Last week it was soooo cold, and dreary. A tree in my yard seemed like it was trying so hard to bloom — but was being held back by the sudden bursts of cold weather. The blowing wind and freezing temperatures were stifling growth. Everything seemed to be working against it. Doesn’t it feel like that a lot in life… kind of the one step forward, two steps back thing? Our flesh and the world seem to be working against us.
“I did it again. I ate it, and then I ate some more and some more. I can’t stop myself.” As I heard this scenario once again, I could see the defeat on her face and hear the guilt in her words. She said she felt bad. Some things seem impossible. Where is the victory? When will success come?
Food may not be your “thing.” But don’t we all have those hidden or not so hidden areas of our lives?
I was talking to a smart, beautiful young woman the other day and we were discussing these types of issues — eating, exercise and the way we feel about our self. We mess up, eat too much and feel bad. We feel better when we have control, and walk defeated when we are not seeing “success.” Even though she and I are at different places in this journey, I can still relate. I bet you can too. What do you want to be rid of? Are your words “too much” — a vomit of complaining, impatience, anger or control? Or, maybe media shamefully steals your time. Is it working excessively and feeling bound to “busy?” Or are you viewing images that you vow never look at again? Possibly, the boundaries are repeatedly broken and it seems hopeless. What area do you truly want to declare victory?
This young woman was asking for help. She was tired of it and wanted to know what I thought. What should she do? What would I do? We want a quick fix, yet real growth takes time. Sitting beside her as we talked I shared three general components we need if we are serious about immediate and lasting change. But first, this question:
Where do you want to be ten years from now?
Ten years seems a long way away, but the choices I make today and the habits I establish follow me. I don’t want to be the same person with the same struggles years from now. This verse keeps returning to me:
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16
“Decay” makes me think of tooth decay or a piece of antiquity in need of preservation. It will rot unless there is intervention. Everyday I feel this decay — our world is decaying and our bodies are decaying. As I age, I experience the decay of my physical body in my need for reading glasses or in the slowing of my metabolism. The outer man is decaying.
We also experience the decay in our broken world and in our flesh being so “fleshy” — so consumed with itself! We are a society and a people who do not want to say, “no.” My flesh does not like to say, “no,” to comfort food, time wasters, idle thoughts, anxiety, entertainment, etc. In other words, my self naturally chooses self-indulgence over self-control, “me” instead of others, and my ways instead of God’s ways. It will choose things that contribute to my decay. This is why I need intervention for the long term.
Yes, where do I want to be a year from now? Ten years from now?
Fortunately, God intervened for the world, for myself, with the cross — setting us free from the ultimate decay — spiritual death. Even though the outer is decaying, through the cross our inner is renewed, being renewed and one day, completely renewed. That is good news! This side of heaven we experience this “decay,” but through the cross we are renewed.
Now, because of the cross, I can cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit in my life and see God intervene. As I yield to God’s work, I experience renewing in my life over time. I can see Him renew my inner person and grow self-control, kindness, trust… This is what I want — the cross intervening day by day.
1. Long Term – and maybe the most important
At times, we put our mind to something, and we do it. Like, “I really need to clean my house”– today becomes the day and bam it is done. Most of the time, the areas that keep tripping us up aren’t that easy to overcome. It takes time. Ugh! We need time. We need the Lord and good habits in God’s word, in confession, in prayer, steps of faith and with other believers. Having a long term perspective keeps us in the game, instead of just giving up and declaring defeat upon messing up. God’s grace abounds and we can find this for each day. So, when we do mess up and feel defeated, we turn to God and His grace and mercy. As we walk with God day-by-day we learn to live in His grace and mercy. We can keep going. Instead of beating ourself up or giving up, we can confess it, talk with a friend and start again — remembering and continuing in the Lord’s abundant kindness.
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? Romans 4:2
His kindness has a way of changing us.
2. Physical- what you can write down on paper
There is usually a tangible, physical component for dealing with these “fleshy” areas that keep coming up. In other words, there are practical steps we can take. This is where we need help from a friend possibly. For someone struggling with food, they may need to actually figure out how many calories they needs or seek help from a doctor or nutritionist. What are specific and objective things I could write out on paper or tell someone which will help me be rid of this habit or attitude? For example, if I want to eat healthier I need to have veggies for making a salad in my refrigerator. I need to make that salad, pack it and take it with me. Who can be an exercise buddy and what days and when will I exercise? If I find myself wasting time on social media, plan something else in the schedule, get outside or study away from home.
My husband shared a story recently with me about an older man he knows who decided early in his marriage he could not go to the grocery store because of all the inappropriate photos on the front cover of magazines in the checkout line. It was too much of a temptation. For his own good, for his wife and his long-term spiritual health he had to set up this boundary. This may seem ridiculous to some, but for him it was worth it. For most guys, there needs to be stronger boundaries set in this area, and ones that are more definite, no matter how inconvenient it is. If you need to take the Internet off your phone or get rid of Instagram, then do it. It is worth it, for your sake, and for the sake of your spouse or future spouse.
3. The Immediate- day by day
If you are trying to get rid of a thought, or a way of thinking, you need to replace it with something else. More than likely this habit you want to be rid of didn’t just come upon you out of the blue. It started small, was kindled and now may feel out of control. There could be emotional damage that was done to you that contributes to it. Maybe you are young in your faith, and for the first time you are sensing there needs to be some changes.
Renewing your mind day by day…
I need my mind and heart renewed each day and everyday. In college, I collected scriptures about my identity in Christ and put them on a spiral of note cards. I could read verses like:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; the life which I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. Galatians 2:20
Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you will be revealed with Him in glory. Colossians 3:2-4
I regularly put these into my mind as I walked to class or spent some alone time. Now when I feel tempted I sometimes just say, “I need you Jesus.”
Book for renewal…
A good book to read is, “Search for Significance” (see favorite reads). It points to the truth of who we are in Christ. Full of truth, it is a tool for helping us to be rid of lies we believe. Replacing our thoughts with truths about God and who we are helps to renew us day-by-day.
As I talked with this young woman, we talked about “soaking” more in God’s word. There have been so many times that I have stained a white shirt, treated it and then let it soak. Inevitable, the longer it soaks the whiter or brighter it becomes– soon often, the stain is not even visible. Spending extended time in God’s word is like this. But often there is so little time or no time in it at all — there is no “soaking” going on. I suggested she needed more time to be in God’s word, to think, pray, pause and see what God wants to show her. This will shape her mind, her emotions and thoughts. She hopes to spend about 15 minutes when she first gets up to “set her mind on things above” and then have more time later in-between classes or over lunch for more “soaking” time.
Cross Intervention and Intersection Day by Day
The road may not be easy. When we mess up, we need to keep going and not give up. Think long term– ten years from now, you don’t want to be in the same place. The cross touches every area of our lives— whatever it is. The cross intervenes and intersects our daily life– even the things we are ashamed of. For the cross is the one thing that assures us victory over the decay we experience.
Go to the cross.
On the cross, He paid for all these things. The cross does matter day by day.