Deep Renewal

I sat at work in the local homeless shelter, and heard a measure of disbelief present in the voices of two women recounting their experience as “new” members of a Sunday school class at a local church.

I was nervous, but felt so welcome. They bought us lunch. They all seem to have it together, yet they didn’t bat an eye when we told them we are in the recovery program and living in a homeless shelter. I feel out of place in a  group of people who obviously don’t struggle in the way I do, but I guess I can keep going.

Their relationships continued to deepen, and one of the women was astonished by what she soon discovered. One of the “perfect” church ladies had revealed that 30 years before, she was in a similar place. Addiction had run her life and threatened to ruin her hope for the future. But she was transformed as she followed Jesus. Once she sought His ways instead of her own, it had been so life-altering that over the course of 30 years, it was impossible to imagine that the life she described as her past had ever existed. Had she not chosen humility and vulnerability, my friends who were fighting the same battle would never have known they were not alone. They were encouraged, reminded that they had not strayed so far that they could not be renewed.

renewal-holly-grassThere is hope in seeing the transformation that God works out over a lifetime. That healing begins the moment we first place our trust in Jesus. That 2 Corinthians 5:17 is true not only for the women in the shelter but for the woman crying in the corner at the Ritz. It reminds us all that our old life, whatever it might be, can be swept away so that new hopes may spring.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

The broken redeemed are living proof, because of Jesus everything, down to the deepest level, is different.

As for me, instead of the prodigal, who tried everything and ran as far as possible, I identify closely with the pharisee. I was one of those religious people who thought their actions and ability to do the right thing would make God happy.

Happy I was not, instead I was stressed out. I frantically went about trying to manage my personal growth. I grew up in church, and thought I trusted Jesus as my savior early in life, I somehow obtained an unspoken underlying idea that all those people in the Bible were REALLY good, and I should try to be like them.

I believed in God, and wanted to do things his way, but was confused about what that actually looked like. I approached  prayer and time reading the Bible in a results-driven manor. What had I learned? What did I need to apply to life right now? I knew I wasn’t perfect, but I unconsciously tried to be. The pressure was heavy.

At 13, I read the Bible on my own for the first time. Instead of perfect people, I encountered God-breathed accounts of real people with big issues. I didn’t know what to do. When I read more than the one verse attached to the teen devotional, I was confused. Where were all those great people?

Had I just never been taught the failings of Bible heroes like David and Abraham? How had I missed that they too were in need of grace? Most likely, because their failings weren’t exactly child-appropriate and more like something from an episode of Scandal. However, this didn’t put a stop to the part of me that thought I could muscle out goodness to please not only God but His people.

Rather than simply a huge outward shift, I too needed a renewed heart. I underlined verses that pointed out what truly saved, in bright green gel pen in my teen study Bible:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)

Slowly, I started to base my idea of whether or not God approved of me by who He said I was rather than my performance that day. I discovered that God is in it with us for the long game. As I read Romans chapter 12 one day more than ten years ago, I was struck by something new.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

renewal-hollyTransformation doesn’t happen overnight. Trying harder and checking boxes just doesn’t cut it. Renewing the mind isn’t linear, or easily measured. Just like watching grass grow or planting a tree, change sometimes happens gradually in the Christian life. It is more clearly seen in comparison to last month, last year, last decade. My decision making and sense of what God had called me to do couldn’t be based on sitting down one day with my Bible and a question I needed answered ASAP. Instead, over a long walk with God and consistently hearing from him through his word, it all would be sorted out. Revealed in due time as He renewed my mind, and I slowly became more like my savior. One day, I too, will look back at life and see motivations and desires steadily renewed and transformed.

I am living proof, because of Jesus everything, down to the deepest level, is different.
It’s a process. Be patient. Remember, God loved us before we wanted him, and he doesn’t leave us alone on this journey.

Readers, You cannot be good enough to reach the perfection being in the presence of a Holy God demands, nor can you be so far that His grace will not reach you if you call to Him. Let those truths offer freedom to your soul and peace to your busy mind. When you look back how do you see that God was working?

holly-squareHolly is a wife of 6 years as well as mom to a teenager (by adoption) and a child she’ll meet in heaven. She’s been foster mom to 10 kids in the last 3 years, and works part time as a church bookkeeper. She loves interacting with people who are hungry for change and ready to see God at work in their lives. She studied Intercultural Studies at Corban University and loves to build bridges between cultures and people. She writes to tell the stories of what God has done, especially through her experiences of infertility, foster care, and adoption. These days you’ll find her catching up on housework while listening to a podcast, trying not to have dinner be a Pinterest fail,  and sipping coffee while teaching her daughter to drive.

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