“But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. “
Romans 7:17-20 (MSG)
Do you have your stuff together?
I rarely do. During different seasons of my life, certain areas will be going okay, but other areas fall apart. I might make huge strides in my career, but at the expense of my health. I might make strides in my health, at the expense of my relationships. I “miss the mark” (sin) so often, I wonder if there’s any use in trying at all. Overindulgence, selfishness or impatience can rule my mood and often my life.
It’s a bit troubling, isn’t it? What’s up with all this double-minded nonsense? On one hand, I long for a life of excellence and discipline. An honorable, good life. A productive life. A full one that gives God glory. I want to be content, healthy and do good things. I want to be loving and kind, slow to anger, quick to love. I want to be of service.
Now enters this weird part of me that wants to just sit there and do whatever. Which is usually nothing. While eating fries. And I’ll take some peanut M&Ms if you have them. Also, if I may, I’d like to let my negative mood run wild and take zero responsibility for my actions.
Is that too much to ask?!
Indulging in my worst impulses, of course, feels terrible. But I can’t stop! My flesh runs to temporary comfort, yet while I’m comfortable, I’m in misery.
Why? Because I know God has made me to be so much more than biological impulses. I know I’m capable of discipline, excellence. I can, and want to do, good things.
But I just can’t get my stuff together!
I had a small ministry a few years ago and asked my community what area they wanted to grow in most. The favored topic was learning how to overcome their inner resistance to achieving their hopes, dreams and goals residing in their heart.
They wanted to (finally!) do what was right for their health, their finances, their spirit, their relationships and sense of self.
But for so many of us, we just can’t seem to get it together.
We’re not alone. Neither could Paul. He said, “I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.”
As human beings, we default to our biological instincts – running towards temporary pleasure to flee temporary pain, even if it means permanent pain in the future.
God calls us higher. But Paul’s right, we can’t do it alone. We can’t will it. We have to actively pursue God and his vision for our life, not just once, or twice, but every single day. All day long.
Let me give you an illustration of one particular day that made my desire to get my act together go into overdrive.
I had a big vision to be a professional writer. I’m also a mother, and had a big vision for my children, their development and to raise them in a Godly, peaceful home. I also had a big vision for the health of our family, with a diet filled with mostly whole, unprocessed foods or sugars.
Most of us have big visions in different areas of our life. But if we aren’t disciplined, we might as well forget it. And this was the crux of my misery.
To fulfill the vision of being a professional writer, I had to write. Since I had small children, I had to write early in the morning. In order to manage a peaceful home, I had to be organized and follow through with the things I needed to do to make that a reality. In order for us to eat well, I had to buy and prepare healthy foods, resisting temptation to do otherwise.
But to my flesh, that’s just too much to ask. No, I would not wake up early. I’d sleep in until I heard my girls wake up. Then I’d rise like a zombie, sluffing around all morning in a daze. There was no plan for the day, I’d just react to whatever came my way.
Waking up late this particular morning put me in a bad mood because I thought I was committed and determined! I pep talked myself right before bed, read two motivational books and one specifically dedicated to waking up early. Yet when the morning came, I slapped that alarm off with conviction and went right back to bed until I heard the frightful commotion of unsupervised children roaming around my house.
The girls were asking for breakfast, and even though I had prairie-raised eggs and organic apples at the ready, I flippantly threw that commitment in the garbage and started making pancakes.
Why? I have no clue. Do you? I need help here.
All I can say is I had a deep desire in my heart to break my addiction to sugar. But another deep desire of my heart was to eat a giant pile of pancakes.
I seem to have two parts to me. Anna, who wants to live a Godly, good, disciplined and adventurous life. And another part of me, whom I’ll call Tina, who wants to eat whatever she wants and do whatever she wants – which is usually sass people up while lounging around doing nothing in particular.
So, Tina tells me that she’s heard somewhere that food on your child’s plate doesn’t count as actual calories. Although I’m not even hungry and made a commitment to breaking my addictions, Tina makes a convincing argument and I shovel cold pancake leftovers in my mouth like a starving little squirrel.
This makes me feel bad and I was already not feeling great. But I move on and try to do some writing.
Of course, the girls are crying, fighting, begging, barking and ask for snacks on a rotating ten minute schedule. This frustrates me and the lack of control I have over myself and my household boils over. Each interruption makes me twitch. My neck tightens. My ears get hot.
Then, somehow, the girls knock over one of my favorite vases. It shatters into a million pieces, just like my hopes and dreams. In response, I take off the top of my head and explode.
I feel sorry for myself. I feel out of control over my life. I feel anger and shame and disappointment. I know what to do to live a more disciplined, peaceful, healthful, spirit filled life.
But I just can’t get it together.
What’s wrong with me?
My disappointment slaps up against me like giant waves, so to quell the storm, I immediately go into prayer and ask God for help. Just kidding! I go into the kitchen, grab a leftover pancake from the fridge, heat it up, pour butter and syrup all over it, and eat it straight out of my hand like a grizzly bear.
I feel puffy and lethargic now. I just can’t get it together.
Eventually Rob comes home from work, we have dinner. We clean up and put the girls to bed. Tina gives me a pep talk to get me out of my funk. “Tomorrow’s a new day!” she says. I can go to bed, wake up early, be productive, tomorrow. I can plan a good day with my girls, tomorrow. I can be disciplined and do good things for me, my God and my family … tomorrow.
“But tonight!” she says, “We watch Netflix!”
Instead of going to bed to get the rest I need to tackle the things I need to do, Tina tricks me into watching a new Netflix series everyone’s talking about it. I watch 3 episodes in a row and go to bed at 2 AM.
And the next day? Well, I don’t wake up early, obviously. I wake up to the sound of small children roaming around my house.
Is it Groundhog’s Day? When am I going to get my junk together?
I thought I was a hopeless victim of my circumstances, when in reality, I was allowing my flesh to rule my life and acting as if I didn’t have a God who promises to renew me, change me, help me, if I just go to Him, instead of pancakes.
I have a vision for my life and what I believe God wants to do through me, but I lost sight of all the daily small visions we need to fulfill in order to bring it to life. I lost my vision for my health and overall wellbeing. I lost my vision for quiet, consistent dedicated times with God. I lost my vision as a mother and the vision I have for my children and how I nurture their education and structure for the day. I lost my vision for my marriage and spending good quality time. I lost the vision for my morning. I lost my vision for peace.
Day after day, I sacrificed my visions at the alter of my flesh. I was miserable.
The bible says that without a vision, the people perish. The frustration I felt, the hopelessness, the resentment I had building inside me, was that inner knowing, my soul warning me – This is not how it’s supposed to be. Get a vision, or you will perish!
Romans 7 and 8 warn us about what we’re up against, but all hope is not lost.
In order to get it together, it seems we need three things:
- A clear vision for the areas of our life that matter most, with an understanding and acceptance that our flesh (and the enemy) will attempt to sabotage that vision every day.
- Total daily (hourly!) dependence on God, particularly when we are attempting to break dominating, negative habits in order to create new ones.
- Grace and gentleness with ourselves. Our life will never be perfect, but through Jesus, we can make our lives a form of worship and enjoy it with our whole hearts anyway.
Let’s start today with the vision(s) you have for your life. Then we’ll talk about letting God in to renew our minds and help us transform our negative habits into good ones.
Start chewing on this: what is the vision, the dream, you feel God has placed in your heart? What is the vision for your day, your career, your family, your relationships?
Not sure? Your clue is the path that gives you a sense of peace.
In your ideal life, how do you live? How do you feel? What do you do?
In the next few weeks, we’ll get it together, my friend. It starts right now.