Let Go: Living Free of the Burden All Women Know
- Saturday, April 18, 2009
God’s Rescue Plan—To Be Delivered, You Have to Let Go
One Sunday morning, as I was getting ready for church, I felt discouraged and bone weary. Belle, our three-year-old bichon frise, looked up at me with heartfelt empathy, as if to say, “If you’re going down, I’m coming with you.” That’s how I felt that morning. Many things in my life were going very well, but there were a few areas where I felt very hopeless.
As I looked at my reflection in the mirror, I heard God speak four words to me:
I will deliver you!
I didn’t hear an audible voice, but in my spirit God’s voice was unmistakable. I was startled by the clarity of the message.
This is not a common occurrence for me. I often hear God speak through the Bible, through my pastor or friends, or through the beauty of nature. But very rarely have I heard his voice so commanding, clear, and deeply personal: I will deliver you!
It seemed as if my bathroom floor had become holy ground. I knew deep down exactly what situation God was assuring me that he would deliver me from. To pretend any longer that the issue that had been weighing on my heart and soul like a frozen winter lake was under control was stretching even Belle’s blind devotion, never mind the almighty, all-knowing God of the universe.
I thought, How will God deliver me from this? My question revealed a lot about my attitude to being rescued. I am more comfortable with a straightforward scenario—I have a problem, God rescues me, and we all move on with life. But God wants much more for us. God wants to extend us a freedom that goes far beyond a one-time intervention; he wants us to experience a lifestyle of liberty.
My question was answered quickly and clearly, as God’s words came ringing back to me: I will deliver you!
As I heard God’s strong and loving voice again, I knew that the “how” had nothing to do with me. Not only that, but the “how” was ridiculous in light of the “who.”
All God was asking me to do was receive his promise and trust him. Nothing more.
I prayed a very simple prayer in response: “Father, thank you. I believe you, I trust you, and I will try to rest in your promise. I have no idea what my deliverance will look like or when it will come, but you do and that’s all I need to know. Please give me your grace on the days when I will find it hard to trust and look for more. Help me to let go when I want to try to fix things that only you can fix.”
What does it mean to be delivered?
That morning at church, “coincidentally,” our pastor taught from the apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi:
I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ. . . . and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. . . . For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:12–13, 18–19)
As I reflected on that passage during the next few days, my mind was flooded with questions:
• How did Paul know his present circumstances would work out for his deliverance?
• What does it mean to be delivered?
• Does deliverance always involve a change of circumstances, or do the circumstances sometimes remain the same while God changes us?
• Is there a biblical time frame for how and when deliverance takes place?
• Does God always deliver his children? If not, why not?
• Does every believer need to be delivered?
I knew that I needed answers—and that I shouldn’t give up until I had more peace about the issue. So began this quest to study and understand what it means as a believer to be delivered.
How about you? Have you ever wondered what it means to be delivered? To feel delivered? God’s declaration that he would deliver me implied many things that caused me to stop and think. If he would deliver me, then I needed to let go of the pieces of the puzzle I couldn’t make fit, no matter how hard I tried. That was a struggle for me because each piece was precious, and I felt as if I should be able to make them fit. I sensed, though, that God was offering much more than a quick-fix or rescue; he was offering me a whole new way to live. I wasn’t sure if I was ready or even had the stamina for the journey that might lie ahead. Even so, the choices were painfully clear. I could continue to struggle all alone, pushing myself through one more day, or I could take God at his word—and let go.
Start with grace
I don’t know what made you pick up this book. You may be in financial trouble, in a bad marriage or a difficult relationship, shackled by the pain of your past, or simply want to live in all the fullness that Christ offers. Whatever the case, I imagine that somewhere deep inside you, you long to be delivered. Set free. And so I welcome you to this book. I hope and pray it will be a blessing to you. And I want you to know I will be beside you on this journey.
I also want you to know that I value your time and energy. Very few women have spare time to sit around and think, Well, what can I do now? Because of that awareness, I have carefully chosen the biblical insights and personal stories in this book to make a difference in your life and in your walk with Christ.
