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revitalize your spiritual lifeA WOMAN'S GUIDE for VIBRANT CHRISTIAN LIVING
By Jill Briscoe Jill Hubbard
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2010 Thomas Nelson, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHiding in Guilt and Shame
Exposed Sheila Walsh (God Has a Dream for Your Life)
I wonder what it felt like to be the woman in John's Gospel who had been caught in the act of adultery. Her face burning with shame, she was hauled in front of a crowd of so-called respectable people and exposed as a sinner. She had no defense. She had been caught in the act, and now her life was over. They made her stand there as they discussed her fate with this man.
Why were they letting this Jewish teacher decide what should happen to her? Who was this man? Her shame circled her like fire, separating her from decent people until he spoke. He gave out rock-throwing privileges to the first man among them who had never sinned. She was confused. There was a difference between the kind of sin that she committed and the kind that respectable people committed. Everyone knew that, didn't they?
He waited. She waited, her heart pounding like a hammer on wood, like a stone on flesh. One by one, they all walked away. He looked her in the eyes and asked if there was no one left to condemn her. She admitted that there was no one left because they had all disappeared like bats in the daylight.
His next sentence changed her forever: "I also don't judge you guilty. You may go now, but don't sin anymore" (John 8:11 NCV).
Chained by Guilt Angela Thomas (When Wallflowers Dance)
Not so long ago a woman asked to have breakfast with me. She was single and had allowed herself to act inappropriately with a man she had been dating. Brokenhearted over her mistake, we sat together and sorted things out. She was mad at herself, frustrated by her poor choosing, and aching over her shame before the man and before God. We talked through her obvious repentance and prayed together, and I am sure that she received God's complete forgiveness that morning.
About eight months later she came to me again. Still grieving the same sin of that one night. Still flogging herself.
"Has anything happened since we last talked?" I asked. "Have you made similar choices again? Has that night become a pattern for you in any way?"
"No," she spoke through her tears. "It was just that one time, but I still live with such shame and regret. I'm reminded all the time of my blatant disobedience to God."
"Do you remember the morning that we prayed and asked God for his forgiveness?" I asked.
She nodded her head that she remembered.
"Then tell me what we have if the forgiveness of God does not truly forgive?"
My friend said nothing.
"Look at me," I gently persuaded. "You have been forgiven. Your conscience is clear. The accuser wants you to live in shame and weakness because of your mistake. Eight months have gone by, and you could have been living grateful for the forgiveness God has given. It's time to lift your head up. God has made you clean."
You can't do anything or accomplish anything or begin to grow in strength or confidence when your life is shackled to a wall of guilt. Darkness settles over the heaviness in your heart and holds you hostage there in the confusion. Your conscience is an instrument of the Holy Spirit. It's right to feel guilty over sin or poor choices. That good guilt can prompt us to seek forgiveness and restoration.
But if we choose not to immediately respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit, then our consciences can become so encumbered that we find our lives essentially chained to guilt we've tried to ignore. That kind of prolonged guilt begins to defile our thinking and our emotions.
We live in such a dark society that I think we've come to accept our society's darkness as an unavoidable part of our own. It can begin to feel as if we are required to pull this ball and chain of guilt and private struggle around with us. Besides, it seems everybody else does. But it does not have to be so. We belong to God, and he has made a way for us to live in the light. We can live with a clear conscience because of the freedom Christ gives. We can pursue a clean life even if no one else around us wants to go there and even if others continue to remind us of our mistakes. We do not have to be shackled to guilt and the shame of poor choices for a lifetime. Because of Jesus, we can serve God with a clear conscience.
This has possibly been one of the most difficult next-level truths of God for me to personally receive and apply. All the time God has been yelling to me, "I want to set you free! I want to make you clean. I'm sending a Savior. I am moving heaven and earth to get to you." And for most of my life I have rejected this kind of freedom from guilt.
Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your uncleanness and your idols. (Ezek. 36:25 NCV)
Guilt seemed righteous somehow. And maybe if I just kept flogging myself before God, he would be happier with me because of my shame. God was probably always mad at me about something anyway, and it was my job to uncover what God would be mad at me about next. Besides, how in the world could anyone ever have and maintain a clear conscience? Sounds haughty and arrogant, like something only an apostle could say.
