by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project
“He has brought me to his banquet hall,
And his banner over me is love.” Song of Solomon 2:4 (NASB)
The wedding and reception between the Bridegroom and His bride is soon upon us. This is my study of such a love shared and fought over in the mind of the embattled disciple’s struggle to be disciplined in thought and consistent deed as that day approaches.
I have written that perhaps my biggest conflict living by faith in what God will do for me in this life is that of unworthiness. I believe God for my salvation in relationship with Christ Jesus, which is the biggest miracle of all for each and every one of us, but I am challenged to believe God for what I want in this life. You see, I need salvation, justification, sanctification and all that. And God will bless me with what I need. But what I want is another story entirely; even if what I want appears to be consistent with God’s calling on my life.
When it comes to what I think of myself and my God-given ability to answer what I believe to be God’s calling on my life, I am up to the challenge… the calling… ready for the big thing that God has for me along this journey in ministry. But when it comes to my carnal flesh and the things that dance merrily in my head, well… there is no way that God can bless me and be true to Himself. And if He can, there is no way that He will.
I am in no way worthy of the full compliment of blessing! Believers blessed by God are humble faithful servants living wholesome obedient righteous lives… the life that God intends for those that claim to love God heart, soul, mind, and strength; loving their neighbors as they love themselves. That’s not me. I am way too selfish.
I know it! God knows it!
Sounds like the victorious Christian life, doesn’t it?
I have had countless meaningful faith-driven experiences in my life with Jesus. He is so good to me and to my family. My wife loves the Lord. I have three awesome sons and two young grandsons that love their “grammy” and “grampy”. Last year included a time of adversity for me and my family beyond anything we could have imagined and God brought us through it, as He clearly informed me in advance that He would through tangible indication that had no other explanation except that it was all in His hands.
But how quickly I forget. I want more; and I want it according to my plan in my time. And considering the nature and objective of the plan, God should want it for me. While there have been some indicators along the way that this vision I have—that I believed was God inspired—is actually going somewhere, it hasn’t happened yet… at least, not the way I envisioned it… and I’m not getting any younger.
The only logical conclusion to be drawn from these unfulfilled dreams is that I am not worthy of that kind of blessing. That has to be it!
What does it mean that I am not worthy of blessing into God’s best for me? If that were true, what it would mean is that I am not worth it to be blessed into God’s best. That, however, has already been proven not to be the case. God sent His best in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the steepest price possible as a ransom in exchange for my life. He has already blessed me into His best. What’s wrong with me not to be content with that?
Once for All
1 The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. 2 If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.
3 But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. 4 For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 That is why, when Christ came into the world, he said to God,
“You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings. But you have given me a body to offer.
6 You were not pleased with burnt offerings or other offerings for sin.
7 Then I said, ‘Look, I have come to do your will, O God—as is written about me in the Scriptures.’”
8 First, Christ said, “You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings or burnt offerings or other offerings for sin, nor were you pleased with them” (though they are required by the law of Moses). 9 Then he said, “Look, I have come to do your will.” He cancels the first covenant in order to put the second into effect. 10 For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. Hebrews 10:1-10 (NLT)
Scripture informs us in a few places that God does not really want our sacrifice, He desires obedience. It is both a blessing and a curse for me due to my warped thinking. The blessing is that God is not all that impressed with my sacrifice anyway, so why stress over that. However, an obedient routine and lifestyle is paramount to the normal Christian life. Does this mean that God doesn’t particularly care if I fast when I pray? Not necessarily. If my fast is lost in willful disobedience then it is entirely ineffective… meaningless. (I say willful disobedience in the sense that I might take on a God-will-forgive-me-anyway approach to wrestling with before succumbing to temptation without much of a fight.)
The Best Blessing
That is a question, alright. God has already given me His best so that I can rest in the assurance of my salvation, yet I admit that I struggle to believe that I am worthy enough (if there is such a thing) to experience much personal blessing in this life on earth. God has chosen me to serve and live for Him. He has gifted me with the ability and, dare I say, talent to reach those lost and bound in sin addiction with a message of recovery that makes so much sense to them. When I sin, I believe I am forgiven in the merciful grace that saves me for eternity but that I have to pay the price for my disobedience; that price being withheld blessing.
To convince myself that I am not worthy of the lesser or lower blessing compared to the blessing of Christ’s sacrifice and the Spirit of God living in me, is to convince myself that I am not worth it—not worth everything that Christ has already done for me. Have you ever give someone a gift and they insist that they cannot accept it and will not receive it? Or if they finally do so, it is with reluctance and it’s almost like they are mad at you for feeling forced to receive such a wonderful gift?
How did you, or do you, feel about that?
