“Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.” Philippians 3:12-15
Over this holiday season, I have found myself dealing with some situations I have never really dealt with before in a real and organic way. Most everyone that knows me knows my testimony and the personal struggles I had with addiction for almost 20 years of my life. This past year, I made a personal decision to let God have my desire for alcohol too…it was the last thing I was holding back, trusting it to help me when I faced difficult emotional situations that I wanted to escape – most of them surrounding my family and a broken past that I caused because I had hurt people with my words instead of dealing with my feelings with maturity and wisdom when I felt rejected or unloved.
It has appeared to be a pretty easy commitment to keep while I have stayed in my own comfortable surroundings within my church family and within my own home. I can truly say that over the past year, I haven’t had any temptations to return to my old behaviors and that trusting God in my daily walk has been somewhat more simple than I would have thought it to be several years ago. But as the holiday season approached and the opportunity to reconnect with loved ones I have been separated from presented itself to me, I found things to grow quite difficult rather quickly…and although I didn’t end up on the emotional roller coaster I was always used to riding, I still found myself surrounded by an emotional storm and the temptation to run away from it.
For the last couple of years, God has been teaching me that I have continually made the mistake of looking to my parents, my siblings, my husband, my children – looking to people to always meet my emotional needs rather than to God. I never found what I was looking for – only more rejection and pain. And I always blamed everybody else…never looked inwardly to Jesus Christ who wants to be my everything and is the only One who will ever be able to completely fulfill my emotional, spiritual, and physical needs.
God allowed me to be in the middle of some pretty difficult situations over the past couple of weeks, and He provided no exit of escape except for the testimony of Jesus Christ and the help of the Holy Spirit. Being around a bunch of people that have only known the self-destructive Joyelle that I was for many many years was a terribly painful atmosphere. Realizing that the barriers I placed between them and myself could not be torn down overnight or fixed instantaneously truly tested my desire to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus Christ. The old me wanted desperately to pop out its ugly head instead of enduring in the patient love Jesus has been teaching me this past year and giving people time to learn that they can trust this new creation I am becoming.
There wasn’t a magical moment where all the pain suddenly disappeared – unlike what I had hoped for and expected, God didn’t allow me to feel completely embraced by those I had hurt and ruined trust between. Instead, He left me in the middle of the awkwardness and brokenness. Instead, He allowed me to feel all the things I have always felt – the rejection, the bitterness, the jealousy, the disconnection, the impatience, the unacceptance – all the emotions that used to lead me on a search to chemically alter what I was feeling – He allowed my atmosphere to be perfectly uncomfortable, and He taught me that He was still there.
Late Monday night, He spoke to my heart and told me to look at Philippians 3:12-15. As usual, I didn’t just read the one verse, I read the entire chapter. When I was finished reading it, I have to admit, I didn’t find myself feeling any better, nor did it make complete sense why the Holy Spirit had led me to that particular Scripture…but God was just starting the lesson.
Too often, I have expected God to suddenly relieve my pain and deliver me from my situations. God reminded me last night that He has spent the past several months teaching me about abiding in His presence and allowing Him to grow the fruits of His Spirit within me. For many, submitting to this process may be easy – for me, submission to any long process that is characterized by internal conflict and emotional pain is far from simple and quite uncharacteristic of the person I had always been. But God loves me so much, that He didn’t allow me to run from it this time. Instead, in the middle of each situation, He quietly reminded me of all the Scriptures I have been memorizing, meditating upon and studying for the past six months – Psalm 18, Psalm 91, Psalm 51, Psalm 103, and John 15. He quietly reminded me of the three words He had spoken to my heart back in July – abide, benefit, and endure. He patiently reminded me that He wanted me to learn how to abide in His presence and His judgment, reap the benefits of repentance and restoration, and endure to the end through allowing the Holy Spirit to reign in my life.
I am amazed how God gave me those Scriptures back in July of this year and told me He wanted me to memorize and study them. I had no idea what situations He would place me in months later, but He did…He did what every good teacher always does – He gave me the information I needed, then allowed me to face problems where I had to use the information to solve them. He taught me to apply the information to my life and walk it out.
We can talk about being like Jesus Christ all day long…but it isn’t until we face the difficult tests that we really find out who we are and who Christ wants to be within us. It is only in the middle of the trials and the tests that He can truly reveal the dark and hidden things within our hearts that don’t truly line up with His Word and His character. It is His loving way of leading us into true repentance and disciplining us with His Word. It is easy to listen to a lesson about growing fruit in our lives; it is something totally different and far from simple allowing Him to actually grow the fruit within us as we submit to His personality shining through us.
Over and over again during the last month while memorizing John 15, the Holy Spirit has spoken the word “relational” to my Spirit man. He has reinforced the theme of fruits of the Spirit – how they are all relational in nature and are grown within us through relationships with other people that He allows in our lives. Growing in Christ cannot happen without abiding on the Vine. The Vine is Jesus Christ and the realization that He wants to manifest Himself within us when we are faced with the alternative of responding to people in a way that is contrary to His nature, especially when we feel we have a right to do this. Being a follower of Christ demands that we lay down our personal rights, and submit to His personality. This has been the struggle I have faced for the past few weeks…and it is a struggle that I chose not to run from for the first time in my life.
When I thought I had it all together, God began pruning me – a process that is painful and isn’t natural to submit to as we realize that during this pruning process the tree appears to be totally dead and lifeless…but a new season rolls around, and we find the tree to be more hardy and fruitful than ever before could have been without the season of pruning. It is what we choose to do with ourselves during this season of pruning that makes the difference – do we submit and die to ourselves or do we resort to our old nature? Do we choose to abide in God’s Word and actually stand in the middle of the test and trial or do we run away from it and seek the shelter of our comfortable carnal emotional responses? Do we rely on our nature or do we choose Christ’s nature instead? Do we quit the race or endure to the end for our spiritual prize?
Every day, we face the testing of our faith – the place where we find out if we truly believe or whether we are just in it for what we can selfishly gain. Spiritual fruit doesn’t grow in our lives by never facing pain or escaping from it when it appears on the scene. Spiritual fruit grows in the middle of our pain.
I am thankful today that God is greater than he that is in this world. I am thankful that God has already overcome every difficult situation that I will ever face through the testimony of Jesus Christ. I am thankful that He loves me too much to let me stay comfortable where I am. I am thankful that He is faithfully teaching me how to endure through Him, and that He truly does make all things new – especially me!
I haven’t gained the prize yet…I don’t understand it all, and I haven’t already arrived – but I realize that I am in a race of my faith…and I am enduring to the end! I am so thankful that God faithfully reveals the areas of my heart that He still wants to clean, and I have chosen to submit to the process!