How to Release the Burden of Self-Focus: Gazing at Jesus

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“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1

Are you burdened by a yoke of slavery?

So many of us are heavily enslaved. In fact, Paul makes it clear that we are all slaves. You are either a slave to righteousness or a slave to the flesh.

In many people’s minds, being a slave of righteousness basically translates to an anxiety-riddled life, full of empty religious duties, constant fault-finding in yourself, and lives heavily burdened by human-imposed rules.

But, surely, this is not the path to righteousness. There ought to be a way to free our minds from guilt and shame and to set us free to genuinely love Christ and follow His commandments out of that love for Him.

And, praise God–there is!

In Matthew 11:29-30, Jesus paradoxically reveals the freedom of being enslaved to righteousness: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus does indeed tell us to learn righteousness from Him, but it is only after laying our burdens of our own conceptions of righteousness and finding the freedom of simply hearing His words, trusting, and obeying. Instead of constantly analyzing your actions, let His grace sustain you and constantly push you forward into grateful acceptance of His love and eager desire for more of Himself.

After all, what kind of righteousness do we desire to seek? Is it the kind that gives glory to ourselves or glory to God?

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Matthew 6:33

So many people seem to seek first their own righteousness, failing to trust in the righteousness only given when we simply behold the glory of the Lord.

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” – 2 Corinthians 3:18

I can testify to the truth of this verse. It isn’t merely a beautiful passage, it’s a practical reality. When I remember to behold Christ in all His righteousness, holiness, kindness, and beauty, I unconsciously reflect what I behold. Christ is large in my life, and everything else looks dim in comparison. His power far surpasses any problems I face. His freedom sets me free from every chain that held me so strongly before. His love is all I know, and it is all I radiate to the rest of the world.

Beholding. Trusting. Abiding. Resting.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2

The Bible urges us to gaze upon Him, just as Peter gazed at Him as he walked towards his Rabbi on the water. This is the ultimate act of trust, to simply look at Jesus. I believe it goes along with what Jesus is talking about when He commands us to abide in Him.

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:4-5 (ESV)

Abiding in Jesus requires the eyes of your heart to be united with the character of Christ, just as fixing your eyes on Him brings a fellowship of loving who He is and becoming who He is all at once.

In fact, I truly think looking, trusting, and abiding in Jesus is what Hebrews is talking about when the author urges us to “strive to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:11 ESV). In Hebrews the author reveals that the way to enter the rest of God, is by believing. There’s no other way. Non-belief keeps you from experiencing the freedom that God promised us in Christ Jesus. It kept the Israelites from the promised land, and it keeps us from a beautiful fellowship with God. All God wants to do is shower His love on us, but we simply refuse to accept it, thinking it must be too good to be true.

Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the power of sin can be put to death, and we can have victory and freedom in a relationship with Jesus. In fact, the Bible says we can be “more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

Trying to take control of your religious life demonstrates that you do not believe that victory is found through Jesus alone. That’s like a thief or a robber trying to climb over the fence instead of going through the gate—that is, Jesus, the good Shepherd (see John 10). Only Jesus provides the “new and living way” by tearing apart the veil so we can enter the presence of God (Hebrews 10:20).

Trying to be in control of following God looks so good on the outside – you’re doing all the right things, you’re being generous and kind and dutiful – but in reality it’s being a slave to the fleshly desire of pride. Because if you have your hands all over everything, that means your eyes are all over yourself.

As an illustration of what I mean, this summer as I entered a discipleship program, I was very excited to grow in my faith in God. Or, perhaps, a better word would be earnest. Later on, God revealed to me that I was idolizing my growth. I was more focused on my growth than on Him. He showed me that the most important thing is to be with Him, and to enjoy Him in the present moment. He’ll take care of the growth part (see Philippians 2:13). Our job is simply to listen, trust, and obey.

If we try to follow what we think is right while staring at ourselves the whole way—even if in fact the action we are doing is what Jesus commanded us—are hidden motive is to bring glory to ourselves. But if we gaze at Jesus and in our wonder and love for Him find ourselves running after Him and enduring the race just as He endured the cross—our attentions are totally absorbed in Christ and are motives are entirely to bring glory to Him.

So how do you get out of self-focus and into freedom in your walk with Christ?

My simple answer: stop focusing on yourself.

My less-simple answer is: behold the glory of the Lord and have a soft heart to the changes He wants to make inside you.

“Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” – Psalm 51:2

Ask God to restore the joy of the salvation He has given you in Jesus Christ. It is all too easy to give into complacency about the miraculous gift of eternal life we have received! Once this joy has restored your mental health into fullness of life, ask Him for a willing spirit to naturally pull you through in your excitement and love for Jesus to obey His commands and give Him glory.

