It was a humid early June night. Lightning bugs illuminated the darkness as dozens of heeled and coiffed women made their way inside a tastefully decorated room. Tables were set, candles were lit, dessert was served, friendships were forged, and Jesus was worshipped. At this women’s event, I enjoyed delicious food and drank sweet tea that had been prepared behind the scenes. I watched ladies give up their seats so other guests could sit in comfort. I listened to an anointed speaker and heard melodies of praise harmonize their way to Heaven. I caught glimpses of husbands working diligently behind the scenes, managing sound and lighting equipment, directing parking, picking up dirty dishes, and playing instruments. I was mesmerized, and I thought about Romans 12:3-8:
(3) Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. (4) Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, (5) so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. (6) In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. (7) If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. (8) If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.”
When I was younger, these particular verses confused me more than the others in Chapter 12. I wondered what my gift was, and how I might fit into this list. I couldn’t grasp what it meant to be counted as part of Christ’s body, yet be fully equipped to serve Him uniquely. I didn’t grow up attending church regularly, so the visual aids I needed to completely understand were missing until much later in my life. It wasn’t until I began attending churches where loving Jesus and serving others was emphasized that I started to realize the importance of this passage. What once was hazy started to become clear as I watched these verses come to life in men and women serving God all around me.
It seems that mankind teeters between acknowledging or promoting any talent we think we possess and denying or downplaying its existence. Seldom do we evaluate ourselves from an honest, Godly perspective. The reality is, we ALL have been given some sort of ability from birth. Each of us can lay claim to at least one thing we’re pretty good at, and most of us have multiple skills. I think it’s as heartbreaking to God when we resolutely write ourselves off as good-for-nothing as it is when we parade ourselves around looking for personal glory. That’s what verse 3 is saying. God has indeed bestowed valuable talents on you, and He wants you to put them to use – not so you can get one million views on YouTube, but so millions might come to know Him through your unique witness. As a Christian, you are never firing on all cylinders more than when you wrap up your God-given attributes and humbly offer them back to your Savior. That’s re-gifting at its finest…and there’s no need to keep the receipt!!
Then there’s that other thing we like to do: compare ourselves with others. I’m a first-class offender in this area. I tend to look at someone who has a talent I wish I had, review my many shortcomings, and then hang my head and retreat into the shadows of self-pity.
“Why can’t that be me?”
“I have nothing to offer compared to (fill in the blank).”
All the while, someone else is looking at me, admiring a particular gift I DO possess and just wishing I could recognize it in myself. Sound familiar? Please tell me I’m not the only one!! Over the years, I’ve come to realize there’s definitely certain things I should not attempt, like telling jokes (crickets every single time), singing solos, or anything really that puts the spotlight on me. No matter how much I esteem these talents in others, they don’t naturally exist in me. And as hard as it can be for me to admit, there are a few things I’m slightly better than average at. I’m slowly coming to accept how God designed me. And He created you with equally distinct abilities. It’s so easy to get hung up on what we don’t have and ignore what talents we have been given. It’s imperative, however, that we attempt changing our mindset.
Think about it: how boring would it be if we were all good at the same things? How strange would our bodies look if we were made up of only hands, or nothing but eyeballs? Verses 4 and 5 reference the correlation between our earthly bodies and the body of Christ. Each organ and appendage has its own function, and our physical bodies don’t perform at their peak when something isn’t working as it was intended to. The body of Christ isn’t any different. When its members are at war or aren’t behaving in the capacity they were created to, it can be utter chaos. Jesus ceases to be exalted, and His body gets sick. Ephesians 4:11-16 shows the flip side – what happens when the Church is flourishing and giving back to God:
(15) Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. (16) He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
So, if you’re a follower of Jesus, it’s time to give back! Have you opened your present, you know, the one with the faded label, “To: You, From: God?” If you don’t know what your unique skills might be, now is the time to find out. Take inventory of what you enjoy and what comes naturally to you. Ask those closest to you what talents they see in you. And whatever they tell you – own it. Figure out a way to put your gifts to good use. Who can you help? How could you honor Jesus? (1 Peter 4:10-11)
You may not be able to stand in front of a crowd and sing well. You may not have the quick wit required to emcee a huge event and get the audience to laugh. You might not be called to pastor a church or live in a foreign country as a missionary. But you’re called to do something. You have a designated mission. There’s a huge need for you in this fallen world!
Can you strike up a conversation with strangers? Maybe your friendly face is just what church visitors need to see.
When friends are struggling, do you notice before anyone else? Be that encourager as often as you can.
Are you an exceptional hugger? I’ve heard babies in the nursery love to be snuggled.
