[Excerpt from Franklin and Harriet, Bourgeois and Clark]
This is part of a children’s book that I was reading to my son last night. You can probably guess what happened after that last line. The dog’s tail ripped off and both of the kids cried. Thankfully that’s not how the story ends, and there’s some healing, forgiveness, change of heart, etc. that leads us to the happy ending. But that little exchange reminded me of something that someone from my men’s group shared recently.
“But is it possible that there are times when we refuse to change? Have you been a Christian for a long time, but there’s still some particular sin that you’re still ‘struggling with’ (holding on to)? Do you have a broken relationship with someone that you just can’t quite seem to reconcile? Do you feel haunted by something that happened in the past? These are just a few examples of spiritual baggage. But the message of the gospel, the good news, is that Jesus has already set us free from those things. And I’ll even go so far as to say that if you’re a Christian, and you feel weighed down by your baggage, it’s only because you refuse to let go of it.” [AK]
Let’s break down what was happening in that children’s story. Both Franklin and Harriet wanted something. In that very moment, they both struggled with sins of selfishness, pride, sense of entitlement, jealousy, and anger. Their refusal to let go resulted in something bad happening that neither of them wanted. The opportunity for sin may have come with the circumstance of sharing the stuffed animal, but the actual sin(s) were due to the condition of their hearts.
These book characters represent very young children, and children aren’t held to the same standard or level of maturity as adults. I assume no one reading this is a young child anymore, so God DOES expect more from His followers that have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to follow.
I don’t bring up the topic of sin because we’re living in some legalistic moral prison governed by the Old Testament Law. Jesus came and fulfilled that law, and now we are under the new law/new covenant of Christ, one governed by GRACE which frees us from the bondage of those Old Testament commands (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:23–25; Ephesians 2:15), replacing them with the ultimate commands of loving God and loving others (Matthew 22:37-40). His grace is enough!
But God’s grace doesn’t give us a free pass to continue sinning. On the contrary, the apostle Paul said this:
“What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:15)
In just this past couple of weeks, God has really been impressing on me, that my personal sins are a reflection of my heart condition, rather than my circumstance. In “Being Heard”, I wrote about praying in alignment to God’s will. He opened my eyes to the fact that it’s my prayers and heart that need to be adjusted, and not necessarily my circumstances.
Let’s take it closer to home by thinking about some common scenarios for married folk:
Money problems? Kid issues? House problems? Relational issues?
Here’s how we might pray when we’re only focused on the circumstance:
But we can’t just focus on the circumstance in our prayers, because we don’t know if any of the outcomes we’re praying for are truly in God’s will for us. The only way you’ll know if your prayer lines up to His will, is if your prayer lines up to Jesus’ character and His commands in the Bible.
Instead of praying about God changing your circumstance, focus on asking God to help change YOU. Lord, help ME to change. Help ME to let go of the circumstance that is bogging me down. When we’re only praying for the circumstance and not a change in our own heart, then that’s us refusing to let go. That’s us putting all of the blame on something else other than ourselves.
When we do pray based on selfless motives aligned to Scripture, our prayer may sound more like this:
“Lord, change my heart so that when we’re tight with money (or something breaks in the house, or my husband forgets to do his part, or the kids are going nuts, or my spouse nags me to the point of meltdown), I would react in the fruit of Your Spirit. Help me to let go of my pride, selfishness, bitterness, self-entitlement, and anger so that I can deal with the circumstance the way YOU want me to- with love, grace, gentleness, and self control.”
Now THAT is a prayer that is clearly in alignment with God’s will. The Bible shows that it is His will that His children are not to be bound by sin, and it is clearly His will that we are to function in the fruit of the Holy Spirit as we deal with others.
That’s just one example, but here are a few more that I challenge you to think through today:
- Frustrated by a co-worker, classmate, or neighbor? Your circumstantial prayer might be, “Lord, please remove them from my team. Lord, please let me not run into them today. Lord please make them not so annoying.”; when instead it could be, “Lord, give me a heart to love them.”
- Engaging in activities that don’t honor Him? Your circumstantial prayer might be, “Lord, don’t allow me to find myself in certain situations. Lord, help me to not give in when XYZ happens.”; when instead it could be, “Lord, remove this desire from my heart and mind completely, because it’s not in Your will for me. Transform my heart and mind to pursue You instead.”
- Harboring unforgiveness or resentment towards someone? Your circumstantial prayer might be, “Lord, let them reap what they’ve sown! Lord, change them and their ways because they’re messed up and they hurt me!”; when instead it could be, “Lord, teach me how to forgive them, the way You forgave me.”
There are many, many things that we struggle with. There’s no reason to be ashamed, because we live in a fallen world and we all fall short of God’s glory- shame and guilt has no place in the life of a child of God. But let’s not settle for falling over and over again. We must let go of the sin that binds and hinders our relationship with God.
So what sin are you holding onto and refusing to let go of today? Whatever it is, don’t just pray for God to change your circumstance to help you avoid that sin, pray for Him to change YOU. If you pray for what’s in His will, He will hear you. Don’t be like the characters in that children’s story that refused to let go, resulting in damage and heartbreak.
My prayer for us who are genuinely striving to walk upright in the Lord and put all of our sin behind us, is that God will completely change the condition and desires of our heart, so that our only true desire is to follow Christ and Christ alone. May His Spirit convict you to confess, repent and let go of whatever is holding you down today!
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Cor. 3:17)
[From November 5, 2015]