When someone expresses a kind of unworthiness about accepting such a generous gift from you—generous in the fact that you were so happy and passionate about offering such a gift—it can sour the relationship. It doesn’t taste right. I wonder how God feels when we are reluctant to receive from Him to the point that we doubt and, in our doubt, become resistant to receiving from THE gift-giver. It’s like the gift-giver has given me a brand new mansion to live in (way beyond what I can afford) and he has offered to furnish this huge house. It is as if I were to say, “Thank you for this beautiful home but I am not worthy of its furnishings.” How much sense does that make? How am I worthy enough to accept the house, and willing move in and live in it, but I am not worthy of the furniture? Again, how does that make any sense at all?
A Love Story
The context of what King Solomon penned (“His banner over me is love”) is the love story for all time; the chase that is the bridegroom in hot pursuit of His bride. In relationship with Jesus Christ, we have entered into marriage with Him. We are in covenant with Him; a blessed covenant that is a holy union.
This is both liberating and haunting for me. I am set free in the love of my Savior Christ Jesus while at the same time held captive by what to me are failed expectations (His for me) due to my habitual disobedient thinking and behavior that I allow to rob me of the fullness of His blessing in my life.
Being honest with you, I don’t altogether believe that my feeling unworthy to experience the wealth of God’s blessing is a lie of Satan or the truth about my rebellion. I am surrendered to a point in my recovery from sin into the Christian life, but like the parable of the rich young ruler, I am not sure that I have sold out and bought in entirely to the surrendered life. I believe in it as the precept for experiencing the transformed life, but does my lifestyle choices reflect what I say I believe?
What obstacles do I put in the way of what is best and right in relationship with Jesus (the bridegroom)? How am I distracted from doing what is pleasing to Him? How am I unfaithful in my relationship with Him?
My relationship with the Bridegroom is intolerant of placing others before Him. He does not find favor with licentious fantasies and/or lifestyle choices and will not be mocked. Yet somehow I will engage my imagination in a reality that does not exist; where apparently God does not exist. Because if He did exist there, I would fear Him there as well.
For we are each responsible for our own conduct… Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant… Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. Galatians 6:5, 7, 8a (NLT)
These are words from the Bible that occasionally haunt me. I am at times ashamed about the thoughts I allow to live rent-free in my head. These things that I think and do run contrary to the life I really want to live as a man who truly loves God and is at peace when living obediently in the will of God. When I fail in disobedience contrary to the will of God, I struggle to trust in the promised blessing from God in relationship with Jesus. I hate engaging in this conflict.
14 The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Romans 7:14-24 (NLT)
The fact that I am in conflict engaging in disobedient thinking and behavior is the act of God’s Spirit convicting me of my sin; the sin between my ears. If I am not in real relationship with Christ, I can all but guarantee that there is no inner conflict or internal disagreement between what I know to be right and good and what I feel I want or perceive that I need in those moments.
The Apostle Paul wrote that this the internal struggle between what I agree intellectually that God can do in my life and the emotional doubt about what God will do. When emotion drives intention there is the tendency to settle for ‘good enough’ since it is better than it was, and then commit acts of disobedience contrary to the purpose of God. When I am trusting God with confidence that He is in control of my life with the best of intentions for me, I am motivated to drive down that road.
I have not forgotten a conversation I had with the late great Robert Schmidgall (Senior Pastor, Calvary Church, Naperville, IL until 1998) some twenty years ago. He told me about a very important wealthy man who was hiring a driver and asked this question to the applicants: How close can you drive to the edge of the cliff without going over it? The first two applicants boasted of their driving ability and the skillful approach and technique that goes into hugging the edge of the cliff while driving the man to his destination on time. The third candidate spoke of how he would not go anywhere near the edge of the cliff, staying as close to the mountain as he can, and taking as much time as necessary to get the man to his destination. Guess who got the job?
The mountain in this case is the life that God intends for me in relationship with Jesus. The mountain is the relationship I have with God. Key to this relationship is fellowship with God. The road is my journey through this life. On the other side of the cliff is the life without Jesus and everything that comes when I lose my way and drive over the edge of the cliff. Driving off the cliff would mean falling out of fellowship with God. If driving on the edge means risking fellowship in relationship with Jesus, how close to the edge of the cliff do I want to be driving in relationship to the mountain?
The mountain also represents the love of God. How close to the edge of the cliff do I want to be driving, distancing myself from feeling loved by God? Even the edge of the cliff is still a part of the mountain where I experience God’s love, but why drive so close to the edge, putting this transformative experience at risk?
This beautiful love affair we have in relationship with Jesus is made possible because He first loved us. What does this mean?
7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, (then) you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted! 8 When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father.
