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Monthly Archives: August 2015

Self-Care and Self-Denial

The topic of self-care, particularly as it relates to physical and emotional health, has long confused and challenged me as a Christian. While I’ve deeply resonated with much of the common sense in the philosophy of self-care, other aspects have troubled me and seem completely incompatible with Christianity. I couldn’t agree with Scripture and at the same time agree with arguments encouraging me to pursue a self-focused, indulgent, comfort-based lifestyle. On the other hand, I heartily agreed in principle with discussions of self-care as stewardship. Still, I usually came away with more of a sense of heavy obligation than of freedom and gratitude. I often saw God as an auto mechanic pacing around, irritated and inconvenienced by my failure to get my car in for regular maintenance.

As I struggled to come to biblical conclusions about self-care, I vacillated between embracing it wholeheartedly and rejecting it altogether. I’d mostly ignore my physical and emotional health for long stretches of time, defaulting to a philosophy of pushing through life, trying to move faster and do more. Then I’d crash. I’d make some efforts at rest or recovery, but always with a nagging sense of guilt that I’d been indulgent, lazy, or somehow disobedient.

I’d love to say I’ve arrived at a completely healthy place in the area of self-care, but the truth is I’m still in the midst of the messy process of repentance and renewal. I can say for sure, though, that freedom in this area hasn’t come from just tweaking some habits or from having an “easier” season of life where consistent self-care is more realistic.

Confronting Faulty Beliefs 

My confusion about self-care was mostly rooted in two serious theological misunderstandings related to, interestingly enough, self-denial. Confronting these faulty beliefs has been pivotal in developing a healthy biblical view of self-care.

First, I equated denying myself with denying my humanityLuke 9:23 was one of the first verses I memorized as a new believer. I took Jesus’s words seriously and deeply believed what he says here and in similar passages. We find our lives by losing them. Discipleship is defined by a supreme love for Jesus and willingness to take up our crosses daily.

But somewhere along the way, I developed an unspoken but functional belief. I started believing that denying myself isn’t just about denying my sinful attempts to be my own god, but also about ignoring the fact I am a human being with physical and emotional needs—and God-ordained limits. I never would’ve said I believed this, but my life told a different story. In particularly stressful seasons, I treated needs like sleep, nutrition, exercise, and emotional refreshment as luxuries for which I didn’t have time. It didn’t occur to me that accepting my God-given limits and actively choosing to receive God’s gifts of rest, food, recreation, and solitude are also acts of worship and obedience. 

Second, I didn’t see my attempts to push past my perceived weakness or neediness for what they really were—pride. As I studied the Gospels, God began to unravel the mess in my heart. He repeatedly reminded me that Jesus—fully human and fully God—regularly set aside time in his ministry to be alone or enjoy meals with friends. Why did I assume these things were acceptable for him but not for me? Why did I encourage people to take good care of themselves while neglecting good care of myself? Scripture also reminded me of God’s great love and compassion for me, and his promise to provide for my needs.

I began to see God never asks us to pretend we’re not human or needy. In fact, the Bible regularly commands us to remember who God is and who we are. This doesn’t mean we should demand God to meet all our physical and emotional needs on our terms, or that he won’t call us to seasons of physical and emotional suffering. Christians have not been promised an easy, hassle-free life. At times legitimate needs will be denied. But I’m learning to view and practice consistent self-care in a new way—as a spiritual discipline that can help me rightly acknowledge my place in God’s world rather than dismiss it as a distracting indulgence.

Seeing Our Heart 

I also used to believe self-denial is mostly about behavior rather than the heart. For a long time, I thought self-denial is about avoiding practices I considered self-indulgent. But as I began to reexamine God’s Word, I started to see more clearly that self-denial isn’t just a behavior issue—it’s a heart issue. Our behavior reveals our heart. God calls us to deny our hopeless attempts to justify ourselves and find life apart from Christ.

I avoided self-care because it looked dangerously close to self-indulgence. But avoiding self-care actually fed my sinful appetite to live self-sufficiently and to seek fulfillment in my own abilities. It may seem backward to say that avoiding self-care was actually self-indulgent, but it was for me. As I struggled with thinking that my accomplishments defined me, God taught me that self-denial for me meant stopping to rest. This lesson felt counterintuitive, but just because something looks like self-denial on the surface doesn’t mean it actually is.

Finding Freedom and Joy 

Many of us don’t consider the issue of self-care until a crisis forces us to wake up. God, in his kindness, uses these crises to take us to places we wouldn’t choose on our own, but in these places we find greater freedom and joy in him.

The topic of self-care has thousands of practical and debatable considerations, and thousands of legitimate and important cautions that go with them. Nevertheless, it is an important topic and one we need to think about, for the way we handle it reveals a great deal about our hearts, what we believe about ourselves, and what we believe about God.

Amie Patrick is wife to Darrin, lead pastor of The Journey in St. Louis. Married for 20 years, Darrin and Amie have 4 children, and have served in a variety of ministry roles together. Amie holds a degree in music education and is passionate about leadership, teaching women to practically apply the gospel to all areas of their lives, and helping pastors’ and church planters’ wives thrive in their calling. Amie and Darrin are the authors of The Dude’s Guide to Marriage: Ten Skills Every Husband Must Develop to Love His Wife Well (Thomas Nelson, forthcoming 2015).

A Prayer for Your Family and the Fathers of Our Nation

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And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”—Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”—Malachi 4:5,6

Take a moment and respond to this challenge: say the first word that comes to your mind when I say the word, “father.” Was the descriptive word you used positive or negative? Perhaps you answered: “dedicated,” or “preoccupied”, or “harsh,” or even “abusive.” Or perhaps you never knew your father so you would have said, “absent.” At any rate, how you answer that question tells me much about you. Even if you never met your father, he still has power over you; his influence in your life continues for good or for ill.