Is prayer your strong suit? Go boldly to the throne and intercede for those who can’t find the words.
Have you been blessed financially? Re-gift those Benjamin’s back to Jesus!!
And the list goes on. Whatever your talents are, God wants them back. There are endless ways to serve the Father. Let’s not allow fear or a false sense of humility to paralyze us. Let’s strive to be like the servants in Matthew 25 who took their talents and multiplied them for His glory! We were meant to shine for Him, and it’s a beautiful thing when we do!!
The first time someone told me I was cool was in 1991. I was in the 5th grade, and a sneaker brand, LA Gear, was at the height of its popularity. By some miracle, I came to own a pair: white ones with black and purple accents. The first day I sported my new high tops at school, Michael, one of the legit trendy kids at Coleman Elementary, leaned over his desk and approvingly declared, “You got some LA Gears? You’re cool now.” I’m almost positive I walked with a good bit of extra swagger the rest of that day! It’s been decades since I first “nailed it” in the fashion world, but the acceptance I felt had a lingering effect on my psyche.
The thing is, I am a non-conformist soul trapped in a people-pleasing body. This dichotomy presents an obvious inner turmoil: do I care what people think, or do I march to my own beat? For some people, the choice is easy. Let’s just say that, for me, the struggle is real! And the battle rages on, even as I’ve grown older and (somewhat) wiser. On the really tough days, the verse that keeps me grounded is Romans 12:2.
I’m not ten years old anymore, but many days I still find myself seeking the approval of others.
I fix my gaze on a closet full of (hopefully) trendy clothes, trying to pick an outfit that will garner a few compliments.
I scour Pinterest for the most eye-pleasing images to add to my boards. Boards carefully crafted, presenting a refined image to my followers.
My followers. I have followers. People who like, comment on, or share bits and pieces of my online persona. People to keep happy.
I shut my mouth when confronted with an opposing viewpoint. I only speak out when I’m pushed to the point of anger. And you know those times always end well…
At least that’s what I do when I’m conforming myself to the standards of this world…
Then, there are those other days. The days that count for something beyond my limited earthly life span. The days I conform to who I was uniquely created to be instead of who the world tells me to be.
I fix my gaze on those around me. I notice a tiredness on the cashier’s face and strike up a conversation. I bring dinner to a friend. I give up checking Facebook for the fifteenth time and interact with my child instead.
I scour the Bible for some much needed soul-food. I feast on His truth and hide those precious, inspired words in my heart. I renew my mind. I meditate on my Savior (Psalm 119:15-16).
My Savior. I have a Savior. He created me, redeems me, and calls me His own. I worship Him. I talk to Him. He keeps me happy.
I open my mouth to speak encouraging and uplifting words. When I encounter one who opposes what I know to be real, I do my best to humbly point them to Jesus.
And you know what? Those good days don’t happen enough for me. That’s why I keep coming back to Romans 12:2. Because the days when I’m focused on myself and what society’s standards say I should be, my mind cannot be renewed. I don’t experience the transforming, refreshing wind of the Holy Spirit. I look too much like everyone else and not enough like myself. People don’t see Jesus in me on the days I’m conforming to the world. They just see me. And it’s not about me, this life I’m living.
That’s the whole point of this verse, in my opinion. It’s like a chain reaction: fit in with worldly behaviors – corrupt your mind – miss out on God’s purpose and plan for your existence.
On the flip side: keep step with the beat God has placed inside you – renew your mind – learn what God’s specific will is for you.
If you’re struggling with acceptance, know that you’re not alone. I’d venture a guess that humanity as a whole is exhausted from all the fitting in, keeping up, and showing out we do. Maybe you’re ready to walk a path less traveled. What better time than now to do a little self-inventory…Who do you strive to please? In what ways do you conform? Are you invigorated or disheartened by the direction your life is taking? Do you want to know what the Father’s good, acceptable, and perfect will is for you?
Do not conform to this world. Be transformed. Renew your mind. Know God’s will.
Dare to be different.
I remember the feeling all too well. That gnawing, churning pit of trepidation began in my gut and worked its way to my chest. I remember feeling hazy and weightless, as if my spirit was trying to escape what my body was exposing it to. I was on the edge of a sharp precipice, and my next decision would determine my fate. The boy? Well, I don’t remember too much about him in that moment. I do remember the unspoken challenge in his eyes. The “I dare you” message he was sending me. To this day, I can’t explain what made me push away except that maybe in the midst of the silent roaring between my ears I picked up on a whisper – a still, quiet voice that said, “This is not who you are. You are not his. You are Mine.” And it was enough. I didn’t free-fall into darkness that day; instead, I backed away to safety. He stopped calling. I swore off guys. Ironically, a month later I met the man I would one day marry.