We will examine many of the issues women often struggle with—but before we do, I believe that the perfect place to begin is with grace. If, like me, you have exhausted your own resources, you are in the perfect place to receive God’s grace. Where law imprisons, grace liberates. If you are being beaten up internally or externally by the merciless taskmaster of the law, there is fresh grace available just for you.
Perhaps you are weighed down by events in your past. My heart aches as I think of the time that we as daughters of Eve have lost living in regret. Christ died to put us right with God. He paid for the crushing debt that caused a breach in our relationship with our Father, yet so often we spend our lives in debtors’ court as if the bill was still to be paid. Dear sister, you are free—you just have to let go.
What if you are imprisoned by unforgiveness? We live on a fallen planet where terrible injustices rain down on us, often when we are least prepared. When the wound comes from the hand of someone we trusted, the pain and resulting anger can be crippling. I have discovered that one of the most powerful spiritual weapons God has tucked into our arsenal is the gift of forgiveness. Revenge makes us feel powerful, but it handicaps us. It is one of the most difficult things to let go of. Perhaps that is why when we learn by God’s grace to let go of revenge and to embrace forgiveness, the freedom that results is outrageous.
Are you plagued by recurring habits that seem to keep you from being the woman you want to be? Have you given your weaknesses the food they most desire, secrecy? There are freedom and deliverance from every act or behavior you hide and grace to love and accept yourself in the process.
Secrecy’s cellmate is shame. Shame tells you that you don’t belong, that you are hopelessly flawed, not worth loving or saving. Christ’s death on the cross for you is a deafening cry to the contrary. In this book, we will look at the journey of the Lamb of God, who became your shame so that you can become God’s beloved daughter.
Do you ever find yourself questioning the purpose of your life? Does it matter that you work so hard at taking care of your family? Does anyone really care that you conduct all your business with integrity and honor? As you wait in line to wash your hands in the ladies’ restroom on Sunday morning, do the women gossiping in front of you know or care that you were the one who put fresh soap in the dispensers and fresh flowers on the counter? In a culture that worships charisma over character, I want to show you that your life matters to God. It’s as if we have been let in on a divine joke where what seems to matter doesn’t matter at all, and things our culture brushes under the carpet as insignificant service will one day be revealed to be pure gold when God pulls back the carpet’s edge.
What about fear? Do you find yourself looking to the future with dread, wondering how your life will unfold? Are you held back from taking Godly risks because of the what-ifs? In a world where there was no God, fear would not only be appropriate; it would be inevitable. That is not your birthright. As a daughter of the King, you are living out the pages of a love story. Don’t confuse this love story with the stuff of daytime dramas and Hollywood hype. This love story is sealed with the precious blood of Christ. You are his, and no one can snatch you out of his hand.
Are you lonely? Many of us live busy, lonely lives. We can be surrounded by people, even family, and still feel isolated and alone. It’s risky to be known. What if in a moment of finally stepping out of our cocoon, ready to spread our wings and fly, someone laughs at us—or worse still, simply turns her back and continues with her conversation? When a child is born and the very first face she focuses her eyes on is the face of her adoring mother, part of the rip of Eden is healed. When that love and acceptance are further strengthened through the years by her father, and by family and friends, it will be hard to convince this little one that she is not worth loving. The trouble with the human experience of many is that the love they needed and craved as a child was withheld, and the tear of separation that began in Eden has gotten bigger. One of the greatest spiritual gifts of rebirth when we give our lives to Christ is that we have fresh eyes to look into and see how much we are treasured. You have a Father who adores you, who delights in your laugh, who celebrates your gifts, and who catches every tear that falls from your eyes. His love will give you the courage to leave the cocoon behind and fly.
