Ep 78: What does "perfect spiritual growth" look like?

How do you reconcile fighting and overcoming sin and then still cycling back through that sin later, maybe again and again?

Transcript

“I don’t understand, Lord. I’ve already dealt with this sin. Remember? You and I had it out over my need to be in control, already. You convicted me of my refusal to submit to authority in my life in general because I wanted to be my own authority.”

“And I changed! The Holy Spirit worked on my heart and I began to understand that receiving grace meant that I could then give it to others. And as I changed, so did the way I interacted with those around me.”

“I accepted that I could only work so hard, teach so much, plan so well but that I would still make mistakes and be disappointed when others made them as well. I don’t have to be perfect and neither did the people around me.”

“Like I said, we’ve done this dance already. Years ago. So why am I right back in the middle of the struggle again? Why am I so angry that things didn’t go my way over the weekend? What possessed me to lose my temper and explode in front of my church family like that?”

“I don’t understand, Lord. How did this happen, again?”

INTRODUCTION

If you haven’t listened to Ep 2: How to be a Proverbs 31 Woman withOUT being perfect, I shared the story about how I spent nearly 3 years striving to be the perfect wife and mom.

I literally went through verses in the Proverbs 31 woman and checked them off as I conquered each one.

And yet when I go to the verses where the Proverbs 31 Woman reaps what she has sewn, I didn’t have any fruit to harvest.

And I honestly didn’t get it! I had spent years striving to be the ideal woman according to the biblical text. I had followed God’s instructions so why wasn’t God giving me my due reward?

Why? Because I was getting ALL wrong! Sure, on the outside I looked like I had it all together. I was the stay-at-home mom with a successful business, well-mannered children, a tidy home, financial stability, and, what appeared to be, a decent marriage. We attended SS and church service consistently.

From the outsider’s perspective, we looked fine.

But the reality was that marriage was broken and my children felt like little burdens instead of little blessings. But after years of trying so hard tp be perfect, I was too tired to care about getting it right anymore. So I got angry instead. It was time for everyone ELSE to get it right. I really believed I was fine.

Boy was I in for a rude awakening!

What happened? God took me through an intense, very painful sanctification experience where He knocked down one idol after another in my life.

Everything that had brought me comfort over a period of the 3 years was being stripped away from me and there was nothing I could do about it.

And that’s had God works. At least for me. I imagine for less stubborn people it may not be so bad, but for me? I needed Him to be a little heavy-handed so that I actually get the point.

And that point was that nothing in my life deserved a higher place in my heart than He did. Period.

After about 4 months of this, I did eventually get the memo and you know what happened when I did? It felt incredible.

The months followed were full of massive spiritual growth. I was hungry for my Bible again and soaked up God’s Word like it was the first time I was reading it.

My marriage was restored faster than I could have ever imagined and I began enjoying my children again as I engaged in their lives rather than just dictating them.

And this peace in my heart and home lasted for several years. Not that there were never any hiccups. My husband and I didn’t agree on everything every day, but we handled those disagreements with understanding and the desire to reconcile as quickly as possible. 

We were communicating with each other openly and honestly but not accusingly. Things that happened in our marriage that used to cause massive fights were now just blips on the radar.

My kids weren’t always well behaved but I was finally getting my butt up and dealing with the trouble directly rather than just screaming from the couch for them to get along. 

Teaching them about Jesus became less about shoving the Bible in their face and more about showing them what forgiveness and grace actually looked like through my own actions. It’s not that I never disciplined them, but it was from a position of wanting them to grow wiser rather than produce perfect, well-mannered little robots.

My mentor sat with me, week after week, and we read the Bible together and she explained it to me, asked me how I saw God working in my life, and encouraged me to learn how to apply scripture to my life every single day in every single situation.

My faith grew stronger and stronger and I thought that I finally left the “old self” the Bible talks about behind. This “new self” felt so good and I never wanted to go back.

And that was a good thing - until it wasn’t.

Hebrews chapter 11 is often referred to as “The Hall of Faith” where we read about men and women that God commends as faithful servants who suffered through trials and persevered, looking to Him for their reward.

I remember coming to this chapter and getting pretty worked up by vs 11 that says, “By faith, Sarah herself received the power to conceive, even when she was past age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold up.

Are we talking about the same Sarah from Genesis? The one that laughed when she heard the angels tell Abraham that she was going to have a son at that time the following year?