Sounds like an after-school special, doesn’t it? Girl faces temptation but makes the honorable choice. Girl is rewarded with a husband. Yeah…except there was slightly more to it than that. My story cannot begin to be summed up in this one event, but that night almost fifteen years ago was a defining moment in my young life. At nineteen years old, I did make a choice. I said no. Part of me wanted to say yes, but mostly so I wouldn’t disappoint a boy who clearly wasn’t giving me the same consideration. And while I still managed to blow it big time in many ways over the following months, that decision unveiled an inner strength that could only have come from God. So why even mention that night? Because of the redemptive power of Jesus – you see, this story, my story, is really all about Him…
My favorite book of the Bible is Romans, and Chapter 12 holds a special place in my heart. Each of its’ twenty-one verses have helped shape me as a woman and continually challenge me to look at others through the eyes of Jesus. The first verse specifically speaks to Christians who struggle with temptation:
This verse…wow. It’s not one of the more popular, make-you-feel-good verses we love to quote on Facebook and Pinterest. This verse is a command to every saved man, woman, boy, and girl. It’s a verse that unapologetically declares we are to treat our bodies as if they are not really ours to lay claim to. It’s hard to hear and even harder to adhere to.
So what do you do with this verse if you feel a sharp sting of shame when you read it? What if, like me and thousands of other women around the world, you’re guilty of offering bits and pieces of your body up on that relentless altar of lust? Maybe you’re dealing with consequences of your past choices: disease, ruined relationships, emotional turmoil, or separation from God. As you read these words, you may even be thinking to yourself that your life is over. It’s hopeless. You’ve made so many wrong turns that the way back to Jesus seems impossible to find.
This is quite an uplifting letter, am I right? (insert sarcastic emoji) Hang with me, if you will, because Good News is on the way! The One who created you knows all about your sin, and His opinion of you might just sweep you off your feet. Shake off the Enemy’s lies that you are worthless, alone, or beyond the reaches of Christ’s love. My darling daughter, take a moment to consider Scripture. Remember who you belong to. Start fresh today.
Remember Who You Belong To
This beautiful truth from Isaiah says it all. You are His. He knows you, and He calls you by your name. He has redeemed you. That word – redeem – is one of my favorites. If you are a child of God, you have been redeemed. It’s eternal. Nothing you do could ever separate you from His love (Romans 8:35-39). That fact alone should make your soul leap!
He hasn’t condemned you, even if you struggle to forgive yourself. Romans 8:1 says, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” If you are a daughter of the Risen King, He will never cast you aside. What’s more, His abounding grace is strong enough to break the chains of sin that paralyze you.
Read Psalm 139:1-6 and 17-18. Trust me on this. Even if you’re familiar with the passage, read it again. When my spirit needs to be refreshed, when I’m longing for a love that surpasses human capacity, or when I’m doubting my qualifications as a representative of Christ, I find the most comfort out of these verses. I marvel at a Savior who reaches out to cradle me even as I’ve wronged Him.
Take a moment to absorb the magnitude of His all-consuming love for you. You don’t deserve it. Neither do I. But it’s ours for the taking if we’ll only receive it!!
Start Fresh Today
By now, I imagine you’re feeling at least a glimmer of hope that your messy and marred life-offering can be salvaged. With a renewed confidence in His love for you, you can boldly make your next move. If you really desire to present your body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, you’ve got to do some turning.
There’s a well-known story found in John 8 that describes Jesus’ reaction to the woman caught in the act of adultery. Her accusers were eager to carry out a death sentence. She must have felt panic and terror, but not a lot of hope for rescue. As Jesus silently wrote in the dirt, her denouncers began to leave, one by one. I wonder what went through her mind as she faced the Son of God. He could have justifiably handed down a myriad of punishments. Instead, He tells her she is not condemned. He says, “Go, and sin no more.”
Can’t you just picture the shock and relief that must have registered on the woman’s face as she felt the weight of her sin replaced with the freedom of forgiveness? What an amazing testament to the character of Jesus! Notice, though, His parting words: “sin no more.” He didn’t say, “Eh, it’s not that big of a deal to commit adultery.” He didn’t give her a free pass to keep on living her life the way she had been. He gave her a second chance to turn things around. An opportunity to change her ways. He expected that out of her and He also expects the same from us.