Perhaps you begin this journey as I did, experiencing a level of hopelessness. As you look at your circumstances, you despair of anything ever changing. It’s not that you doubt that God is in control, but you live in a world where the decisions of others often affect your life. Can God deliver you even before your circumstances change? I believe that he can. I have and am experiencing that he can. So these are the issues we will look at together. We will look at our own stories and the stories of others, and we will dig deep into the Word of God.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ wants to deliver you into the grace and peace that are your birthright as his child. Jesus left all the glory that was his and embraced all the brokenness and sin that is ours so that we can be free—truly free.
As we begin our journey together in this book, this is my prayer for you:
As we stand at the gateway of this book, we ask that by your grace, you will anoint our ears so that we can hear. Anoint our eyes so that we can see. Anoint our hearts and give to us the will to follow you.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
Fresh-Baked Grace for the Spiritually Hungry
Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life! One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right. All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. — Romans 5:18–20 MSG
A state of mind that sees God in everything is evidence of growth in grace and a thankful heart. —Charles G. Finney
Grace binds you with far stronger cords than the cords of duty or obligation can bind you. Grace is free, but when once you take it, you are bound forever to the Giver and bound to catch the spirit of the Giver. Like produces like. Grace makes you gracious, the Giver makes you give. —E. Stanley Jones
So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. —2 Corinthians 4:16 MSG
That is the mystery of grace: it never comes too late. —François Mauriac
She never wanted her children to worry, but the loss of her husband had been devastating. Some days, the only thing that helped her get out of bed in the morning was knowing that she had three hungry mouths expecting to “Snap, Crackle, and Pop.”
Without her husband’s salary, the family struggled, especially when it came time to buy clothing. The girls were easier to keep well dressed—through the kindness of friends in her small church who had daughters just a little older than her girls, there was a steady supply of skirts and sweaters.
It was harder with her son. He had one friend in the church, but he was the same age and size, so when pants and shirts were too small for the friend, they were too small for her boy too. And he was growing so fast, it was clear his school pants were far too short.
She didn’t have any extra money that month to purchase new pants, so she decided to ask God for help.
Although she didn’t want the children to worry, she did want them to know they were being watched over by a very practical, loving Father who understood their needs and was willing and able to meet them. After supper that night, she told them what was going on.
“Your brother needs new pants and I don’t have enough money to buy them, so we’re going to ask God to provide them,” she said.
The younger daughter was skeptical. “Does God keep extra pants in heaven? I didn’t think angels wore pants,” she said.
“That will not be a problem to God,” the mother said with a smile. “If God can make a planet out of nothing, he can certainly find some pants for your brother.”
So they joined hands, and she prayed, “Father God, thank you for taking care of us. Thank you that you know what we need even before we ask. But you have invited us to ask in Jesus’ name. You know that we have a need for pants, so I ask you to provide those and thank you in advance for your loving provision.”
“What now?” the younger girl inquired. “Will an angel ring the doorbell or will the pants come in the mail?”
“Let’s just wait and see!” the mother said with a conspiratorial wink.
The following evening, the mother’s friend dropped by for a cup of tea. When she left, she gave her a package. “I bought these for Tom, but he seems to have grown several inches overnight! These are far too short. Could your son wear them?”
Inside the mother found three pairs of brand-new pants that were just perfect for her son. She was deeply grateful . . . but you could have knocked the younger daughter over with a feather.
Seeing God in Everything
Charles Finney once said, “A state of mind that sees God in everything is evidence of growth in grace and a thankful heart.”1 That statement was a timely challenge for me. Do you ever read something like that and recognize the truth in the words, yet you struggle with what “seeing God in everything” looks like in real, day-to-day life?
Take your life at this moment and run it through that grid. Is it hard to see the hand of God in everything that is happening right now? What are you dealing with right now that you don’t remember signing up for?
I think of one of my friends whose daughter is sick. She and her husband are waiting for test results. I think of a school friend of Barry’s whose young son has been very ill and has gone through so many painful procedures—and he is not out of the woods yet. I think of a female soldier in Iraq who wrote to say that she listens to audiotapes from our Women of Faith conferences, and at times they are the only thing that keep her sane when she sees friends’ lives lost in the war.
