is. Honestly, I wanted to play in the NBA. I played in High School and I dreamed of the NBA. I will never be a power forward in the NBA. Can I do or be anything I want? No.
Your family origin is what it is. I will never own an Italian restaurant and be able to say, “I am from Italy.” Can I do or be anything I want? No.
Your intellectual capacity is what it is. No college ever, pursued me to say, “Ken, you are the best and brightest of your generation.” Can I be or do anything I want? No.
Your talents and gifts are a gift from God. No one has ever come to me and said, “Ken, can you fix our car?”
Here are some other limits you will encounter. You will get older. Your children will get older. Not all your dreams may come true. You may face job loss. You may deal with unfair things like catastrophic loss. You will discover that church is not perfect. I could go on.
Over time, we all experience limits in our lives. Those limits can feel like many small deaths. They hurt. I remember when we took the bus ride as our oldest daughter entered kindergarten. I also remember when our youngest daughter left elementary school. We had a mix of emotions of happiness and sadness. As happy as we were for her, we felt that sense of loss too. Some of our limits can be small, so of them be overwhelming.
Our culture hates these limits. Our world does everything it can to avoid the reality of our limits. Our world doesn’t know how to handle limits, pain, loss or grief. What do we see around us? Plastic surgery. Adrenaline rush sports. Reality TV, it’s so fake, so we can watch other people’s drama to make us feel better. We live in addictions: pornography, overeating, drinking way too much, pills, binge watching TV. Others, get busy, real busy. So busy we never have time to be with our spouse or kids or God. Yet others expect and demand that others give us validation and take away our loneliness. Our spouses, our church, our family, whoever, validate me and take my loneliness away.
Do you see what is happening? Life unfolds and we discover limits that lead to a slow death to many dreams. Many losses. We will do anything to avoid our pain. The problem is, as we avoid this pain, we are avoiding reality. When we do that, we become more and more empty. As a Christian, we smile, we do our prayers, we sing our songs, do religious activities but we can feel dead inside.
In the book, it shares 8 things that we as adults do to avoid pain. I don’t have time to go into them but real quickly I want to list them.
Denial: we simply refuse to acknowledge reality.
Minimizing: We admit something is wrong, but in a way that it appears less serious than it really is.
Blaming others: We deny any responsibility for our behavior and project it on others.
Blaming ourselves: We inwardly take on the fault, like: It’s my fault my mom drinks too much.
Rationalize: We offer excuses and justifications to explain what is going on.
Intellectualize: We give analysis and theories to avoid personal awareness.
Distracting: We change the subject or make jokes to avoid threatening topics.
Become hostile: We get angry or irritable to send the message to others – back off.
What I want to do is talk about how to deal with the reality of these limits. How do you grow and mature through them instead of ignoring or avoiding them? Before we jump into scripture, I want to share a story about Joni Eareckson Tada.
Joni Eareckson Tada knows a lot about limits. When she was a young girl, she jumped into a lake, hit a rock and broke her neck. She was paralyzed from the neck down. She wrote:
The cross is the center of our relationship with Jesus. The cross is where we die. We go there daily. It isn’t easy.
Normally, we will follow Christ anywhere – to a party, as it were, where he changes water into wine, to a sunlit beach where he preaches from a boat. But to the cross? We dig in our heels. The invitation is so frighteningly individual. It’s an invitation to go alone.
When suffering forces us to our knees at the foot of Calvary, we die to self. We cannot kneel there for long without releasing our pride and anger, unclasping our dreams and desires… In exchange, God imparts power and implants new and lasting hope.
Joni was saying, when you experience the pain of our limits, we turn into our pain. We don’t ignore it or avoid it, we turn into it and surrender.
Let’s turn to scripture. Before I read this, did you know that Jesus did not have all His prayers answered?
36 Then Jesus went with them to a garden called Gethsemane and told his disciples, “Stay here while I go over there and pray.” 37 Taking along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he plunged into an agonizing sorrow. 38 Then he said, “This sorrow is crushing my life out. Stay here and keep vigil with me.”
39 Going a little ahead, he fell on his face, praying, “My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this. But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?”
40 When he came back to his disciples, he found them sound asleep. He said to Peter, “Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? 41 Stay alert; be in prayer so you don’t wander into temptation without even knowing you’re in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there’s another part that’s as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.”
42 He then left them a second time. Again he prayed, “My Father, if there is no other way than this, drinking this cup to the dregs, I’m ready. Do it your way.” MSG Matthew 26:36-42
Jesus knows the time for Him to be betrayed, beaten and whipped, humiliated and die is now. He said,
“This sorrow is crushing my life out.” vs 38.
So what does He do? We see, Jesus turns into the pain and prays. He is completely honest.
“My Father, if there is any way, get me out of this.” vs 39
Grieving, dealing with loss means you must be honest with your anger, sadness, loss, fear, everything. Are you honest with God? Do you give yourself time to pour out your anger or sadness on God? Do you have ‘R’ rated prayers with God? If you haven’t, I would challenge you to think that maybe you aren’t being real with God yet. We must have those prayers when we purge our emotions. We just dump all our stuff with passion in prayer.
Roughly 67% of Psalms are complaints to God. Did you know that? God, where are you? God why are my enemies succeeding? God, did you forget me? To understand prayer, it’s a big help to read Psalms.
Jesus shows us, grieving, dealing with loss begins with honest prayer.
Jesus continues, “But please, not what I want. You, what do you want?” vs 39
In Jesus’ prayer, He’s begging God to not make Him walk through this. But ultimately, Jesus sees the conflict between what He wants and what God wants. Jesus surrenders to the limit of his life.
This is probably the hardest for us. To be faced with the reality of grieving or loss and realize, God has allowed this to happen. We feel confused and disoriented. No one likes this. We want quick and easy solutions. To wait on God could mean months maybe years. This means losing a sense of control, no perfect plan to follow, no clear ending. It means time. There are no quick and easy solutions. No perfect categories. No bumper sticker comments will help. Just a confusing time period when you just don’t know when you will make it through. That’s reality. Enter into it. Don’t avoid it. Avoid the temptation to try to figure out what God is up to and take short cuts.
What are we saying? Enter into the moments of today, the mess, the pain all of it. Don’t be quick to get out of it. Embrace your limits and give your life to God. And yes, it hurts. It feels lonely. It feels defeating. We pray. We purge our emotions. We share everything with God. Our anger, fear, loss of control, anxiety, all of it. We stuff nothing; it must come out in prayer. This isn’t about trying to nice; it’s about being honest with God.
So how did Jesus’ story play out?
8 If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. 9 We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. 10 When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us. MSG Romans 6:8-10
Jesus died and God resurrected Him for you to be redeemed.
When we face the limits of our lives, they can feel like mini – deaths. There is pain and suffering. We don’t ignore it or avoid it. We turn into the pain with God and wait. When we do that, we give God a chance to resurrect and transform us. And I must say, we don’t know how God does that.
That’s why Jesus taught:
23 “I must fall and die like a kernel of wheat that falls into the furrows of the earth. Unless I die I will be alone – a single seed. But my death will produce many new wheat kernels – a plentiful harvest of new lives. 25 If you love your life down here – you will lose it. If you despise your life down here – you will exchange it for eternal glory. TLB John 12:23-25
God can only resurrect what dies. The grief and loss that has been handed to you, I don’t know how God does it, but He can resurrect and transform it.
Grief and loss is real. Don’t avoid them. Be honest and pray. Enter into today and wait on God. Embrace your limits and surrender. And ultimately, God can resurrect.