So how do we go about this turning away from sin business? It can be a daunting process, but it’s infinitely worth it! It might even look different in your life than it has in mine. In my experience, I have found five things that work:
1. Pray often. Daily. Come clean before your Heavenly Father. Praise Him. Ask for His forgiveness. Pour out your heart. Bare your soul. He knows it all anyway, but there’s something about having an honest conversation with God that brings healing and clarity. (1 Thess. 5:17)
2. Read the Word. Allow inspired truth to break down your defenses. Pursue Jesus. Let Him speak to you. Believe what He says. Hide His words in your heart. (Psalm 119:11)
3. Seek Counseling. Confide in a family member or trusted friend. Talk to a pastor. Find a professional if necessary. Turning requires healing.
4. Find Supportive Friends. Distance yourself from negative influences. Get to know someone new. Be brave. Don’t walk through this alone. Be accountable to someone you trust.
5. Serve Someone. Stop thinking about yourself all the time. Get your hands dirty. Be God’s hands and feet. Meet a need. Sacrifice your time. Do it with love.
None of us can change our past. We all face temptations daily on every level. We are weak. But God understands our limitations. He knows you and He meets you where you are. He will walk with you and give you strength that’s made perfect in your weakness. If you’re reading this and you don’t know what it is to succumb to sexual temptation, I say to you: keep doing your thing, girlfriend! God’s will for all of His children is that each of us choose a path of purity. It’s no small thing to accomplish, but with the Father’s help you can persevere. And daughter, I pray that as you walk your path you will not allow your past to define who you are. Give your future to the Redeemer, and turn towards Him with every fiber of your being. He IS faithful. He’s cheering you on, and so am I!
I’m writing this letter about twenty years early (or forty if your father has his way), but one day you will read these words and they will connect. They will mean something to you. What I need to tell you can be summed up in one word: WAIT.
Let me explain…
Yesterday I was resting in my favorite chair. It was about 5:00 pm, and I had been feeling under the weather all day. I sat and watched your daddy take stacks of folded clothes from the couch into our bedroom to put them away. Stacks that I folded two days ago and that I could have easily put away, but I hadn’t gotten around to it. He didn’t say anything; he just did it. He did it for me because he knew I needed help. And as I watched him, I had to fight back tears because I suddenly had this thought: “I hope Molly finds this some day.” And I think you will, if you can remember to wait. Wait on the guy who finishes your chores for you – who comes through in little ways to let you know he cares.
Wait on the man who looks you in your eyes and holds your gaze as he tells you you’re beautiful. Wait on the man who has a habit of telling you this when your hair is greasy, you’re makeup-free, and you’re wearing yesterday’s sweatpants. You’ll know he means it.
Wait on the man who gets up and goes to work. Wait for the guy who sacrifices in order to provide for his family. Wait for the guy who has a strong work ethic and takes pride in what he does. Wait for that man who dreams big and invites you to dream with him.
And when your dreams seem too big, too scary to ever come true, I hope you wait for the one who listens to your insecurities but then speaks truth into your heart and breathes confidence into your spirit. This man will bring you to tears by reading Proverbs 31 to you, telling you YOU’RE that woman, and believing it with every fiber of his being.
Wait for the man who thinks for himself – the man who stands apart from the masses unapologetically because he is rooted and grounded in God. Wait for the man who doesn’t need anyone’s approval. The man who teaches you how to be brave and courageous. The man who will fight for you and for what he believes in. Wait for this man.
Wait for the man who looks at the stars with you and ponders the mysteries of the heavens. Wait for the one who writes you poems…not all the time, but just enough to remind you how deeply his love for you goes. Wait for the man who buys you jewelry and flowers, but no stuffed animals (because that’s just cheesy)!
Wait for the man who makes you feel strong, capable, and worthy. Wait for the man who would never disrespect you. The right one will honor you even when he’s out of your presence. You wait on this man, and your heart will never doubt him.
Wait on the man who allows God to break him down and mold him into the man he’s meant to be. Wait on the one who has a calling to serve his Heavenly Father. Wait on the man who isn’t perfect, but who keeps pressing on, getting back up, and learning from his mistakes.
And finally, wait on the man who smacks your booty when he walks by, who hugs you for a full 60 seconds when you need him to, and who gives you amazing massages, even though you’re quite possibly the world’s worst masseuse and will never be able to repay him!!
My darling daughter, one of these days you will be wondering if it’s love and if some boy is the right one. My prayer is that your daddy will set such a high standard in your eyes, that you will never be tempted to settle for anyone less than who you deserve. Don’t get in a hurry to find love. Don’t feel pressured to give yourself away. WAIT. Wait on the Lord, and He will send you a man who is everything to you that your father is to me. God will grow the love between you as the years pass. Your patience will be rewarded.
(Check out Emily’s blog here)