Sowing Self-Sacrifice and Reaping Rewards
My husband and I are counting calories. I have a neat little calorie tracker app called MyFitnessPal. I weigh and log in what I eat, I meal plan based on what percentages of protein, fat and carbs I want to consume. It's a very structured way to nourish yourself, and requires a lot of discipline and follow-through (not my strong point!) and yet for all the difficulty, you actually get nourished. Like, you actually get all those nutrients your body needs. The protein works to build your muscles, and since you consume less fat, you lose some weight, too.
There's so much to gain from eating healthy that it seems like a no-brainer. And yet, the truth is that it requires a lot of sacrifice. Some days I'm pumped to do it, and other days, I'd give anything for a slice of stuffed-crust pizza or a sugary treat. And here's the thing. On those days when it's hard, I find myself slipping into something I'm not proud of. I can't out and out ditch my "healthy eating plan" because then I'd be betraying my husband, who I have committed to do this with, and really start to pack on the pounds.
But I can cut corners. I'll add a heaping, heaping tablespoon of sugar and log just one tablespoon. I'll eyeball a cup of mashed potatoes instead of measuring it out, just so I can get away with a little more. I'll start to be tempted to fudge the numbers on the measurements so that at the end of the day, my calories look good and I can feel like I met my goal.
That's ridiculous, you say. Illogical. You can input whatever you want; you're still going to be gain weight or have an unhealthy balance of nutrients. You're not gaining anything by doing that.
That's where you're wrong. I am actually gaining something, something quite important to my human nature. I'm getting a nice, warm feeling of accomplishment when I look at my app at the end of the day. And yes, I CAN push the twinge of guilt to the back of my mind and just plain forget about it; that is, until the scale shows otherwise. You can too.
Because we're human and we have that amazing capability to not only consciously lie to ourselves, but to believe ourselves with conviction.
Lying to yourself about calories is a little thing; but we lie to ourselves about much more important things all of the time. I can go a step further and explain why we do this. The deepest seed of sin is the desire to replace God with myself. It's self-worship, exaltation of the ego, a self-deceived pride that says we deserve to be enthroned higher than the Creator who made us and make decisions for ourselves. Of course, all this is deep, deep down inside us and not admissible.
What it translates to on the surface is the fact that we are on a perpetual mission to build a story about ourselves that says that our decisions are good.
That we are doing great. That our self-autonomy and the choices we are making for ourselves and our lives are going to lead to our happiness, because we are powerful and in control of our own outcome.
Oh, The Stories We Tell
So it happens that we tell ourselves stories. Our minds interpret every single thing that happens to us through the lens of how does this make me look good? How does this prove that I'm okay, that I have nothing to worry about, that I'm going to end up great? How does this bring me glory and admiration from those around me? How does this justify my behavior and prove that I'm not upside down in my thinking, wrong to my core, totally depraved?
Of course, I'm talking about the ways our mind works when we are in the flesh. As God's children, we are free to think otherwise. But let's sit with this mindset for a moment longer. When I give myself that satisfying feeling of accomplishment with my calorie tracker, I'm building a story. It's a false story. There are the facts, and then there is my fanciful interpretation of the facts which is my happy story that I am telling myself. Self-deception is such an integral part of sin, the illusion and our motivation to maintain it so powerful, absolutely nothing can undeceive us from it except God's Spirit or the cold, hard slap of reality.
My calorie tracking example is a small, insignificant one. The cold, hard slap of reality, in that case, would be getting on the scale and realizing that my story that I'm "losing weight" or "doing fine" does not reflect the true, inflexible number glowing before my eyes. Of course, if I was insane, or utterly stubborn, I could continue with my story and say the scale must be broken, my eye must deceive me, etc.
It's easy to see our insanity with neutral things, like losing weight. It becomes infinitely harder when sin is introduced.
Here's the crux of my message this week. Following God involves sacrifice. Personal sacrifice. Painful sacrifice. Unpleasant, draining, costly, utterly personal sacrifice. Why, Abraham himself, the father of all believers, was asked to offer up his only son. Accepting that God is your Savior implies He is your Sovereign. Your King. Our concept of kings is dim nowadays; in the past, it would have been instantly understood that a king must be obeyed, without question. That means that if God is your King, He can command you to do anything, give up anything, and you will do it.
We nod our heads. We agree with this, easily. I do, too. I sing about it in worship song after worship song. And yet, when it comes to the sacrifice that our King asks, we begin to slip into a dangerous thing. We begin to fudge the story. The things God asks are difficult, especially when we are standing in the old flesh and looking out at the holiness God asks for, forgetting we can step into the new flesh. Wait, God is asking me to wake up in the morning and pray and read my Bible? Uhm. He's asking me to go to church every single Sunday? I mean - every Sunday? I'd like the occasional relaxing weekend. The pastor is telling me I should serve God's people by getting involved in a ministry? I would, but I'm so overwhelmed already with life stuff. I have a new baby, after all.
