Well, I’d intended to tell you a funny story today. Actually spent the better part of yesterday’s nap time writing the funny story. But as the morning would have it, I was feeling steered in a different direction. Being led by the Lord is funny that way: sometimes He steers us in a different direction altogether and at other times, such as this, He just changes the timing of our plans. The last time I wrote I let my p’s all hang out and, while I was in the mood to lighten up a bit, I think God’s saying I’m not done with the p’s quite yet. (Not to worry. The funny story will come in due time).
The interesting thing about following Jesus is that it’s like nothing else this world has to offer. Progress in it is very hard to measure. In school we’re graded; at work we’re called in for reviews with the boss. We’re either paid the same or get a raise depending on how we’ve done. In sports you win or you lose or, at the very least, you’re ranked – either as a team or as an individual – depending on the sport. The world measures us in terms that can be quantified: how much money you make, how many years you’ve been married, how old you are (as if that has anything to do with measuring progress as a person). But in the spiritual life, how is progress measured exactly? In growing closer to the Father, in becoming more like Jesus, in being led by the Holy Spirit, how are we to know where we stand?
Although I certainly can’t answer that question, I can offer some clues as to what it’s not. A few years ago I went to a friend for prayer. As she was praying for me she shared a picture she was seeing of me in her mind’s eye. It was of me grading myself. I had a report card in hand and a red pen (I think – may be I made that part up? Red is one of my favorite colors). Nevertheless, I was judging my work and assigning myself grades. Since we believed the Lord to be giving us a little practical illustration in our prayer time, we prayed into that area a bit more so that I could gain some freedom and healing from it. “It” being the need to grade myself. (Good grief I never knew writing a blog would turn out to be this revealing!)
What I took away from that illustrated prayer time was two things: 1. I was, in fact, being graded and 2. the person doing the grading was me, not the Lord. This speaks directly into the area of performance, one of the p’s I mentioned I struggle with. The dictionary defines performance as the execution of an action or something accomplished. (That certainly puts the focus more on the destination, rather than the process, doesn’t it?) The very core of me does NOT view life as a performance. I view life more as an opportunity. However, there is a part of me, that wars with the other side of me that would LIKE for me to be concerned with my performance. I really dislike that part of me. I think it should go to hell. Actually, may be it is a little demon from hell and not part of me at all. Whatever the case, I don’t think it’s totally a bad idea to think about progress in the spiritual realm. We can recognize the bad, the unhealthy part of that, and still recognize that reflecting on one’s progress from time to time can be a good thing. An encouraging thing. A challenging thing, but in a good way. We don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water.
As to what progress means, most of us like to move. Staying still can be very boring. If given the choice, I’d rather move forward than backward and I think most of you would too. We want to do well, to do the right things, to improve, to feel satisfaction and purpose in our lives. So how do know we’re moving forward with God? How do we know we’re moving forward in other unseen ways? In our relationships, for example: our marriages, our friendships, and our relationships with other family members? While I don’t think there’s a definitive single answer to this (please if I ever tell you I have one, take me down to the lake and shoot me, as my family would say), I do know that God loves us NO MATTER where we are: at the beginning, in the middle, in a complete and total mess, or in a more tidy place. Incidentally, if you’re in a messy place in your marriage, I highly recommend a short article on the topic, Jesus Loves Those in Messy Marriages, written by the founder of Proverbs 31 Ministries, Lysa TerKeurst.
In addition to knowing He loves us no matter where we are, I think it’s comforting to know that God doesn’t measure us or grade us the way we measure ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I’m probably my harshest critic. Our flesh wants answers, wants to see and point to the progress we’ve made (and lament our flaws too) and, yet, I don’t think that’s how God deals with us. Sure there may be a very small part of me that wants to be called in by The Boss for an annual review but I’m really glad He doesn’t. Really glad.
“…For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7
The Lord said this to the prophet Samuel after one of my all-time favorite Old Testament stories, the anointing of David as future king of Israel. Read it for context and better understanding, but the point He was making is that we measure on the surface of things, the seen surface, the quantifiable surface. That’s not at all the measure God uses. He looks at the heart.
Paul echoes what the Lord said to Samuel when he says, So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Simply put, seen = temporary; unseen = eternal
If you find yourself in a situation where you’re thinking, Where is this leading? Where am I headed? Am I making progress? Are we making progress? Take comfort in the fact that He sees you. He knows exactly where you are. He’s working on your behalf in ways that are not always visible to the naked eye. What they say may be true: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Reading a book takes time. Inside the cover we’re forced to dig deeper. And we’re an impatient bunch of people so that can be hard. Thank God He’s different than us. I’m thankful that God takes the time to read my heart.
While this may not provide the answer, the exact practical help you find yourself needing today, I hope it offers a bit of hope, at the very least. Throw out the report card. Toss the red grading pen. Listen to Him. Ask Him to show you where progress is being made. I believe that He will.
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