The day my husband, Dan, and I began our caregiving journey with our aging parents, we linked arms and felt as if we were plunging off a cliff. We didn’t know that in the process of caregiving the hardest task we would face would be to allow our hearts to be searched and molded and to allow God to use this special time to make us like Him in new ways.
On days when I felt I was plunging toward earth in an out-of-control free-fall, God showed me my agendas, my reservations, my fears, my pride, and my selfishness. He used my broken places to show me His love and forgiveness.
My pastor has said, “The best day is the day you see yourself for who you are—desperate without Christ. Then see yourself as He sees you—complete in Him.” This was the blessing of caregiving in my life. As I saw who God had created me to be, I turned and ran weeping into His arms. I cried out with the psalmist: “Search me, God, and know my heart” (Ps. 139:23).
This is my prayer for you—that as you see yourself in the midst of your own circumstances, you will turn and run into the open, loving, and forgiving arms of God.
During an interview, singer and songwriter Meredith Andrews spoke about being overwhelmed as she tried to balance outreach, creative work, marital issues, and motherhood. Reflecting on her distress, she said, "I felt like God was taking me through a refining season, almost through a crushing process.”
Job was overwhelmed after losing his livelihood, his health, and his family. Worse still, although Job had been a daily worshiper of God, he felt that the Lord was ignoring his pleas for help. God seemed absent from the landscape of his life. Job claimed he could not see God whether he looked to the north, south, east, or west (Job 23:2–9).
In the middle of his despair, Job had a moment of clarity. His faith flickered to life like a candle in a dark room. He said, “[God] knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (v. 10). Christians are tried and purified when God uses difficulty to burn away our self-reliance, pride, and earthly wisdom. If it seems as if God is silent during this process and He is not answering our cries for help, He may be giving us an opportunity to grow stronger in our faith.
Pain and problems can produce the shining, rock-solid character that comes from trusting God when life is hard.
As a child, I loved to climb trees. The higher I climbed, the more I could see. Occasionally, in search of a better view, I might inch out along a branch until I felt it bend under my weight. Not surprisingly, my tree-climbing days are over. I suppose it isn’t very safe—or dignified.
Zacchaeus, a wealthy man, set aside his dignity (and perhaps ignored his safety) when he climbed a tree one day in Jericho. Jesus was traveling through the city, and Zacchaeus wanted to get a look at Him. However, “because he was short he could not see over the crowd” (Luke 19:3). Fortunately, those things did not stop him from seeing and even talking with Christ. Zacchaeus’s plan worked! And when he met Jesus, his life was changed forever. “Salvation has come to this house,” Jesus said (v. 9).
We too can be prevented from seeing Jesus. Pride can blind us from seeing Him as the Wonderful Counselor. Anxiety keeps us from knowing Him as the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6). Hunger for status and stuff can prevent us from seeing Him as the true source of satisfaction—the Bread of Life (John 6:48).
What are you willing to do to get a better view of Jesus? Any sincere effort to get closer to Him will have a good result. God rewards people who earnestly seek Him (Heb. 11:6).
My niece’s husband recently wrote these words on a social media site: “I would say a lot more online if it weren’t for this little voice that prompts me not to. As a follower of Jesus, you might think that little voice is the Holy Spirit. It isn’t. It’s my wife, Heidi.”
With the smile comes a sobering thought. The cautions of a discerning friend can reflect the wisdom of God. Ecclesiastes 9 says that the “words of the wise, spoken quietly, should be heard” (v. 17 nkjv).
Scripture warns us not to be wise in our own eyes or proud (Prov. 3:7; Isa. 5:21; Rom. 12:16). In other words, let’s not assume that we have all the answers! Proverbs 19:20 says, “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” Whether it is a friend, a spouse, a pastor, or a co-worker, God can use others to teach us more of His wisdom.
“Wisdom reposes in the heart of the discerning,” declares the book of Proverbs (14:33). Part of recognizing the Spirit’s wisdom is discovering how to listen and learn from each other.
“He thinks he’s really something!” That was my friend’s assessment of a fellow Christian we knew. We thought we saw in him a spirit of pride. We were saddened when we learned that he soon was caught in some serious misdeeds. By elevating himself, he had found nothing but trouble. We realized that could happen to us as well.
It can be easy to minimize the terrible sin of pride in our own hearts. The more we learn and the more success we enjoy, the more likely we are to think we’re “really something.” Pride is at the core of our nature.
In Scripture, Ezra is described as “a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses” (Ezra 7:6). King Artaxerxes appointed him to lead an expedition of Hebrew exiles back to Jerusalem. Ezra could have been a prime candidate to succumb to the sin of pride. Yet he didn’t. Ezra didn’t only know God’s law; he lived it.