Come to find out, most women feel much the same way and struggle with the application of this truth. Most of the Christian women I know are smart enough not to choose poorly in public. Their shackles are private, and they spend inordinate amounts of time and energy trying to hold back the darkness they play with. As you know, darkness is a powerful element. It begins to take over from the inside out, eventually pushing out most of the light. It is very easy to wake up one sunny day, completely overtaken by the dark.
I'm going to list for you some of the chains I've heard about recently from women who whisper to me through their tears. As you read through these observations, I want you to pay special attention to any prompting the Holy Spirit might give to you.
Women are having illicit sex, both single and married, young and old, Christian and non. And/or they are spending way more time than we've previously believed fantasizing about having an affair or an inappropriate relationship. We always used to think that was just for men. Many Christian women are involved in lesbian relationships, both sexual and emotional. Maybe they have not consummated their relationship with the physical act of sex, but their emotional dependence has become an unhealthy attachment-an attachment that should have been reserved for a husband in a marriage relationship.
There is a dangerous proliferation of pornography weaving its way into the hearts and minds of women. The images are everywhere and so they almost seem normal to us now. Magazines, films, chat rooms, and the easy access on the Internet to information that no one needs. We would be deceived to believe that pornography is only a man's battle. Grown-up women are quietly suffering from eating disorders of all types, trapped inside the cage of "have to be thin at any cost." A snare that I have heard a lot about recently involves the private determination to get revenge. In relationships, careers, and families, women have found themselves entangled in a web they have woven by setting traps for others and plotting their private vindication. Deeply entrenched anger and all the emotional and physical by-products of its presence privately destroy the hearts of many. Reckless spending, gambling, prescription drug use, and alcohol abuse are chains that aren't quite as secret anymore. It's become very common for us to accept these activities in others or in ourselves.
I may not have touched on your particular private battle, but the question for all of us remains the same: Is your conscience clear?
Chained by Our Secrets Jill Hubbard (The Secrets Women Keep)
Secrets are a way we hide our true selves from the world. Shame and fear keep us from letting others know who we really are, what mistakes we've made, and the ways we feel we don't measure up. Christian women especially seem to feel the need to hide the ways they're not perfect. We make bad choices like everyone else; we sin and sometimes turn our backs on God, but the idea of letting others know about the ways we fail strikes fear into our hearts. It's supremely uncomfortable for us to have our weaknesses, failings, or disappointments on parade for others to see.
Many of us keep secrets out of guilt over sin or failing. Unfortunately, the more we live in our guilt all alone, the easier it is for the enemy to use our guilt to keep us feeling shameful, unworthy, not good enough. We feel more and more like we're living in the dark, lonely and worthless. As long as we stay in the dark with our secrets, we allow the enemy to keep us feeling that way. Bringing our secrets out of the dark and into the light can allow us to gain perspective on them, see that we're not alone, and understand that regardless of how "bad" the secret is, it doesn't have to define us. We are still loved and lovable.
Shame On You Sheila Walsh (God Has a Dream for Your Life / Let Go)
Jesus knew who the woman at the well was and what she had done, and he didn't judge her. Not only that, he gave her the chance to dream again.
"Don't do that anymore."
"Choose a different life."
"Be a different woman."
"Dream a bigger dream."
He talked as someone who knew what he was talking about, and he was giving her dreams another chance.
That is the hope for every one of us. The cross of Calvary is a place to drop our overcoats of shame. It is the place where all that is true about us and all that is false meet the grace and mercy of God.
Will you take a moment and consider your life?
Are there roots of shame interwoven with who you really are?
Have your dreams been crushed by a sense that you don't belong or you will never measure up?
Is it possible for you to believe that God knows everything about you and loves and accepts you too?
Shame is like the cheap, cloying perfume that I used to get as a child at Christmastime. Mine came in a little bottle in the shape of a dog, which I loved, but the fragrance inside was terrible. One Christmas, as I opened the container and sniffed, hoping this year the manufacturer had come up with something more pleasant-smelling, my little brother ran past me with his new robot. He rammed into me at full throttle and the whole bottle poured out onto my sweater. The smell was atrocious! I took my sweater off, took a bath, and then I took another bath. But I smelled of that cheap perfume until Easter!
Shame is nauseating. It is heavy. Lewis Smedes, in his wonderful book Shame and Grace, described it as "a dead weight of not-good-enough-ness." It is like a ravenous, demanding monster, and no matter how much you feed it to quiet the noise, it is never enough. It sits in the pit of your stomach or wraps its cold arms around your shoulders. And it doesn't let go.