Following Jesus is the greatest joy. He sets you free from the yoke of slavery, which is often simply the burden of self-focus. He leads you into the freedom of self-denial, the peace of walking with Him, and the hope anchored in your soul for the future glory in heaven that far outweighs your present suffering.

So, forget about yourself and start looking at Him in all His glory and majesty and splendor. He is far too wonderful for you to waste your time getting your hands all over your life. Let Him take control. Let His beauty overwhelm you.

“Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” – Hebrews 13:15 (ESV)

He is so good! Rejoice continually at the salvation He has given you through Christ Jesus. Magnify His name, for He is awesome and powerful!

In the words of Paul: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Widen your eyes at His breathtaking-ness, and sing for joy at the tender, personal love of the Father. Turn you wailing into dancing! Salvation has come, justifying yourself completely so you do not need to focus on yourself anymore.

People are desperate for the true sacrificial love you of few people have experienced. Strive to enter the rest of God. Let His love flow through you into the lives of others, and you will never be the same again.

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Finding Freedom From the Fear of Man

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“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” – Proverbs 29:25

I want to be free.

I think each of us, deep down inside, longs for that. Whatever that means.

I am in a period of growth in my life, where God is stripping down so much of what I thought I needed and showing me that all I really need is Him. In reality, as much as I don’t like to admit it, I’ll be doing that for the rest of my life. I’ll never be strong and independent, I’ll always be desperately needy and dependent on Jesus.

God isn’t sanctifying us so we will be strong enough to not need Him, He is sanctifying us all the time, because we always need Him!

It’s hard to be free when we turn from God’s rich supply of grace and base our lives on people’s opinion on us. Many of us know the bondage of fearing men, instead of God. Being dependent on what people think of us, rather than what God thinks of us. Relying on people to determine our worth and value.

Why do we have this constant drive to be accepted by others? Why can’t we simply attach ourselves to our Creator and detach ourselves from others’ opinions of us?

I think because it is the quick and easy way to feel “safe.” They are right in front of our eyes, approving us, so what’s the big deal? Why find our security in anything else?

It’s a snare. It doesn’t set you free. If you enslave yourself to the opinions of others, as soon as someone disapproves of something you say or do, your self-esteem plummets to the earth like a crashing rocket. So much for finally being accepted. Now you feel humiliated, never able to “be yourself” again.

Whoa, hold on! Why do we care so much about what people think of us? It’s ridiculous. Even the people who have opinions of you don’t think so seriously about what they think of you. And the next day, maybe they’ll change their mind and see something about you so amazing that they tell everyone they know how great you are.

There are good and bad parts about yourself, but if you trust in Jesus, your core identity is not in what you do, but in Him. And He is perfect and deserving of the highest praise! Isn’t that incredible? God lavishes His love on you, even though you don’t deserve it! You are His child. That is something to fully embrace and never let go of. Dive into this blessed assurance, each and every day!

So, yes, people are gonna fail you. Your hunger for approval will never be satisfied in people. Let me say it again: Your hunger for approval will never be satisfied in people!

On the other hand, your hunger for approval will ALWAYS be satisfied when you come to Jesus. All because He made the way for God to totally and completely accept you when He died on the cross. And He offers Himself to us today for our hungry souls to feast on.

“Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’” – John 6:35

This is a promise from God that you will NEVER go hungry or thirsty when you come into the presence Jesus! And when God says NEVER, He means NEVER. He delights to fill you up. I know I have trouble remembering this and often turn to lesser things, but whenever I turn to Him and spend time with Him, He is faithful to overflow me with peace and joy.

In your time with Him, trust that He meets you where you’re at in your brokenness, and He loves you even there. Don’t be afraid of Him! He doesn’t despise a humble heart, and He shows kindness to people who only have a miniscule mustard seed of faith.

Let His Spirit guide you into prayer about anything that He brings to your mind. Pour your heart out to Him. Be honest. He loves you. I seriously challenge you to spend deep, meaningful time in His presence after reading this post (out in nature is my favorite!). Or right now, if you want (the sooner the better—He is always waiting for you!!)

As mind-blowing as it is, your identity is not in people’s opinions of you, but in Jesus Christ’s righteousness. WHO HE IS IS WHO YOU ARE, whether your actions reflect that or not. And believe me, your actions WILL reflect this when you put your full faith in Jesus. There’s no getting away from life-transforming grace when you get really truly blown away by the love of God and connect yourself to that one and only source of Life, Love, Joy, and Peace.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5

Once again this is a promise. If you remain in Jesus and He in you, you WILL bear much fruit. This isn’t dependent on your own effort, but on abiding in your relationship with God and letting Him transform you.