Ladies, God asks us to dress differently than what we see on Instagram. Like, not post pictures of our backside in a wedged-up bikini bottom. Even those of us who are super fit and would get a LOT of likes and admiring comments. God asks us to not get drunk. Yep, it's right there in Scripture. He asks us to not get drunk, even though our friends don't seem to be concerned with that and are going to a club Friday evening and that would mean staying home and doing nothing. God asks us to not have sex before marriage. Even though we're engaged and we're going to do it anyways so it makes no logical sense why. God asks us to not spend all our money on expensive clothes, but to think also of those who are in need. Does He understand what kind of a person I am and how I need to have those *insert brand and item* to keep up my image? (Not saying it's bad to buy expensive clothes!! I'm referring to directing ALL your resources to that). Along those lines, God asks me to not work on Sundays. Does He understand that I need money to sustain my lifestyle? To pay for my car, my phone?
And those are the big, obvious things; at least, things I think most of us find relatively easy to avoid. Here are some of the little things that absolutely kill me in the moment. God asks me, when my husband has done something infuriating and flaming anger is revving up my razor sharp tongue to give him a PIECE of my mind, to close my mouth in humility, to bear with him. To forgive. God asks me to not be anxious about anything, even though I'm moving to a different country, to a difficult community, for two long years. God asks me to not gossip about my sisters and brothers in Christ even when they are doing something that is aggravating me and building bitterness in me. God asks me to pray every morning. I don't know why it's so incredibly hard, but it is. God asks me to be disciplined in how much time I spend on social media. Kill me. God asks me to go to a social event and spend my time thinking of how other people are feeling and enjoying it, ask them questions about themselves, instead of somehow managing to be the center of attention. God asks me to not complain. To not criticize. To not put down others to make myself look better.
I could go on and on.
The point is, God asks us to sacrifice things that are important to us for what is important to Him. Our temptation is to start to tell ourselves a story. We continue to keep the things that are precious to us close to our hearts, but we tell ourselves we're following God.
We begin to craft a story that says we can sit comfortably in the middle. We may not be the best Christians ever, but we're certainly not the worst. We may be making some mistakes, but God is graceful to forgive. We may not end up getting the biggest reward in heaven, but as long as we're okay with that, who cares? We can make that decision for ourselves.
And truly, we often don't even think that far or that in detail. We just quietly tell ourselves we're doing okay, and that's that.
Do Not Be Deceived
There's a passage in the Bible that cuts through my crap pretty quickly when I fall into this. It goes like this:
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
G A L A T I A N S 6 : 7 - 8
You guys, we can tell ourselves whatever story we want. To confess, I constantly am telling myself that I'm praying enough, that I'm not on Instagram too much, that I'm being supportive of Nate, that I'm not doing things for personal gain/glory. And I can do that. No one's necessarily going to stop me. But God is not mocked.
My interpretation of the facts might pacify my conscience, placate my emotions in the moment, but the facts won't change. The principles of this world that God has laid down won't shift for my personal, fabricated "truth."
If I eat too much, I'll be unhealthy. If I don't do the spiritual disciplines, I won't grow spiritually. If I don't exercise my spiritual muscle by obeying in hard situations, I won't be spiritually strong. If I sow to the flesh, I won't reap blessings. Instead, as the Bible tells me, I will reap corruption.
And yes, Christians can and do sow to the flesh, unfortunately. That's why I'm writing this post; because I have done it, and will probably do it again. Because we all have. The hope is that, by God's grace, we will do it less and less and become more and more authentic in our declaration that Christ is our King. Because the thing about sowing to the flesh is that nothing good can come of it.
Please, please, take this as God's truth. You cannot sow to the flesh and expect blessing. You cannot invest in this life, in yourself, and expect good things to come to you. You CANNOT change your reality by creating your truth. There is no such thing. There are only the facts, and your false, or true, interpretation of them.
I've never been really disciplined. Not physically, not with my time, not with my money. Being this way, I've always held a certain kind of personality, very different from mine, in deep admiration. To explain a little bit about how I function, I have a lot of big ideas, creative thoughts, exciting adventures, strong passions, fleeting interests. I'm all over the place; you can liken my mind to a beehive with bees buzzing in and out in swarms at all hours (It's stressful!). I start with a ton of enthusiasm and then don't have a lot of follow-through. Even my body is high energy and then super tired. So I've always admired people that are slow, steady and measured. Calm people, that can contain their emotions, think thoughts one at a time, make hard decisions and faithfully stick to them. People with astute minds that can see far into the future and invest their time, energy, and money wisely. These kinds of people have the capability of reading book after book about investing their money and diversifying their assets. They further their education. They can dependably work at the same job for years and years, working their way up the ladder, socially and career-wise. They make shrewd business decisions and prudent life choices so that they can retire early and have the time and carefully allocated resources to live at a luxurious living standard.
Here's the thing. Even these people, whom I admire so much for the perspicuity of their judgement and the dogged reliability of their character, can fail to see further than this life. It's a crazy thing. They're looking to make something of themselves or gain something for themselves and they have the patience and foresight to deny themselves pleasures now so that they can enjoy the rewards later. They are the kids in the experiment that knew not to eat the one marshmallow in the moment because they were promised two later on.
