The memories play on repeat. The shame weighs heavy. How can it be? There is this grace that pours down like sweet rain. Will I dance in it or will I run from it? Will I see that it’s running into grace that wipes shame away or will I let shame whisper it’s lies to me?
If anyone had reason to feel shame it was Paul. Here was a man who persecuted Christ’s church. His hands were covered with blood and righteously he justified his actions. But then Christ intervened. In order for Paul to see, he had to be made blind. And in his physical blindness, God set him free from his heart blindness.
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service,though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 1:12-14
But instead of letting shame stop his witness, he used his past to bring glory to God. Paul didn’t try to pretend it away by never making references to it. He knew exactly what he was before grace rained down on him.
He called himself vile names: persecutor, insolent opponent, and blasphemer.
Do you call yourself names? Do you call yourself cheater, abuser, failure, or not enough?
Stop trying to convince yourself you’re not those things. You are. But you’re also redeemed. Shame keeps you locked into your past, but Christ in his grace and mercy came to set you free from shame. Don’t pretend you didn’t need Christ. Use what you were to point others to Jesus.
You once loved nothing more than to share the latest juiciest bit of news? Christ set you free. Talk about him. Talk about how he changed your words and showed you how to build others up. Share your struggles.
There’s no shame in having struggles. It’s the hiding of them that causes shame.
You took a knife to your own skin because you couldn’t bear the internal pain anymore? Christ set you free. He gave you hope. Share that hope with others. Your soul’s enemy plays on your shame to keep you from sharing your hope.
It’s because you recognized that you sin that you realized you need Jesus. Jesus came to save the lost. It’s okay to own your lostness, and it’s okay to talk about what you once were. Let God redeem your past. You can say you were a slanderer and gossip, but that Christ set you free. It’s okay to say that you despaired so deeply that you cut yourself, but that Christ became your hope.
Your sin and Christ’s grace collide to create this most beautiful expression of life. But it doesn’t stop there. It becomes this dance of remembering your past while embracing your present identity in Jesus.
That’s what makes your testimony powerful.
Jesus road into Jerusalem ready to conquer your sin and shame. Take a few moments to ponder what you would be without Christ.
Listen to this song and let the words become your own heart’s cry.
Then stretch your arms wide (for real, stretch them, it’s okay) and say, “Holy God, here I am. Vile. Wretched. Selfish. Take my sin and shame. Pour your grace on me.”
Dance in grace’s rain. Let it wash your shame away.
Have you ever felt as though God has abandoned you? Have you ever felt confused by God? Does it seem as though his peace is fleeting and fickle?
These words of the Psalmist reverberate through my mind:
Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?
It’s in the busy of the day that we mute our troubles, but it’s in the quiet of the night when our minds start to rev up and race around the troubles that daytime held at bay. We lay in the dark, listening to the furnace cycle on and off, watching the moon cross the room, eyeing the numbers on the clock inching their way closer to morning when we can get up and get away from the thoughts in our head. Then bedtime comes and we repeat the anxious riddled night, which leaves us sleepless and heavy hearted.
Our days are marked with busy and our nights marked with anxiety.
This season of light is a showstopper, but it also reveals our darkness as well. The colors of life sparkle and glow and the contrasts between what we see and what we feel oftentimes becomes too much to bear. Our anxiety grows and it becomes a beast that we cannot wrestle to the ground.
It’s tempting to pray more or serve more or begin a new bible reading plan. And these are good spiritual disciplines, which we need in our relationship with Christ. But they are not the cure for anxiety. They will not be your peace.
The way to peace is not through doing more. It’s through remembering and exchanging.
When peace seems elusive and anxiety definite, we have to pause. We have to pause so we can remember.
We follow in the Psalmist’s footsteps and remember God’s mighty works. The sun that rises. The sun that sets. The way our bodies function without our help. We remember God’s greatness and how he makes a way when there seems to be no way.
We remember that the winds and the waves obey him and that when his path leads us through deep waters that those waters will not engulf us. We take his hand and hold fast, trusting his steps, doing what he does, and stopping when he stops.
We pause and listen for the song that he sings over us. The song of delight and wonder. We remember that he made us lovingly and purposefully. We lift up the mirror of his word so we see ourselves clearly.