The one that didn’t want to wait on God to fulfill His promise to Abraham about making him the father of many nations so she told him to sleep with her maidservant to produce an heir?

THAT Sarah?

I’m sorry, but I don’t see a lot of faith in those actions.

And that wasn’t the only person in this chapter I had an issue with.

Vs 17 talks about how, by faith, Abraham offered up Isaac. Well, yeah, but what about when Abraham pimped out his wife to save his own skin, twice?

Vs 23-29 talks about how, by faith, Moses denied being an Egyptian and led God’s people out of slavery. Well, yeah, but what about when he complained to God about how neither the Israelites nor Pharoh would listen to him and then threw it back in God’s face when things didn’t work out right away?

Vs 32-33 mention a list of names that God used to conquer kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, and more like

Gideon - who, by the way, is the guy that tested God with the fleece not once, but twice.

Barak - who refused to obey God and lead his army against their oppressors unless Deborah went with him.

Samson - a prideful jerk to boot.

David - I mean, yeah, he was great king BUT he did force Bathsheba to have an affair, got her pregnant, tried to trick her husband into sleeping with her to cover their tracks, and, when that didn’t work, had him killed on the battlefield.

I could on, but I think you get the point. Every single person God lists in this chapter of the Bible as someone who “lived by faith: had a black mark on their record. So what gives?

I remember calling my mentor and demanding she explain this to me but it just didn’t make any sense and I will never forget her response.

“Alison, do you want your faith to be judged by a single act or short period of time in your life or rather by how you grew and changed over time?”

WOW. That landed hard because it was extremely accurate. When looking back at my Chrisitan walk since I was saved at 28, my faith has gone through periods of growth that produced fruit and times of stagnancy and even withering where I may have appeared holy on the outside, but it was only skin deep.

But not anymore. I was determined, at that moment, not to cycle back into the same sin that God had convicted me of, and, with His help, I worked so hard to overcome.

Oh dear - pride cometh before the fall. Every.Single.Time.

Now, it didn’t happen immediately or in the same circumstances as my marriage and family, but my need to be in control and my desire to buck authority reared its ugly head yet again.

As the Children’s Ministry leader at my church, I plan events at our church that revolve around our kids and the local community kids, and this past fall, I was planning a combination church fellowship/community event. 

I was gathering volunteers, assigning jobs, working out logistics, building sets, ordering supplies - doing all the things that I am gifted at and usually love doing.

But every time there was a delay or a mistake or something didn’t work out exactly how I wanted it to and I needed to pivot, a seed of bitterness grew.

I kept telling myself that I just needed to be more clear about what I wanted and when I wanted it by. I just needed to give more instruction and direction. Ya know, take more control of the situation.

Can you see where this is going?

The day of the event arrived and the weather was cold and rainy so we had to move the entire thing inside. Challenge #1.

A few people that were supposed to be there to help set up and bring supplies did not show up and so I was without the hands I needed nor did I have all my supplies. Challenge #2

People that I was NOT expecting to be there DID show up and were causing extra problems and stress because I was not prepared to handle them. Challenge #3

And then it happened. A simple phone call by someone that was supposed to be there, someone who was supposed to be supporting me and the event but wasn’t. 

This person was, as it turns out, busy with their own project and was actually looking for supplies I was using to use for themself.

And I lost my cool.

Okay, no. That is being mild. I exploded like a volcano. 

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Angry words spewed from my mouth. Uncontrollable tears gushed down my cheeks. My entire body was shaking from anger. All while standing in the middle of a small crowd of event volunteers.

I ran out of the room so that I could get control of myself. It’s not because I was embarrassed. Honestly, I was too pissed off to care about what anyone else thought about me at that moment.

But I knew that I was running out of time before the event was going to start and I needed to pull myself together if I was going to pull it off. So I mustered every ounce of self-control I had in me (there wasn’t much) and pressed on.

Despite the chaos beforehand, things went smoothly-ish for the next few hours. But my attitude didn’t improve and when the event was over, I began spewing again.

This time, however, it was in front of my husband and he wasn’t having any of that. You know “the look?” Yeah. He gave it to me and, though he didn’t actually say anything, it spoke volumes.

The next 24 hours between me and him were pretty ugly. Angry thoughts were had, hurtful assumptions were made, mean-spirited words were said. And then I finally broke. I finally saw my selfishness. I saw my need to be in control. I saw my heart towards my pastor and church the volunteers that I had allowed to harden.