All these and other harsh intruders in life often make it hard to recognize the fact that our God is always present. But some of the greatest surprises to me on this spiritual journey are those moments when it becomes clear God has been faithfully cultivating my heart—those times when things don’t go as planned, and I do see God is in control. They don’t have to be extreme situations like I described above. Often it’s in the little things we see God’s work. That is grace, and that is a gift.
The Best-Laid Plans of Mice and Men
I didn’t realize at the time I read Charles Finney’s statement and wrote it in my notebook that God had tucked this little phrase into my pocket for a day like yesterday. As I reflect on the events of yesterday, I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry. Either way, I am a recipient of grace. Let me give you a little background.
In January 2008, Barry and I decided that since we hadn’t had a real vacation in five years, our family would travel somewhere fun for spring break. Barry did some research and found a great deal at a hotel in Cancún, Mexico. Since we live in Texas and Cancún is only a two-hour flight for us, it seemed ideal.
A few days before we left, I pulled together everything I thought we’d need. I looked at our three passports and noticed Christian’s had expired. Barry called the airline and was told that all we needed for Christian was his birth certificate.
The big day arrived and we got to the airport in lots of time to catch our morning flight. We presented our two passports and Christian’s birth certificate at the desk.
The agent asked, “Where’s the third passport?”
“We don’t have one,” Barry said, “but we do have his birth certificate.”
“You can’t fly without a passport,” she said.
“But we called and talked to one of your agents,” Barry replied, his bubble of hope beginning to vaporize.
“You can’t travel out of the country without a passport—everyone knows that!” she said, looking at us as if we had just crawled out from underneath a haystack.
“That’s why we called, ma’am,” Barry bravely continued.
“Not my problem,” she said. “Next in line!”
By this point Christian was in tears. I felt so bad for him. He had been very excited about our vacation, and now we were stuck at the airport with a plethora of luggage and nowhere to go, and the friend who dropped us off had left.
“I’m so sorry, Christian,” I said. “We’ll try to work something out.”
Christian and I dragged our bags over to a seating area while Barry remained at the counter, trying to fix the problem. Thirty minutes later, we called for a cab. As soon as we arrived back home, we immediately got online to see what could be done. We discovered that if we could get to Houston, Texas, the passport office there could issue Christian a passport when it opened the following morning and we should have it the same day. We drove back to the airport and got on a flight to Houston.
“We’ll find a hotel close to the passport office or the airport when we get there,” Barry said.
When we arrived in Houston, we called every hotel we could think of; but they were all full. We got down to the Motel 6, the Motel 5, and the Motel 2½, but there was no room in the inn. Apparently there was a convention of helicopter pilots in town—who knew there were so many! Finally, as we were about to start looking for a stable and manger, we found a hotel with one room left. By this point, we were all very hungry and tired.
“Mom, do you think I could have a steak?” Christian asked. “I’m starving.”
“It’s your vacation, babe,” I said. “Let’s see what the hotel has to offer.”
Well, that would be . . . nothing. They told us their restaurant was closed, but they would be happy to drive us to one. We told the desk clerk we wanted a steak place, but not anything too formal since we looked a bit bedraggled by this point. She told us about a great restaurant with a new chef who used to work at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas. Frankly I didn’t care if he’d worked at a Denny’s in Darfur; we just needed to eat. The hotel van dropped us off outside a steak-house and said they would pick us up in an hour. Perfect!
We sat down at our table, and I picked up my menu. I suddenly became painfully aware that Christian was kicking me in the ankle.
“What are you doing, babe?” I asked.
“Mom, that woman is naked!” he whispered.
I looked up and for the first time became aware of the fact that the walls were covered in red velvet and festooned with black-and-white pictures of women with no tops on!
“Barry! Look at the walls!” I said, but he already was.
“Good grief, what is this place?” I whispered. I looked at my menu. It was called The Strip Place. I had naively thought that applied to the strip steak—but apparently not.
Christian went into dramatic mode. “My eyes, my eyes; my beautiful, innocent eyes!”