Guilt tells me I have done something wrong. With that awareness there is hope. I can go to the person I have hurt and ask him or her to forgive me. Or I can work to right an injustice I committed. Shame, on the other hand, tells me I am something wrong. There is no hope there. Where do I go to change who I am at my core? How can I fix it?
Shame is a devastating sickness of the soul. It tells us not to show up. It tells us we don't belong. It tells us that if people knew who we really are, we would be asked to leave. Shame doesn't even have to make sense because it weighs so much and takes up so much space in our lives we don't even think to stop and question its right to be there. Guilt would have been the appropriate response of Adam and Eve to their tragic disobedience in the garden of Eden, but shame was the hellish breath the serpent covered them with. Guilt can present a door, whereas shame is a dead end. But worst of all, shame offers no hope.
Letting Go and Receiving God's Grace Tammy Maltby (Confessions of a Good Christian Girl)
Through my own lengthy process of learning what costly forgiveness is all about, even walking it through with others, and then ending the journey in my own backyard, I believe God has been showing me something of his heart. He's teaching me that honest pain can be healed, but secret, hidden pain cannot. And that when we truly take that truth to heart, we start living in a completely different way-a way that gives life to ourselves and those around us.
When we finally get honest with ourselves and others about just how lost we are, that's when we start to be found. It begins with the most loving and difficult of all acts: forgiving ourselves, embracing our humanness, and believing that somehow God can turn our brokenness into beauty. It begins with understanding the reality that Christ died for sinners, which means all of us-good Christian girls as well as those who don't know him at all. It begins when we open our eyes and our hearts in wonder to his grace.
Because, in the end, it's all about grace. Loving, forgiving grace. Passionate, overwhelming, truly amazing grace.
Breaking the Shackles Angela Thomas (When Wallflowers Dance)
If you want a clear conscience, God makes it simple. Ask, receive, and then choose to live clean, being made clean again and again by the ongoing process of repentance and receiving God's forgiveness.
Here's the hard part. For many of us, a clear conscience is going to take some work. There is a lot of cleaning that needs to happen. There is a whole lot more going on than just not receiving God's forgiveness eight months ago or eight years ago. My friend Mark Pate says there are two types of sin: 1) not obeying, which is the sin of rebellion; and 2) the sin of presumption, or going ahead when God has not issued a directive, which always has consequences.
Whether it's the sin of disobedience or presumption, there are sin patterns to deal with, core beliefs that have to be radically changed, and a lifestyle that must be transformed with the truth of God's call to clean living. Not so many are up for the work. Either we are going to grow up and become mature women, or we are going to remain whiny, saved but sloppy, spiritually going around in circles, watching the days of our empty lives go by.
There are things God has asked us not to do because we belong to him. We carry inside these vessels the living presence of the Holy Spirit. We have been set apart and called to be different. We reflect his heart to a very lost and sick world. At the very least we cannot come to believe it's okay to continue in our sin. We cannot act like the rest of the world.
We have not been called to blend in, looking and sounding just like we did before we knew Christ. Don't you remember? We live in this world, but we are no longer of this world. People should be able to tell the difference. It takes a lot of mental calisthenics and emotional energy to cover an unclean conscience or blatant choices that go against the heart of God.
When you and I allow darkness or choose darkness, we are also choosing to remain spiritually immature. It's virtually impossible to go forward with God when you are spending most of your time covering what keeps you unclean.
Maybe God has already begun the work of discipline in your life. Maybe you are suffering the consequences of poor choices. If your conscience is not clear, if you find yourself trapped inside a private world that is out of control or out of order, or if you aren't sure that you have ever stood clean before God, here's what I want you to do.
Begin by reading the following verses from the Bible. Listen to God affirm his desire that we live with a clear conscience.
So, I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man. (Acts 24:16 NIV) Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God's grace. (2 Cor. 1:12 NIV)
How much more is done by the blood of Christ. He offered himself through the eternal Spirit as a perfect sacrifice to God. His blood will make our consciences pure from useless acts so we may serve the living God. (Heb. 9:14 NCV) Next is the choice to surrender to the process of being made clean. I realize this is probably uncomfortable for you. But sometimes it's necessary for a season.
Excerpted from revitalize your spiritual life by Jill Briscoe Jill Hubbard Copyright © 2010 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
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