They comprehend the principle of delayed gratification. They know all about sowing and reaping. And yet, even though they are Christian, they only look as far as this life.
They only look on the plane of this world, at securing themselves comfort and security on earth. They don't think that the greatest good is spiritual blessing; they don't think that the greatest status how close you can get to to Jesus. I wonder what happens to their good judgement in this case? Why does it suddenly disappear?
It comes back to the stories we tell ourselves. We know the greatest good is knowing Christ and partaking in spiritual blessings. We know we should be investing in the kingdom. But in our flesh, we don't truly believe it. Not enough to put our money where our mouth is. Not enough to put our time, energy, resources, physical strength, into play. Not to INVEST in that belief. So we tell ourselves whatever we tell ourselves to make us feel like we are okay. That we are doing enough.
And often, the better we actually do in this life, the more comfortable we are with our story, because we've proven it to be true. We have created the best outcome for ourselves with the work of our own hands.
That's only true, though, if life ends at the grave.
This post is not preaching at anyone in particular. If anything, I'm preaching to myself. I'm constantly in this war to step out of the flesh and actually sow to the Spirit. It's also directed to those who are in obvious ways sowing to the flesh and self-deceiving that everything will turn out okay. But I do beg that even if you aren't obviously sowing to the flesh, in big ways like stealing or committing adultery, that you analyze your life and see if there are any stories you are telling yourself. And I also beg that if you have found yourself in any way in these words, that you seek God's help in re-aligning to Scripture and living a life that is to the Spirit.
If nothing else moves you, think of your kids. Obviously, you may not have some, but I do want to say a word to those who do. Having Emory has changed everything. When it was just me, or just Nate and me, it wasn't as big of a deal in my mind. I'd do something fleshly and think, well, I'll just take the consequences. After all, I can face up to my own decisions.
But Emory. She's my biggest concern, now. She's a part of my story, and she's a part of my harvest. What I sow, what I reap, will affect her. Heck, what I sow, I might be sowing directly into the soil of her heart. She might be the one to reap the consequences of my bad decisions.
I'm not willing to gamble with her life - that things will turn out all right even if I'm living in the flesh. She has made the stakes incredibly higher for me; she has made my responsibility to seek spiritual blessing and live a life that pleases God incredibly weightier.
Parents, we literally invest a lifetime into our kids. I deeply, deeply want all of us to raise children that fear God, are spiritually healthy, are useful for God's kingdom, experience God's favor and blessings. It starts with us. We are sowing, and we are sowing not only for ourselves, but for our kids. They have absolutely no control over what we do for them, spiritually, how we invest for them, spiritually, what kind of a spiritual inheritance we gather and store, for them. They are absolutely dependent on our decisions as parents.
That thought strikes the fear of God into my very heart, in the best of ways. I wish that I would sow to the Spirit purely out of love for God; but I am grateful that in His grace, He has given me this other love that motivates me so powerfully, too.
In Due Season We Will Reap
It comes down to being authentic. Not saying we're authentic, but being authentic. To being REAL truth-seekers, no matter how hard it may be to look truth in the face.
To really being willing to look at the uncomfortable facts about ourselves and our failings. That we are completely sinful in our flesh and need to constantly rely on the Spirit. It comes down to the willingness to have delayed gratification, spiritually. To actually sacrifice for God.
Here are the next two verses in the same passage we read earlier:
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
G A L A T I A N S 6 : 9 - 10
In due season, we will reap if we do not give up. It takes faith to believe that, and it takes faith to believe that what we reap - closeness to God, spiritual blessings - will satisfy our hearts more richly than anything else could. The Bible adjoins us: let us not grow weary of doing good.
One of my all-time favorite hymns stands out to me because it brings me such peace to even contemplate getting to this point. I could quote just the refrain, but I want to leave the whole hymn here so that you can let the words, so much more eloquent and succinct than my own, sink into your heart and so that perhaps the Spirit can work through them as you meditate.
My prayer is that all our lives reflect the words of this beautiful hymn, that we reap an abundance of spiritual blessing.
Is Your All On The Altar?
Elisha A. Hoffman
You have longed for sweet peace, And for faith to increase, And have earnestly, fervently prayed; But you cannot have rest, Or be perfectly blest, Until all on the altar is laid.
Refrain: Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid? Your heart does the Spirit control? You can only be blest, And have peace and sweet rest, As you yield Him your body and soul.
Would you walk with the Lord, In the light of His word, And have peace and contentment alway? You must do His sweet will, To be free from all ill, On the altar your all you must lay.
Oh, we never can know What the Lord will bestow Of the blessings for which we have prayed, Till our body and soul He doth fully control, And our all on the altar is laid.
Who can tell all the love He will send from above, And how happy our hearts will be made; Of the fellowship sweet We shall share at His feet, When our all on the altar is laid.
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