After his arrival in Jerusalem, Ezra learned that Jewish men had married women who served other gods, defying God’s express directions (9:1-2). He tore his clothes in grief and prayed in heartfelt repentance (vv. 5-15). A higher purpose guided Ezra’s knowledge and position: his love for God and for His people. He prayed, “Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence” (v. 15).
Ezra understood the scope of their sins. But in humility he repented and trusted in the goodness of our forgiving God.
Some years ago, my wife, Carolyn, and I spent a few days camping on the flanks of Mount Rainier in Washington State. When we were returning to our campsite one evening, we saw in the middle of a meadow two male bears boxing each other’s ears. We stopped to watch.
There was a hiker nearby, and I asked him what the conflict was about. “A young female,” he said.
“Where is she?” I asked.
“Oh, she left about 20 minutes ago,” he chuckled. Thus, I gathered, the conflict at this point was not about the female bear but about being the toughest bear.
Most fights aren’t about policy and principle, or about right and wrong; they’re almost always about pride. The wise man of Proverbs swings his axe at the root of the problem when he writes: “Pride leads to conflict” (13:10 nlt). Quarrels are fueled by pride, by needing to be right, by wanting our way, or by defending our turf or our egos.
On the other side, wisdom resides with the well-advised—those who listen and learn, those who allow themselves to be instructed. There is wisdom in those who humble themselves—those who set aside their own selfish ambition; who acknowledge the limits of their own understanding; who listen to the other person’s point of view; who allow their own ideas to be corrected. This is the wisdom from God that spreads peace wherever it goes.
Dr. Brian Goldman obsessively tried to be perfect in treating his patients. But on a nationally broadcast show he admitted to mistakes he had made. He revealed that he had treated a woman in the emergency room and then made the decision to discharge her. Later that day a nurse asked him, “Do you remember that patient you sent home? Well, she’s back.” The patient had been readmitted to the hospital and then died. This devastated him. He tried even harder to be perfect, only to learn the obvious: Perfection is impossible.
As Christians, we may harbor unrealistic expectations of perfection for ourselves. But even if we can somehow manage the appearance of a flawless life, our thoughts and motives are never completely pure.
John the disciple wrote, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). The remedy is not to hide our sins and to strive harder, but to step into the light of God’s truth and confess them. “If we walk in the light,” said John, “as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (v. 7).
In medicine, Dr. Goldman proposes the idea of a “redefined physician” who—in a culture where we are hesitant to admit our errors—no longer toils under the tyranny of perfection. Such a physician openly shares mistakes and supports colleagues who do the same, with a goal of reducing mistakes.
What if Christians were known not for hiding their sins but for loving and supporting each other with the truth and grace of our God? What if we practiced a risky yet healthy honesty with each other and with the watching world?
“Could they not carry their own garbage this far?” I grumbled to Jay as I picked up empty bottles from the beach and tossed them into the trash bin less than 20 feet away. “Did leaving the beach a mess for others make them feel better about themselves? I sure hope these people are tourists. I don’t want to think that any locals would treat our beach with such disrespect.”
The very next day I came across a prayer I had written years earlier about judging others. My own words reminded me of how wrong I was to take pride in cleaning up other people’s messes. The truth is, I have plenty of my own that I simply ignore—especially in the spiritual sense.
I am quick to claim that the reason I can’t get my life in order is because others keep messing it up. And I am quick to conclude that the “garbage” stinking up my surroundings belongs to someone other than me. But neither is true. Nothing outside of me can condemn or contaminate me—only what’s inside (Matt. 15:19-20). The real garbage is the attitude that causes me to turn up my nose at a tiny whiff of someone else’s sin while ignoring the stench of my own.
Two small boys were playing a complicated game with sticks and string. After a few minutes the older boy turned to his friend and said crossly, “You’re not doing it properly. This is my game, and we play it my way. You can’t play anymore!” The desire to have things our own way starts young!
Naaman was a person who was accustomed to having things his way. He was commander of the army of the king of Syria. But Naaman also had an incurable disease. One day his wife’s servant girl, who had been captured from the land of Israel, suggested that he seek healing from Elisha, the prophet of God. Naaman was desperate enough to do this, but he wanted the prophet to come to him. He expected to be treated with great ceremony and respect. So when Elisha simply sent a message that he should bathe seven times in the Jordan River, Naaman was furious! He refused (2 Kings 5:10-12). Only when he finally humbled himself and did it God’s way was he cured (vv. 13-14).
We’ve probably all had times when we’ve said “I’ll do it my way” to God. But His way is always the best way. So let’s ask God to give us humble hearts that willingly choose His way, not our own.