This past week God laid it on my heart that He was protecting me. He, in the midst of all the unknowns in life, is your Provider and Protector. He keeps you in safety. Trust in that beautiful promise. Meditate on it. Here is the verse from the beginning of this post again for you to dwell on:

“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” – Proverbs 29:25

That isn’t just a thing we Christians say–it’s a reality! The Lord is right there with you, keeping you safe. There is no need to try to protect your own dignity by winning the approval of others. No matter what people think about you, He always loves you, and His opinion is truly the only one that matters. He protects your dignity as His beloved child.

If you’re anything like me, you long for freedom from the fear of man. God longs for that for you too, for you to trust deep down inside that He is the good Shepherd taking care of you.

You don’t need to try to find your worth in people, or shy away from people because you think you could never be worthy enough for them to accept you. According to Him, you are worth dying for!

It is dangerous to find dignity in the ever-changing opinions of human beings. It is utterly safe to enter a social setting resting fully in God’s acceptance of you.

Today I pray God gives you the faith to believe He alone can satisfy, and the grace to experience the security and peace found in His presence. Because Jesus is the only way to be truly free.

He is Alive!

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Trust and receive.
Please.
Don’t let the doubts of whether you’re trusting the right way
Be the wall between you and His grace.
There’s no right way to trust–
It’s ok.
It’s ok if it’s as small as a mustard seed.
It’s ok if you keep messing up.
It’s not about what you can do
It’s about what He can do!
God gives us endless chances
If you’re willing to confess and to trust
And to truly receive.

Because receiving Jesus’ righteousness is what you get when you trust.
The cross kills your sin,
But because He is risen
Your life is not a whiff of dust,
But it’s one of victory.
Not just victory over things, but victory in things;
Victory in doing things
Not out of deathly, mundane obligation,
But out of the poured-out love that lives in you.
The joy to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly,
Because He first loved us.

Because He first loved us,
Trust and receive.
Please.
Don’t make up excuses like a teenager who finally realizes that life is pretty morbid without God.
Trust and receive
Like a child who finally realizes that life is pretty glorious with God.
Soon victory will be yours
The darkness within you will be overthrown.

So, please:
Trust and receive.
It’s never too late to start again.
I would say it a million times if I could:
It’s never too late to start again!

Trust and receive.
Don’t do it just once in a life
Or once a year or once a week.
Do it every day, every moment
You need His love and grace,
Or His truth to discern between right and wrong.
Do it every day, every moment
A crisis hits, a worry nags at you, or shame creeps up.
Whenever darkness threatens to triumph and to tell you lies—to tell you He died,
Trust and receive,
Because the truth is He is alive.

“’Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

A Message to The Hurting

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I want to address you, my dearest friends
The ones who hurt in ways beyond what I could ever understand.
You have experienced so much,
Wounds deeper than canyons,
Rejection shattering your trust,
Dreams left to waste.
Dignity stripped away; identity swallowed by shame.
Questions left unanswered.
Hearts that repeatedly break.

I don’t understand it all
And I can’t pretend to,
But I ache with you more than you know.
And there is One who aches for you far more than I do.
Dear friend, you are not alone.

Deep in the night when you cry,
When you stay up with your heart laid bare,
Broken,
Bleeding,
I could never be there for you in that moment;
But there is One who is and always will be
Reaching out to You.
He pleads for you, He beckons you
To come into His open arms.

This isn’t even that great of a poem but I’m just concerned right now with speaking from the depths of my heart.
All I really want is for you to know without a doubt that
He cares.
He cares for you, Beloved.
He cares about you, your pain, and your brokenness beyond your wildest dreams.
He’s an ocean of grace
So don’t be afraid to jump into it.
Receive the embrace He longs to give you.
Receive.
Release.
Rejoice.

He longs to hold you tenderly and sing over you;                                    To heal you completely, to forgive you regardless of this or that, to love you intensely.

My heart goes out to you tonight, whoever you are;
Don’t be ashamed!
God wants you to know you are His Beloved.
Your identity isn’t in what you do, but in His love for you.
Your identity isn’t in what’s been done to you,
But in His love for you.

Never say “but…”
Because He doesn’t see this or that.
He doesn’t see things the way you do.
Because of what Jesus did for you on that cross
Now He covers you.

The Lord
Completely covers you from head to foot with
Purity
Righteousness
Love
Grace
—That’s the bigger picture!

As soon as you realize You need Him
He doesn’t say “Oh, I forgot about you.”
He says, “I got you.”

The bigger picture is that
He loves you anyway.
He loves you.
Anyway.
Regardless.
Even though.
Nevertheless.

God isn’t who you think He is!
He sees that You are hurting.
He knows and sees you.
You don’t have to hide or fake that you’re all right.
He knows you’re not.
But if you release your control
And let Him hold you in His arms,
He promises you that
Everything will be all right.