9 “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me. 16 You didn’t choose me. I chose you. John 15:7-16 (NLT)
Let me be frank with you. As I am writing, not until now did I plan to use this passage from the Gospel of John. And not until I used it just now did I fully realize the impact it would have on me until right now, around 2:30 a.m. on Saturday night. This incredible promise is just what the doctor ordered for this beleaguered soul who has been plagued by a heavy sense of unworthiness in the call to deliver this message to you.
To suggest that I am not worthy of this calling is to suggest that I am not worth any of it, including my salvation in the first place. God will call those whom He deems worthy whether or not I entirely believe it. “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you,” speaks to relationship not perfection. The relationship between Jesus Christ and this servant is not dependent on my condition before Him. This relationship works and the work is productive and effective because of His condition in relationship with me. He is righteous and perfect and I am righteous and perfected because of who He is in this relationship. I believe in Him and I am His disciple and He considers me His friend in the context of the mission. In the context of the family, I am His son, and in the context of the Kingdom, I am among His bride.
We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:9-12 (NIV)
While it is my responsibility to pursue right living through obedience in my daily Christian life of recovery from sin, it is not my place to judge myself unworthy of His calling on my life. God looks upon me and He sees the righteousness of Christ. It is in that righteousness that I am qualified to be blessed by God as He sees fit, regardless of how I feel about it. It is through that lens that He encourages my soul and empowers my spirit to forge on to endeavor in the work of spreading this gospel however He sees fit that I do it.
I cannot earn my stead in the economy of God’s kingdom. How ever the favor of God shines upon me it isn’t by way of anything I did to earn it. I am called to bear fruit for the enrichment of the kingdom from a heart of love for those in need of mercy, peace, joy, and rest. Not because I am a slave in debt to my master, but as free, delighting in the new life in relationship with my friend Jesus in the work of a common purpose; that which I understand in my deepest sensibilities must be accomplished; and motivated by love for those in need of the same provision given to me.
There are chosen servants around the world martyred, not so much for their faith, but for the work they are doing to advance the kingdom of God. They take the stand to choose delighting in the favor of God over that of man in a way that is noticed by enforcers of the laws of the land (both written and unwritten) and they pay dearly for it; persecuted for His name’s sake. Compelled by the work, regardless of cost, in certain parts of the world, can cost the worker everything in this life. The greater reward isn’t experienced here in this life. There is an anticipated eternal reward that cannot be measured.
Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Psalm 37:4 (NLT)
Transformed by a renewed mind in relationship with Christ (Romans 12:2), I am thinking differently with the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2), with new (His) desire and motivation, able to discern finite human reasoning from infinite spiritual reason. Don’t get me wrong, it is there that lies the conflict for me. I feel a strong sense of guilt, regret and remorse over things that in my human reasoning ordinarily meet with thoughts of entitlement with reasonable justification for entertaining and acting on those thoughts and feelings. But operating in the context of the new life with new and much improved desires and motivations adjusting my perception of what I need, I can more effectively discern the plans of God as they conflict with my selfish motivations. So the more I trend toward choosing to indulge in my selfishness, the more I feel wrong and unclean about it; writhing in a prevailing sense of unworthiness to even be called by God to do anything.
Now there’s a word… discern. ‘Discern’ is defined by Miriam-Webster as “to detect with the eyes”; “to detect with senses other than vision”; “to recognize or identify as separate and distinct”; “to come to know or recognize cognitively”; which adds up to “to see or understand the difference.”
For me, to discern is to be able to do the math; solve the equation. It is disseminating intellectual sensibility while taking into account emotional response to circumstance and experience, and drawing some kind of conclusion. To be involved in the plan of God is to willingly engage in the pursuit of God’s best for my life, motivated to produce fruit through the extension and expansion of the love of God through humble service. It is there that I experience intrinsically the transformed life. So how is it that God has preserved and enriched my life to the extent that He has already, yet I walk around in the hesitation of what God will do for me when to God it is the “lesser blessing”?
So here’s the deal. For me and for anyone else out there that can relate to this, God sent His only Son as the only mandated sacrifice qualified to rescue and deliver us from our sin and sinful condition. In relationship with God through relationship with His Son, we have acknowledged my sin through confession, turning from sin through repentance, believing that only the sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient to be free from sin. We have been declared worthy to become sons and daughters of the living God of the entire universe. As sons and daughters of God, we have been promised the inheritance, which is the best of who God is and what He owns, which is everything. It is His desire and His plan to bless each of His sons and daughters into His best.
Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Romans 8:32 (NLT)
I’m well aware that the point’s been made for some time and now I am droning on and on about this. It’s just so important! Please receive it.
Rejoice in the day that the Lord has made. Let me say it again; rejoice!
Why? Well… Because I am worth it! At least that’s what I read in the Word of the Living God.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)