I said to him, “Just keep your eyes down. Look at your napkin.”
When he exploded with laughter, I realized that the same people who’d done the walls had obviously designed the napkins too.
In my evangelical panic, I thought, Let’s sing a hymn; we’ll sing a hymn! What came to mind was one of my grandmother’s favorites, “Rock of Ages.” Verse two seemed beyond poignant:
Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling.
Naked come to thee for dress . . .
I added my own earnest plea to that of Augustus M. Toplady:
Lord, please get me out of this mess;
Good grief, look at the size of that woman’s chest!
We were stuck. We were hungry, we had no transport, and we were surrounded by pictures of women showing us how good God had been to them.
“Okay, Christian, here’s the deal,” I said. “I know we don’t normally let you watch mp3 movies in restaurants, but this is what I would describe as . . . unusual circumstances. So put on Sponge Bob SquarePants, and don’t look up until I am approaching your mouth with a forkful of something.”
Well, we made it through dinner and got back to our hotel. After we had our extended devotions and prayed together, Christian asked me, “Do you think that made God angry?”
“Do you mean angry that we stayed?” I asked.
“I don’t know, Mom—just the whole thing,” he said.
“I don’t think God was cross with us at all,” I told him. “I think it made him sad that those ladies felt they had to take off their clothes. I know he loves them and wants the best for them.”
“Do you think he loves them as much as he loves you?” he asked.
“Every bit as much,” I said.
“Even though they’re doing something he wouldn’t want them to?” he asked.
“Christian, God’s love for us is not based on our behavior,” I assured him. “It’s based on his heart and his character. That’s grace.”
Grace in All Things
I am aware that this silly inconvenience doesn’t hold a candle to the life-and-death situations I described earlier. But that’s actually my point. As a believer of forty years (I gave my life to Christ when I was eleven), when I am faced with life’s crises, I usually know enough to turn to God for strength, grace, and guidance. It’s the small stuff that gets me. It’s the moments when my plans are messed up, and it feels like no one really cares one way or another. Those are the times I must learn the lesson over again—to trust God. It’s hard for me, because it means I have to let go of my agenda.
As Christian and I sat there in the airport in Dallas surrounded by our bags and disappointment, it was a moment of true humanity and grace to let our heads touch as we asked God to help us through. We didn’t have to be strong. We didn’t have to do it on our own. We didn’t need to follow any rules or live up to any expectations. We just had to be honest and real.
We finally made it to Cancún two days late. But we were there. The three of us sat on the beach, side by side, as the sun was setting. Christian said, “Well, it sure took a while to get here, and I saw things no grandson of a Baptist should ever see, but God was with us every step.”
For me, that is the miracle of grace. Not that we finally made it to our vacation, but that God was with us every step—and an eleven-year-old boy knew it, even when our plans seemed to fall apart.
As I look back over my life, I can think of many times when this kind of situation happened and my response was very different. I know now that God’s grace was right there every single time, but sometimes I didn’t reach out and receive it. To have my hands free to receive grace, I have to be willing to let go of whatever I am clinging to.
Think about your own journey. Can you see in your own life how you are growing in grace, not just in the big moments but all those little moments that can rob us of peace and joy?
That’s Not Fair!
As I have watched my son grow in his understanding of grace, the greatest obstacle for him has been the way he often connects God’s favor to his behavior. Christian thinks when we do good things God applauds our righteous behavior, and when we slip and fall he frowns on us. (Do you know how hard it is for me as a mother not to let that belief sit there for a few more years, until he’s, say, thirty?) I have to tell him again and again God is not a Scout leader or an etiquette coach. His love is lavish and without repentance.
I think this is one of the hardest doctrines to wrap our hearts and minds around. There is something in us that wants to feel we have contributed in some way to whatever we receive. With the grace of God, we contribute nothing. That’s hard for us to swallow. We know we don’t bring as much as God does to the table, but we want to feel as if we’ve done our bit for the team! Not only that, but God’s grace is fresh every single day, which means you don’t have to rely on what was available yesterday. In fact, yesterday’s grace is stale. Yesterday’s grace was baked fresh by God for the events of yesterday, but today there is a whole new supply for every single thing you will walk through today.