And I cried out to God, “What is going on? I thought You dealt with this sin in me already? I thought I learned my lesson about being demanding and overbearing. I thought I accepted the fact that being under someone else’s authority isn’t meant for my harm. I thought I let go of my need to be in control all the time. And yet here I am…again. I can’t believe this happened.”

It didn’t take long before I realized what I had done. How I had been building my own tower of Babel for months, creating an idol out of the job that I never wanted to begin with.

So I started making phone calls.

First, to the person I had spewed horrible things about who didn’t even know the full extent of what I had said. I apologized for allowing my frustration and need to be in control to come out of my mouth like flames aimed at burning them to the ground.

Next, to every person that had seen my temper tantrum. I apologized for saying things that should never have been said and for allowing my pride to be on full display.

Finally, to my husband that was so incredibly disappointed at seeing a side of me that had been gone a long time rear its ugly, very, VERY ugly head.

Friend, it was humbling. And while everyone, short of my husband, tried to let me off the hook by telling me they totally understood and not to worry about it, I wouldn’t allow that. Because true repentance won’t allow that.

Turning away from our sin means seeing it for what it is and it is what separates us from God. And that is not something you can allow to continue in your life.

Yes, as a Christian, Jesus paid in full for your sins and your eternity in heaven is sealed by the Holy Spirit. I am not suggesting otherwise.

But are we to continue to live in sin so that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” Those are Paul’s words in Romans 6, not mine.

So how do you reconcile fighting and overcoming sin with the help of the Holy Spirit and then still cycling back through that sin later, maybe again and again? Does that seem the opposite of how spiritual growth works? Isn’t that a sign of weak faith?

Actually, no.

We want it to be linear. Sure, a small drop in the chart here and there where we get into a little quibble with someone is understandable, but overall, we want to keep seeing that arrow on the graph heading upwards. Sounds like the perfect spiritual growth chart doesn’t it? But that’s not actually how it works.

Spiritual growth, at least in my experience and from what I have seen in the lives of the men and women I have studied in the Bible looks more like this:

God exposes your heart so you can see your sin.

You choose to either fight God or fight the sin. (By the way, if you choose the former, you will lose and eventually will fight the latter.)

And the Holy Spirit will help you overcome it and you will experience spiritual growth.

And then, Satan spends the rest of your life tempting you with it again and again.

Why? Because he doesn’t want to see you living for God and sharing your testimony and what better way to do that than to convince you that you will never be completely rid of your sin?

And there will be plenty of times you resist the temptation. And there will be occasional times when you take the bait and find yourself spiraling again.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting, “the devil made me do it” is a valid excuse. He can’t make do anything Chrisitan woman. But he doesn’t have to either.

I think it is way more condemning for us when we realize that “the devil tempted me and I chose to do it all on my own.” That’s when he wins because we feel like complete hypocrites.

And this was exactly the case in my little Children’s Ministry incident. I was tempted by the shiny object at the bottom of the deep end, I dove right in after it.

But there is an upside to all of this! When I look back at what happened, am I embarrassed? Well, yeah!

But I see how God used my husband to expose my heart and how quickly it softened again. I see how important it was to me to confess to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and ask for their forgiveness. I see how I accepted God’s grace and forgiveness for my actions.

And THAT is spiritual growth.

So back to our spiritual growth chart:

Instead of an arrow sloping upwards with some little dips here and there, picture it more like a plate of spaghetti noodles on an incline. (HA! Friend, I totally just used my math geek brain and my Italian heritage all in one analogy. That skills, friend.)

And through this experience, once again, realized that I am not and will never be perfect. And neither will you.

The good news is that Jesus was so you and I don’t have to be.

I hope that you found today’s episode to be a blessing. If so, would you do me the favor of giving this podcast a 5-star review on Apple podcast and consider leaving a short review like a recent listener did? She wrote, “What an awesome resource for any woman wanting to grow in her relationship with the Lord and grow as an individual.” It’s feedback like that that helps other women find and listen to these episodes so they can get the spiritual encouragement they need.

By the way, if you want to learn more about the lives of the men and women in the Old Testament, I have an entire 45 devotional series you can work through and it is FREE. Use the link in the show notes to download the reading plan and then you can access all the audio devotionals right here on the podcast.

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Okay, friend, until next time, remember, laugh in the chaos, hope through the tears, and learn to live each day but grace and not perfection.


Categories: spiritual growth