Mike Singletary, former linebacker for the Chicago Bears, often speaks in prisons and asks this question of the inmates: how many of you can say you had a warm relationship with your father? In an article I read, he said he is still waiting for the first hand to be raised! With 20 million children in America going to bed each night without a father in the home, we can only imagine what the consequences will be—both now and in future generations.

In the above Scriptures, God clearly holds the father responsible for being both the lawgiver and the grace-giver in the home. He is to teach the children and model for them what walking with God looks like. And as the verses from Malachi indicate, there is to be mutual reconciliation and fellowship between a father and his family.

The heart of the father should be turned toward the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers. If not, there are drastic consequences.

The prayer that we will be praying this week is one that both intercedes for those fathers who are good examples for their children, but also for the fathers who have neglected their families; fathers who are abusive, harsh, and uncaring. We will also pray for those children who either don’t know their fathers, or if they do, they have lingering bitterness for his misdeeds. In short, we will be praying for our dysfunctional families, whether they have a father in the home or not.

So, even if your father is no longer living, I want you to pray this week’s prayer. You can either pray for a father you know, or more generally, for a dysfunctional family. Or you can pray for your own family. 

Let Us Pray

Father, I want to thank You for my father; whether he lived up to my expectations or not, he was chosen to give me physical life; I was chosen to be born at a place and time designated by You. Thank You for my parents, for their strengths and their weaknesses.And now, Father I pray for the children who are struggling because of their relationship with their father. I pray for ______. I pray that they might be reconciled to their father.

Take away the bitterness and the anger that exists in that home, and bring peace to the family. And as for ____ who either has failed or is failing as a father, bring him to his senses that he might become Your servant and see his need to become the role model You intended. Break the power of addictions, hate, and rejection that have deeply wounded this family.

Help fathers to confess their failures to their children, and children confess to their fathers. At all costs, bring them into a right relationship with You and with each other.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

DRAWING CLOSER TO GOD

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DRAWING CLOSER TO GOD

Thursday, August 14, 2015

Oftentimes the cry of the believer’s heart is to be closer to the Lord, to hear Him more clearly, and to follow His Word more consistently. The good thing is that as much as we want to be close, to hear, and to follow Him, our Father in heaven wants these things for us even more than we do.

In fact, God has done everything necessary so that we can come close to Him and rest in His presence. He wants to be close to us, which is why He gave us His Spirit to live inside of us—so we could live with Him minute by minute.

God initiated everything. He took action because of His great desire to forever be with the ones He created. We know He loves us because of what He said and did. He gave the best that He had—His only Son— to have us.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” (Jn. 3:16)

God’s Word clearly speaks of His desire for His creation. In Scripture, we see that the desire we have to walk closely with Him mirrors His desire for us to walk closely with Him:

“The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.’” (Jer. 31:13)

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has . . . predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.” (Eph. 1:3–5)

“Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am.” (Jn. 17:24)

But God didn’t simply desire to be near us. Our Father made it possible for us to be with Him by giving us His Son.

“And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.” (1 Jn. 4:14)

“I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Cor. 6:18)

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Eph. 2:13)

The desire we have to engage with God comes from Him, leading us into a place of communion and fellowship with the Trinity. We can respond to Him and engage in a closer walk, constantly aware that the Spirit of God is literally living inside of us.

“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” (1 Cor. 6:19)

“We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (Jn. 14:23)

Because we know we are greatly desired and have continuous access to our Creator, we are free to respond confidently to our Father. We can grow in our knowledge of God, His thoughts, His priorities, and His character by purposefully engaging with the Trinity through these responses:

  • Expressing gratitude
  • Reading the Word
  • Living in obedience

Expressing Gratitude

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.” (Ps. 100:4)

In the midst of the everyday occurrences of life and the onslaught of negative news, it can sometimes be challenging to find something to cause us to give thanks. But if we turn to the Word, we can find ourselves speaking with the Lord about His truth as He lifts our heads to see from His perspective.

We have a God who is faithful, compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in love—a Father who delights in showing mercy. This same God who knows all and sees all, humbly came to humanity to show the true nature of God to those in need (Col. 1:15).

Even when things are not perfect, we can thank God for the big and small blessings in life, such as our family members, health, healing, provision, opportunities, divine insight, favor, and the privilege of seeing another day. The truth is that He is always in control and knows the solution to every problem.

Reading the Word

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105)

The Lord’s words, thoughts, and deeds are recorded in the Bible. As we read, we draw closer to the divine author of this book. We gain His perspective, His wisdom, and His knowledge. This helps produce a desire within to live obediently to the Word.

We can see how God has demonstrated His caring nature to the world from the very beginning. We are reminded of His strength as a defender. As a wise teacher, He is patient and kind. As a righteous, ruling judge, He desires to correct all that is wrong. When we read the Word, we hear the Lord speak His heart for our families, His creation, and every part of our lives. We are able to know Him better.

Living in Obedience

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (Jn. 14:15)

Part of our response to the One who desires for us to come close to Him is to live obediently, so we do not hide from Him out of shame, as Adam and Eve did (1 Jn. 1:7). As we praise Him, thank Him, and read His Word, we are able to gain His perspective on the best way to live. God, who created all things and knows the end from the beginning, wants to share with us His eternal perspective about how we should steward the bodies, minds, time, and relationships He’s given us. We find out that God has a divine and correct way of doing things that is designed to benefit His creation and cause us to prosper (3 Jn. 1:2).

As we become accustomed to seeing clearly, we are empowered to align our wills to His, and to love Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength—we are even able to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are transformed into the image of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit as we engage with the Trinity. Our relationship with Almighty God is strengthened, and we experience a closeness and level of intimacy that we are designed to enjoy.

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