One glimpse of His glory, and Monica had peace. All the former bad habits fell away. She told everyone about Jesus, expecting them to react the same way she did. To her shock, they didn't. In fact, the woman she was living with told her to move out. "You scare me," she said.
Monica replied, "Don't you see how free I am?"
In the providence of God, the very same night Monica was converted, her hubby-to-be was converted in a different place. This wasn't his first introduction to Jesus, and there were no bells and whistles. He came to Christ privately, in a room by himself. For years, he struggled with assurance, because change didn't come to him the way it came to Monica. In fact, her enthusiasm and passion bothered him. He thought he'd lost a friend.
Monica couldn't understand why his conversion wasn't like hers. "Don't you love Jesus?" she'd ask. "Why can't you quit smoking? You read the same Bible as me!"
Monica began to have patterns of anxiety. Why isn't he changing, she wondered. She wanted him to change, and got discouraged when he didn't. Maybe he should read more; memorize God's word more.
How do we take in more of what Christ has for us? How do we change?
Is it cognitive ability? Should we study to rightly divide the word of truth? It seems consistent, that the more we know, the more we can change. Monica prayed, then prayed harder!
She signed up for a "Spiritual Formation" class. The teacher was an older gentleman, who came to class the first day with a tablecloth, a candle, and a vase full of stones. He explained how he and his wife had constructed the vase, choosing stones that would represent their lives. There was a stone to represent their marriage; another was representative of a trip overseas. He talked about how transparent the vase was, that symbolically it demonstrated that each significant event in their life was part of who they were today.
Then the professor sent the students out to choose a stone. Monica was the last person to leave the classroom, and she was NOT happy. Her attitude was judgmental, her mood was sour. The very first rock she saw would be the one she'd choose. She'd only gone a few feet from the door when she spied a stone just off the path, so she marched over to it and in her frustration, hauled off and gave it a great kick. To her surprise, it was a flat stone, and it went flying across the yard.
In that moment, she had a wash of understanding flood over her. "That's what you do with problems," she felt God say to her. "You leave them buried and think they're big, instead of trusting them to me."
Monica began to look at herself. In the last few minutes before leaving the classroom, she had torn up that man in her mind. She judged him for not correcting theologically incorrect statements that "weaker" students made. She didn't realize that he was purposely not correcting them in public, because he wanted to build relationships with the students. He planned on contacting them later to privately challenge their thinking. He was willing to let the error slide and trust that God would allow him to teach the students later.
Monica learned that asking the question "How do people change?" was the wrong question.
Primary question: HOW DO I CHANGE?
Do you bury things?
Do you leave them covered?
Do you look at others' need of change?
Do you walk with God?
Do you see that He is conforming you to the image of His Son?
It's not just cognitive awareness that is important. It's one thing to know God intellectually, but it's quite another thing to walk with Him, aware that He is ordering your steps and working in your life in each and every area, in every moment of every day.
Our God is compassionate and gracious. He knows how we are formed; He remembers that we are dust.
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
6 The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
We need a safe place to make deliberate changes in our lives.
There is safety and security in Christ, in friends, in family. Books can be a safe place, because you can interact with them without feeling judged by another. God is the safest place. He already knows all about you. Become self-aware before Him.
Monica isn't advocating self-absorption - which is fueled by pride and gives no glory to God. Instead she is recommending self-awareness - which is fueled by humility and gives all the glory to God.
Get a vase, a clear glass vase. Choose stones to represent your life. Things you care about. Things God is doing in your life. Places you've been. People who have impacted you. Use the vase to think about who you really are.
Choose someone to share your vase with. Be vulnerable; allow yourself to be exposed. You aren't really hiding who you are, even when you do all sorts of things to hide. People see us as we really are. God knows us as we really are. We can be naked and unashamed. We can be real.
True self-awareness shows us places we weren't aware of and woundedness we haven't dealt with. We start to understand why we respond emotionally to the little bumps and bruises of life. We start to understand why we give some things more power than they should have.
We need to identify the problem, unpack it, and give it to Christ. Everything should be impacted by the Risen Christ.
For example, a wife hears her hubby being critical of the kids. Normally, this isn't a big deal, and she can discuss it with him and come to some understanding. However, if she's been wounded deeply in this area and has never given it to Christ and found out how He can apply His power to the situation, she overreacts! She brings wrath from her childhood to bear on the situation.
When you over-respond, ask yourself:
What do I need here?
Am I being a safe place for this person?
Is he being open to me?
Am I being someone he can trust?
Not if I am making him pay for what has happened to me in the past.
Once God has forgiven us, He forgets our sins. But we don't.
Monica told us that self-awareness is a work of growth that takes time. We need to allow our emotions to be what they are, digging deeper to understand. Ask God to show you the core issue, then apply God's word.
She gave us an exercise: Read a passage (John 8:1-11 for example) and evaluate it with the following questions: In this passage, who is fully known? Who is fully loved?
I think that much of what Monica taught in this session was helpful. It's true that we can judge circumstances and people and not allow ourselves to take the time and effort to learn from them. We tend to bury our problems rather than evaluating, because the self-evaluation takes effort and is painful. God is a safe place to run to; He already knows everything about us, so it makes sense to draw near to Him and ask Him to work in our circumstances, and to show us the truth about ourselves, so we can gain a heart of wisdom.
More to follow tomorrow, Lord willing.