After we remember, we name our anxiety. We name the thing that rob us of peace. It could be finances, our marriage, a person, the future, or the past. And then we place it in God’s hands and pick up his peace. But if our anxiety leaps back to us like a magnet, we must put it back again. We place it on God’s desk, because it’s his to deal with and then we pick up his peace. It’s an exchange we repeat.
We remember, we exchange, and we remember again.
There’s no wrestling our anxiety into peace, there’s only us remembering God and exchanging our anxiety for his peace.
Read Psalm 77
Create a Peace Sandwich:
Write down three things that help you remember God’s faithfulness and love.
Write down one or two things that robs your peace.
Picture yourself walking up to God’s desk and placing those items there.
Then imagine yourself picking up his peace.
Write down three more things that you remember about God’s faithfulness.
You know that battle you’re in? The one where you need a rebel heart? Sometimes it gets ugly and you take a cheap shot and find that you’re bleeding through your tears. You search for the enemy and his location. Only you don’t see an enemy, you see yourself.
You see yourself wielding a weapon that kills your spirit and cuts out the good. Sometimes the good shines too much of a spotlight on your bad. The enemy of your soul tries to tell you it’s better to be bad than a mix of good and bad and you believe it. So you take your weapon and wound yourself. But not only have you cut the good out, but you’ve re-wounded the bad and your heart continues to bleed out. And your mind tells you that you’re worth nothing to nobody.
These types of heart wounds take place when we forget that we live a both/and kind of life.
We are the murderer and the acquitted.
The Guilty and Innocent
Without the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross and the unfathomable grace God give us, we are nothing more than destructive, sinful people. Our crimes, so to speak, are not limited to only hurting ourselves, but they spread out to those around us. There are times when the wounds in our hearts hurt us so bad that we find psuedo-relief when we hurt someone else.
The Refuge Series in my attempt to remind us that there is a place for our murderous and wounded hearts. “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” 1 John 3:15
We don’t have to actually commit murder to murder. Hate in our hearts is murder. Without Christ our hearts stay wounded and broken. We are a mess. A mess that seems impossible to fix.
In the Old Testament, God created cities of refuge for all people who committed a crime of passion. This humanitarian option took vengeance out of the hands of the people. The elders determined innocent or guilty.
The catch? The person that found refuge couldn’t leave the city until the high priest died. In Old Testament times the High Priest bore the sins of the people (can you imagine that burden? It would make me cranky, crabby, and law-making). so this refuge actually became like house arrest. If the person left the city of refuge, he was fair game for his enemies, but safe if he stayed.
So how does this apply to us? I’m not a murderer you might say. And I would agree. But how many times have you used your words to cut off the life God wants to grow in you? How many times have I done it? Too many to count. How many times have we followed God until we grew uncomfortable, and then quit the growing process? This is like cutting off or murdering the life God grows in you.
Our City of Refuge
God is our city of refuge. But he’s also our High Priest. And Jesus has already paid the penalty for our sins. So it’s a both/and kind of life.
We run our guilty hide straight into God’s refuge. He protects us from our enemies, which is often ourselves. And Jesus has already fulfilled the payment for forgiveness of sins. We confess. We get a fresh slate. Wiped clean. Brand new. When we leave the city of refuge, our enemies can’t touch us. Because we’re covered in Jesus’ righteousness.
This is the kind of refuge I need. I need it when my life blows shrapnel into my heart. I need it when the words I speak to myself destroy the good thing God is doing in me. Do you?
Do you need to run to God’s refuge today? Not because of some outward force of enemy, but because you keep sabotaging your Christian walk? Do you feel like you’ve messed up too much and God must be sick of you?
He’s not. He’s waiting with arms open wide to offer you forgiveness and grace and the strength to grow.
Run to Him. He is your city of refuge.
Grab a 3×5 card, a journal, or notebook and write this prayer:
“Lord, search me and know me. See if there is any anxious way within me. Shine the spotlight of your Holy Spirit into the darkened and deadened areas of my heart. Lead me in the way of truth so that I might live fully for you.”
Read and Meditate on Psalm 51
Copy Psalm 51:10-11 in a place where you will see it.