Christian is not a big breakfast eater. He often runs out to shoot hoops with his friends on a summer morning with nothing more than the aftertaste of toothpaste in his system. Then he’ll come dragging in and say, “Mom, I’m starving!”
Do you ever find yourself spiritually starving halfway through your day? Fresh grace is available from the moment you open your eyes until you crawl back under the covers at night.
When we are satiated with God’s grace, it is much easier to extend grace to others; but when we are on starvation rations ourselves, we have little to spare.
There is also something in us that finds it hard to see that same lavish grace extended to those who seem particularly undeserving. Perhaps no parable illustrates that more clearly than one found in Matthew’s gospel. Jesus told the story of a vineyard owner who hired his first workers of the day at 6 a.m. and agreed on a wage of one dollar. He hired more field hands at 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., and 5 p.m.
When it came time to pay the day’s wages, he told the foreman to begin with those who had worked only the last hour. When the workers who had sweated in the field all day realized that the tail-end stragglers were receiving one dollar, they were encouraged for a moment, assuming their own paycheck had been bumped up exponentially. Not so. They were given the same dollar as the rest. The workers who had worked all day were furious, and they appointed the loudest mouth in the group to complain to the manager. But the manager wouldn’t entertain their argument.
He replied to the one speaking for the rest, “Friend, I haven’t been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn’t we? So take it and go. I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can’t I do what I want with my own money? Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?” here it is again, the great reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first. (Matthew 20:13–16 MSG)
The kingdom of God has nothing to do with our scales of justice. From our perspective, it’s easy to pick out the good guys and the bad guys; but God says there is no such thing as a good guy. We are all sinners standing in need of the grace of God: “Scripture leaves no doubt about it: There’s nobody living right, not even one, nobody who knows the score, nobody alert for God” (Romans 3:9–10 MSG).
If you’re like me, you’ve thought, Well, sure, I understand that we’re all sinners in a broad sense, Lord, but there are some of us who mess up a lot less than others. You can’t tell me that doesn’t count for something.
It is so tempting to categorize sin, to see others as less deserving of God’s grace than we are. The clarion call of a grace-filled life is that we are required to lay down our internal scales of justice, not only as we see ourselves but also as we see and judge others. In terms of our salvation and God’s love for us, our list of what we view as our good behavior counts for nothing.
The Promise of Grace
We’ve looked at the problem of legalism, so now it’s time to embrace the promise of grace. It’s hard to extend to others what you have not allowed yourself to be blessed by, but the truth remains:
• As you are, right at this moment, God loves you.
• He knows all that is true about you, and he loves you.
• Even when you can’t forgive yourself, he forgives you.
• There is nothing you can do to make him love you more.
• There is nothing you can do to make him love you less.
This is the grace of God.
Take a few moments and be quiet with these truths. How do they sit with you? Are they hard to believe? Perhaps as we look at our past and bring it to the foot of the cross, it will help us receive the grace of God. Remember, as Martin Luther said, “A man must completely despair of himself in order to become fit to obtain the grace of Christ.”2
1. Do you believe—not just in your head, but deep in your soul—that God loves you as you are right now? Explain.
2. Do you think there is anything you could do to make God love or approve of you more? Explain.
3. Who in your circle do you find it the most difficult to extend grace to?
4. Why do you think that is?
A Prayer of Deliverance
Thank you for the grace you offer me right at this moment. Deliver me from self-doubt and fear. Help me to feast on your glorious gift of fresh-baked grace every morning. Thank you that your love and grace invite us all to the feast. May I share this feast with someone else today.
For Jesus’ sake, amen
Let Go: Live Free of the Burdens All Women Know
Copyright 2008 by Sheila Walsh
Reprinted with permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc.. All rights reserved.
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