It should have been a perfect morning. I was up at 4:50am, coffee in hand and sitting in my Jesus-time spot by 5:05. Unlike so many mornings recently, my kids decided to sleep “late” – until 6:30am. So there I was, with almost 1 ½ hours stretched out before me to just be with the Lord. It all started well. I worshiped, I prayed, I got into the Word. Things were going great; my heart was feeling refreshed and encouraged. Then I got to this bit of Nehemiah, the book of the Bible that I’m studying through right now:
They were just trying to intimidate us, imagining that they could discourage us and stop the work. So I continued the work with even greater determination. Nehemiah 6:9, NLT
For a bit of context, this was Nehemiah’s response to his enemy’s lies and schemes to try to get him to stop doing the work that he was called to do.
In that moment, I thought to myself, Man, this is great stuff! In the face of the enemy’s lies, Nehemiah basically just said, “Ha! They can’t get me with that tactic! They’re just making stuff up and trying to discourage me. So I’m gonna keep doing what I’m doing and not even let it bother me.”
That should have been the moment when my “quiet” time turned into “let’s shout and whoop and do a victory dance” time. But is that what happened? No. In fact, just as I was gearing up to dance, I got distracted thinking about something that had happened the day before. I thought about an email I had sent to someone, and started wondering, Hmm…did I word that email well? I think it may have come across with an attitude that I didn’t intend. Let me go look.
So, I looked. Why was it imperative in that moment to open that email? I will never know. But there I was, with my head in my phone instead of in my Bible or lifted to the heavens in gratitude.
I found the email. I looked at it with “fresh eyes” and thought, Oh shoot, yeah, maybe, if someone wasn’t sure of my intentions, maybe this came across with an attitude. Oh no, did I have an attitude about this subject when I sent this email? I didn’t think I did, but, oh my gosh, maybe I did!! This thought led to another and another, until my soul that had been brightened by scripture and the presence of the Lord turned dark and musty and heavy with condemnation.
I was condemning myself for my failings in that email. Then I was condemning myself for my failings as a wife. Which of course led to condemning thoughts about how I had been treating my kids, not to mention my ungratefulness for the season I’m in and all the other 3 million and two bad attitudes I had ever had or things I had ever done.
I left that room of prayer with a heart of yuck.
And there was absolutely no reason for it.
I had wanted to live out the Nehemiah 6:9 scripture by laughing in the face of the enemy’s schemes. Instead, I had succumbed to them. As I was there in the Word, the Lord was trying to teach me how to respond to the enemy. Meanwhile, the enemy was trying to show me how it really feels to have lies thrown at my head. And I succumbed to the enemy.
After all this happened and I recognized it for what it was, I did two things:
1. I repented to my family. After all, when mommy left her “prayer room” and just started snapping at people, that was absolutely NOT a good example of what “time with the Lord” should look like!
2. I went back to basics and repeated over and over for the sake of my soul, “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1, NKJV
How can something so basic to our faith be so easily forgotten? Well, like all of the basic things, if we don’t truly take them to heart on a regular basis, they may just become truths in our minds that are never activated by our actions and our hearts.
I don’t know about you, but I am extremely justice-oriented. I want to make sure that RIGHT is always given voice. This is one of my strengths when it comes to ministry and what I’m called to do. But it’s also one of my greatest weaknesses in “everyday life.” For example, if someone does me wrong, trust me, my flesh reaction is the NEED to hear a good, solid apology and to know exactly what the offending person is going to do to make things right again (ok, this may be ugly, but it’s really how I can be – just ask my husband…). Somehow, I have put this deep-seated desire for…well…groveling…onto God. I’m painfully aware of when I’m wrong, and then I painfully punish myself for it, assuming that the God of the Universe wants to hear the right apology and see proof of my remorse before He says, “Ok, I forgive you.” Worse yet, I conjure up the idea that He really must hold back His blessings from someone as lowly and worm-like as me.
Don’t we all do this sometimes? In our human reasoning, and due to our human experience, we can’t imagine that God wouldn’t be withholding good from us because of something we’ve done wrong, no matter how big or how small.
But let me tell you the TRUTH:
The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us,
nor remain angry forever.
He does not punish us for all our sins;
he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
He has removed our sins as far from us
as the east is from the west.
The Lord is like a father to his children,
tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
Psalm 103:8-13, NLT
Let me say this loud and clear (to you and to ME) – There is no place in the Christian’s life for condemnation.
Did you hear that?
There is NO PLACE FOR IT!!! He has removed our sins from us as far as the east is from the west! How far is that? It’s basically just a poetic way of saying so far that it’s actually NOWHERE. You can’t draw a line from “east” and get to “west”. That parallel doesn’t exist.
So when you’re feeling the cloudy weight of self-condemnation falling on you like so many black shadows, LAUGH AT IT. Say, “I’m not intimidated by you! Christ does not condemn me and nothing can separate me from His Love (see Romans 8:38).” Like Nehemiah, realize that condemnation is just a scheme of the enemy to discourage you keep you from doing what you are called to do.
Don’t get me wrong, there is certainly a place for conviction and for discipline, but these are lifegiving, strength-breathing actions of the Lord, so that thing that is sucking the life from you and stealing your strength with its guilt-giving grip, that is not of God. (you can see more about my thoughts on discipline here if you’re interested.)
Let’s allow this truth to take us back to basics. Let’s believe that our God is a God who forgives all our sins and heals all our diseases (Psalm 103:3), whose mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 2:22-23), and who literally loved us so much, that He came to earth and died to make atonement for our sins and give us everlasting life (1 John 2:2; John 3:16).
We are not responsible to make atonement for our sins. We should be. Oh how we should be punished forever for all of our badness. But it is no longer our responsibility. Jesus did this for us already. We are now given the opportunity to walk in the complete freedom that His sacrifice has wrought.
Happy Good Friday.