Not long ago, I saw a report stating that the average person who considers him or herself a Christian has never read the entire Bible even once. My jaw dropped as I read this several times. Then I remembered that I wasn’t always who I am today in Christ. There were many years when I was in church, but church wasn’t in me. Ouch. So as I pondered my responses to this week’s discussion questions, my overall thought was, “Thank God for a Bible!”
This week’s discussion questions were as follows:
1. Have you ever experienced trials that were best dealt with "in the family" for either your reputation’s sake or God’s? You may still choose to leave them there, but you are welcome to share if you are comfortable.
2. Have you ever found yourself in a bizarre circumstance and later were able to walk someone through the same/similar situation? Did you recognize the hand of God in it?
3. I was in my late twenties before I ever let myself believe God was for me instead of waiting to smack me upside the head every time I made a mistake. Do you truly believe God is on your side?
4. If God has ever had you in the Holy Spirit Chokehold (and who hasn’t He?), how have you reacted to God’s chastisement? Were you bitter? Brokenhearted? Grateful?
5. Write a brief prayer of Thanksgiving for God’s longsuffering.
The first question reminded me so much of what I consider to be, spiritually at least, my “wayward years” during college while many miles away from home. I became the essence of the CME church-goer—attending only Christmas, Mothers’ Day, and Easter. Each new academic year I would recommit to attending each Sunday, which would last just about as long as the pleasant weather. My commitment to church was weather-dependent, and likened itself to my commitment to the things of God—hot for a season, then ice cold. So then, regarding #2 above, I found myself in plenty of circumstances that weren’t so bizarre. They were pretty much the result of a lifestyle that had definitely gone south from what I knew at that point (which wasn’t necessarily a lot—part of my problem) about God. Since then, my mess has become my message, my tests are now my testimony, and I’ve been able to speak very candidly to numerous young women about living a life that pleases the Lord, including my oldest daughter.
I was probably in my early thirties before I truly embraced this idea that God wasn’t a punisher, or at least, that isn’t all He is. I alluded to my own religious upbringing earlier, and I emphasize “religious” as opposed to Christian. I grew up as I believe many of us grow up as Christians, learning a lot about rules and not much about relationship. Also, I don’t remember mercy and grace abounding in our home, so my view for many years, even after I began to grow in Christ, was that I was undeserving of the “good side” of God. Any blessing in our favor I considered a trickle, never allowing myself to embrace the idea of overflow. So having said all of this, my “Holy Spirit chokeholds” would at one time leave me feeling like I got what I deserved, but not bitter. Would I ever get it right? Now that I understand much better His grace, His forgiveness, and the scriptures about no condemnation and being a new creature, the “chokeholds” leave me consistently grateful. In fact, they don’t feel like chokeholds at all—just a tap on the shoulder that I made a wrong turn and need to make an appropriate adjustment.
My prayer (not necessarily regarding longsuffering, but the meditations of my heart regarding this lesson):
Dearest Father, what a privilege it is to know You. What a great peace it is to understand that there is no depth to which we can sink that Your love isn’t deeper still. I am amazed at the fact that I can do something You can’t do: remember my many, many sins. I thank you for the love that found me when I wasn’t lovable, and for the people and situations You’ve consistently placed in my path to teach me Your ways. I pray in all things to stay close to You, to grow in You, and to be able to share You with the lost and the found that surround me. I will always treasure Your words as they are life to me. Amen.