“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” Psalms 8:3-5
The murky mire of shame
I have been many times overwhelmed by memories of my myriad failures in life. Because of the harm and damage I have left in my life’s wake I battle constantly with stinging regret and ceaseless remorse. In fact, at times it seems as though I haven’t done even one thing right. I certainly haven’t accomplished anything worthwhile; you know, those long-term goals that when completed fill one with that prized sense of accomplishment and self-satisfaction. I look back on my life and I see only a swath of ruin and a multitude of wasted opportunities. For over 40 years I’ve squandered my God given potential so lavishly I’ve become a mogul of destruction and defeat. In my own eyes, I have become the very picture of futility and worthlessness. Daily, the devil harries and haunts me with this extreme self-image. This relentless onslaught against the view and estimation of myself is formidable and grueling. While I am aware we are to be conscious of our spiritual destitution, so that we are grieved to our core and cry out to God for salvation, we are not supposed to be so overwhelmed in that revelation that we become immobilized by it and what the devil attempts to do is just that! I have struggled countless days to resist this constant oppression. I imagine I am not unique in this and that there are many out there that experience this in some degree and if you are one of these then I am writing this to you.
This is disturbing to experience or even read about and because of this, the intensity and consistency of this oppression suggests that shame and remorse are evil and are to be avoided or even “cast out” of our lives. I am surprised to very slowly realize that they both serve a useful and necessary function in our salvation transformation and it is the devil, as usual, who abuses these godly tools and convinces us to do the same. When we reflect on our past misdeeds, shame and remorse are the natural righteous reaction to an unrighteous past. At some point God’s light shines on our life and our eyes are opened to the horrific extent of our depravity. Like the cleaning of a fresh wound this revelation is very painful and clearly for the first time we can see the scope of the injury we have so blithely caused others. We are cut to the quick and are ashamed of our ungodly actions and feel remorse for perpetuating pain and darkness in the lives of others. This shame and remorse spur us to seek God for forgiveness and mercy. We seek Him to create within us a new heart of flesh and a fresh mind and petition Him daily for His continued grace. Without shame and remorse, we would be sociopaths both psychologically and spiritually. We need these two things to continue to grow in God’s Light. Every good thing, however, when taken to excess becomes bad or when we are stalled out and stuck mid-stride become a hindrance, not a help. When we become mired in shame and remorse it devalues the worth God places in us, it entombs us in the past and makes us fearful for the future by undermining our trust in God to save us. Like quicksand or thick marsh, it immobilizes and slowly devours us. This oppressive work seeks to debase the image of God we are made in by abusing and misusing our perception of time and its purpose in furthering a relationship with Him. Ultimately this erodes our foundation of trust in our Heavenly Father and without trust there is no relationship.
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” Psalms 139:13-16
Know your value in God
It is very important to be firmly aware of your value in God and be assured, it has no bearing on the quality of your past but in the quality of His. In loving someone or something we place a very high value on that person or object. Many verses speak of directly or infer the Father’s great love for us. For instance, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us… For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God;”, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” [Genesis 1:27; John 3:16; Romans 5:8,10; 1 John 3:1; Luke 12:6-7] Yet despite these many affirmations of the great worth God places in us, the devil still uses his infamous sleight of hand to skew our view of it by using our past as a smoke screen and in doing so causes us to cast doubt on our future.
In this world, if we are without God, the past is a millstone around our necks that gets heavier with every decision we make and the future is only a bleak certainty of an even more oppressive weight. However, with God, the past is a burden we no longer have to bear because He bore it on the cross and our future is bright with the hope we have in sharing it with Him. If we accept God’s saving grace and He breaks the chains binding the millstone to our necks and yet we continue to view ourselves as the world does, then it’s as if we are clinging to the broken chains and dragging the millstone behind us in spite of being freed from its weight. Being unburdened from the past does not mean we are to forget the past since the reminder of the darkness we were drawn out from is our connection to those still lost and maintains in stark relief that it is by God’s grace alone are we able to be saved. It simply means we have to let go of the chains of our past even knowing the world won’t, otherwise we will strive to be accepted and justified by those in the world instead of resting in our forgiveness and justification by God. The world will always rate our worth by our past deeds and not by the glorious work of Christ we are clothed in. If we choose to follow Him and be transformed from what we were, then we must remember our true value is not in what we have done but in what He has done. While letting go doesn’t save or redeem us, it does honor what God has done and perpetuates His grace through our lives into the lives of others still enslaved to this world. By committing ourselves to Him we become not simply recipients and beneficiaries of God’s grace but conduits of it. We work with and for God, not against Him. We become part of God’s redemptive solution not part of the problem being resolved. We must be willing to persistently hold to this biblical view of ourselves in relation to our past to grow and be effective as Christians.
“And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.” Psalms 9:10
Trust in God
To believe in God is to simply accept that He exists. To trust in God is to seek Him because you believe in Him and believing He is faithful to His promises rewarding those who wholeheartedly seek Him. For instance, if I trust God to answer prayer, according to His will, then I pray expectantly. If I trust that God’s will for me is in my best interest, then I strive not to worry, confident, boldly living out my faith. This complete trust is what real faith in God is all about. Many times I am weak and I catch myself trying to walk out my faith in my own power. This becomes very evident because it is then that I am most prone to worry. In these times of worry, I am fearful that on judgment day I will be one of those who cry, “Lord, Lord!” and the Lord will deny even knowing me. I have always wondered how I could know for sure I won’t be one of these. I think the answer boils down to in whom do I put my trust. I believe those people referred to in Matthew 7:21-23 chose to put their trust in what they had done for the Lord instead of in what He had done for them. Their mighty righteous acts weren’t a result of their trust in God and His promises but were essentially them trusting instead in their own piety. In contrast, the faithful servants in Matthew 25:31-40 performed their acts of mercy out of an out flowing of the change of heart God had worked within them. Their intentions and fruits of love were so innocent they weren’t even aware they ultimately were ministering to the King Himself. They were willing participants who trusted wholly in the God’s promise and power to save which was evident in their actions.
Keep an elevated view
Is maintaining this loftier perspective easy? By no means! But nothing worthwhile ever is. It is something we just have to return our focus onto, again and again. Will we fail at times? Inevitably, but we must always turn our eyes back to Him in whom we hope. I have to keep reminding myself that my purpose here on earth is not to convince others I’ve changed, or satisfy those I’ve wronged or myself with a worldly subjective view of justice. I am here to live for God and proclaim Him. I have no one to please but Him. In pleasing God, I may end up pleasing others as well but I will likewise offend many more because Christ is the Rock of offense, a stumbling stone and folly to the world (Rom. 9:33; 1Cor. 1:23). Though I remember most vividly the broken and detestable thing that I was, it only serves to fuel my determination and anticipation to watch the Potter’s crafting of the beautiful man of God I continue to become. So, if we remember the past but leave it at the foot of the cross, practice continually putting our trust in the Father by acting on His promises and not on our fears and we seek the praise of God and no one else, then I am convinced that we will be amazed at what God will accomplish through us!
“The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever…” Psalms 138:8