He’s with you,
Even when you feel too broken to lift your face.
He’s there
Through even the ugliest, messiest moments
Loving you like you’re a beautiful treasure
Worth dying for.

And if this poem that isn’t much of a poem means anything at all to you,
Then when you’re finished with it
Talk to God about it.
About you.
About what’s really going on.

Lay your broken pieces honestly before Him,
And receive His love that
knows you fully
and cares for you
regardless of this or that.
He sees the bigger picture–
He sees you.

My dearest friends, He wants to heal you.
He is no stranger to pain.
He understands you far more than you understand yourself.
Lay it all before Him, and I promise–He will never fail you.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:15-16 (NIV)

P.S while this poem is addressed to those who hurt in especially deep ways, we all hurt at some level or another. the world is full of hurting no matter where you turn, and we are all desperately in need of healing–whether from sin, shame, guilt, fear, despair, anxiety, depression, or loss of trust. we all need to hear the simple words “I love you” and we all need Jesus to fill in where we are weak. let your pain, your needs, and your hunger be satisfied at the foot of the cross. have a blessed day, friends! ❤

An Eternal Romance

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“Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.” — Psalm 146:3

People often talk about marriage as if that is the highest goal in life. As if once you are joined with another soul you are finally complete. As if trusting fully in another person is the greatest thing to pursue.

A few weeks ago, I went to a conference that radically challenged me in my view of marriage and God. Do I truly believe my relationship with Him is the most beautiful, satisfying relationship that exists?

Do you?

While many of us may theoretically believe this, I don’t think most of us believe it so completely that it transforms our everyday lives.

Below is a common passage about marriage and our relationship with God:

“’For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” – Ephesians 5:31-32

I used to think—oh, come on Paul! Why do you have to talk about Jesus right now, all I want to know is how on earth should married people behave!

Well, I’ve come to realize that Paul is making a crucial point. The relationship between husband and wife is merely a reflection of the greater reality—Christ and the church. That means that Christ and the church are united as one flesh, just as the Father and Son are one. When you believe in Jesus, you have entered into an eternal covenant with Him, and one day you and I will dine at the wedding feast with our dear Bridegroom, the Lamb of God, who has taken away the sins of the world!

Our relationship with God is certainly not like earthly romance. No, it’s even better (I’m not kidding). It’s an eternal romance, more satisfying than any other relationship we will ever experience.

And the best part is? Eternity starts now.

While our culture glorifies passion, sex, and romance, what we are really longing for is God Himself. As G.K. Chesterton said, “Every time a man knocks on a brothel door, he is really searching for God.”

We shouldn’t waste our time putting our trust in earthly princes or princesses. Human beings cannot save. They can’t save us from our loneliness. They can’t save us from our aching hearts. They can’t save us from our need to feel loved.

Really, truly, absolutely. God can fill this hole inside our hearts, and He will if we simply let Him. In His presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11).

Despite all the hype about marriage, there isn’t any marriage in heaven, as Jesus said:

“At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” – Matthew 22:30

Marriage won’t matter after we die, so why are we spending our whole lives planning the day we trust in a spouse rather than right now choosing to trust in our Eternal King?

The relationship between husband and wife is a beautiful sacrament that reminds us of how beautiful the day will be when we meet Jesus face to face. It is good and honorable to marry, but just the same it is good and honorable to love others. Love friends, love family, love strangers, love God. All of this reflects the love of God, just as marriage does.

Whether or not you’re married or you will one day married, please, right now, make much of Christ. Make much of your romance with Him and less of your romance with people. Make much of your purity in Him and less of your passion with other people. Make much of your hopes in Him and less of your hopes in human beings who fail to satisfy.

Because He’s worth it. I can’t promise you anything, but He can promise you everything, and He does, over and over again in His word.

I read Psalm 146:3 last night, letting it sink into me as I turned my affections completely to Christ. When I read further, I grew more in awe of the God who is nowhere near to being a frail human incapable of saving us. He is the God who saves:

“Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
The Lord reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord.” Psalm 146:3-10

The Lord reigns forever; human beings do not. Who are you entrusting with the happiness of your soul? Only God can bear the weight of it, and fill your heart with total comfort.

My favorite song at the conference completely sums up what I learned there. After vainly striving after the things of this world, I always find my rest in God, because “to be with Him” is where I truly belong.

Produce

I look inside myself

And find the whole earth

Consuming

Every tree, every bush, every twig

On the ground.

 

Like fire

Each one of us wants

To be fed.

We won’t stop

Until there’s nothing left,

Until we’re alone

And we’ve set fire to the whole earth,

Until we can never give birth

To anything that will last.

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