idolatry

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Lessons from the Wasteland: Lean Not

Published June 10, 2013 by joypatton

When I was little, there was a ditch near our house where we would often play. We put a board across the ditch to be our bridge. I have a memory of my brother using a long stick to poke around in the shallow water underneath. One day he put the stick in the water and leaned on it as hard as he could. That day the stick broke, and he ended up in the water soaking wet. And I was on dry ground laughing hysterically.

In the middle of last winter, this picture came to mind. I felt like I had been standing on the bridge, a bridge that God had placed in front of me. And I had leaned in hard, trusting that we would get to where we were going. But this winter it felt like every door I knocked on was slammed closed, and every window of opportunity a miss. My dream was suffocating and dying because there were no places for it to go. The stick had broken, and I was at the bottom of the ditch, muddy and soaking wet.

As the spring came, God was asking me to step on the bridge again. The little girl in me stood there still shivering and wet, shaking her head. There was no way that I could get on that bridge again and lean on the stick. I knew what would happen, and I was not stupid enough to try it again. I didn’t want to end up in the mud again. I worked very hard to avoid pain, so why would I knowingly walk into it?

On a sunny spring day in the park, I was recounting this to my friend as we sat on a bench. She asked one question that changed the whole picture. “So the stick you were leaning on, was that God?” I shook my head yes and told her that God was the one who had let me down.

All winter I had been hurt and angry because I believed God was shutting me down and killing my dream. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t do what he made and gifted and called me to do. I felt betrayed and even accused God of being wrong.

As our conversation went on though, I realized that I hadn’t been leaning on Him. He wasn’t the stick that broke. The stick that broke was my own understanding. I had been leaning on other things, trusting other things to confirm my call, seeking the approval of others and chasing worldly success. Those were the things that let me down. When those idols failed, I was left in the mud.

Today he is asking me to just get on the bridge again. I’m very afraid. But one step at time, he will lead me across the bridge to where we are going. I’m afraid that I will once again be distracted by other things and start to think that they will get me there. This time we walk step by hesitant step across the bridge. Today I’m terrified of making a move without him. Today I’m grateful for the things he has given me to do, and I’m trying to joyfully walk in them.

Today I realize that he isn’t the stick; he is the bridge. The bridge never changed and it never went away. It wasn’t the bridge that let me down; it was my own understanding. The bridge was still there asking me to trust, and slowly in small ways I am learning again that He is trustworthy. My eyes are open to the ways he is gently wooing me back to Him and reminding me that I can trust Him.

“Trust in The Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Free Advice Friday: I need more patience.

Published March 22, 2013 by joypatton

I’ve heard a lot of people say this.  I recently even heard Jeff Probst admit that he wasn’t a very patient person on his show.  (This, by the way, is what I love about the show.)  Inevitably when someone realizes they lack patience, they next phrase is “I need to be more patient.”

However I would argue that this isn’t really what you need.  More patience isn’t something you can order off the cosmic menu and have show up at your door.  Neither is being more gentle or being more joyful.  I’ve found from personal experience you can’t will yourself out of  depression, nor can you will yourself to be more patient.

One thing that is helpful is getting to the root of the issue.  I bet that if you dig deep enough you will find that the behavior you are trying to prevent begins with not acknowledging your heart.  Your impatience with your husband comes out because you lack compassion for whatever he is dealing with.  Your impatience with coworkers who have bad ideas comes from the pride in your heart that your ideas are the best or your unwillingness to be honest with them about how you feel about their ideas.  My impatience with my kids comes because I think that guarding my reputation and being on time is more important than their hearts.  Often I find an idol or an even uglier sin that needs to be confessed and brought into light.  And when you do, confess it.  It’s just that simple.  Confess it to God and then if needed, confess to the people affected by your actions.  Yes, true repentance is painful, but it’s that pain that ultimately helps change my behavior.

The second thing is to realize that you can’t be more patient.  Do you know where patience comes from?  In Galatians 5:22, patience is listed as a fruit of the Spirit.  Fruits grow because they are attached to a tree that gives them what they need to grow.  God grants sun and rain to grow the fruit.  The fruit doesn’t decide in which season it will grow or how big it will get or how sweet it will be.  The best thing the fruit can do to promote its growth is to remain attached to the tree.

How do you stay attached to the tree that produces the fruits of the Spirit?  By believing that Jesus died on the cross to cover all your sin, including my impatience and whatever ugly thing is driving it.  Paul also encourages us to “keep in step” with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).  To me this also sounds a lot like the “abiding” Jesus encourages us to do in John 15.  It sounds a lot like how a fruit grows in a tree.

So instead of needing more patience, we really need more Jesus.  He is the source of all of those things.  Truthfully I have no ability to be more patient on my own apart from him.  If you see me being patience with my kids, giving my husband grace or being joyful on a bad day, it’s because of the Spirit at work in my life.  And on the days my abiding is less than stellar, you know what I need to do more?  Confess it.  And it all leads to more humility, more grace,, more patience because I realized that Jesus was humiliated on my behalf and has given infinite grace and patience to me on my worst days.  How could I withhold that from anyone else?

What would it look like to “abide more” today?

Clear the Stage

Published June 11, 2012 by joypatton

This past spring has been a blur.  Two baseball teams, a flag football team and a gymnastics class have kept our kids very busy.  Andrew and I had additional things to keep us busy: newlywed community group, teaching pre-k Sunday School, running cameras at church.  He also worked two full-time jobs, and I finished writing a book.  Many times I said that I was grateful for my great full life.  In the past, we had felt the need for expansion (can you tell??), but now we feel the need for it to get smaller.  But what should go and how do you decide?

Jimmy Needham has a new song on his most recent album titled “Clear the Stage.”  The song talks about true worship.  The picture is that we have a lot of other things that have crowded the stage in our lives.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell who the real star is.  We have other things that have taken center stage.  Sometimes the other things are godly things, like teaching Sunday School or leading Bible studies.  Sometimes the other things are good things, like baseball and flag football that help our kids grow and learn.  Sometimes the other things are bad things, sin patterns, bad habits and character flaws, that we refuse to surrender.  Nevertheless all of the other things, godly, good or bad, are simply idols.  They are other things that take our affection and devotion.  There is no longer room on the stage for the One who should be the center of it all.

At the end of our ragged spring when we went down to one baseball team, flag football ended and Hope decided to stop gymnastics, I told Andrew I felt it was time to clear the stage.  However I did not know it would cost so much and hurt so bad.  I look back at our year so far, and see it filled with loss.  This year started with the loss of Andrew’s mom.  She passed away last December, and I was in a fog most of January.  I’ve also lost a close friendship because I’ve been hurtful.  I’ve tried to find a way to mend it, and yet it remains broken.  My best-laid plans have been lost.  I’ve lost a position I thought God had for me, but obviously He didn’t.  I’m on a long waiting list for a speaking conference I was planning to attend this summer.  Last weekend I lost my hard drive with the latest revisions of my book.  Obviously not all the losses carry the same weight, yet all are losses that bring sadness.

In it all, I see God clearing the stage so that He can take his proper place.  The idol of reputation has been kicked off the stage.  I’ve had to step back and let God defend my reputation, let Him protect my name.  The idol of self-effort has been banished as well.  My self-effort has reached a dead end.  It has accomplished nothing.  I still have a broken friendship; I have still been disqualified; I am still a bad mom who yells at her kids.  In spite of my efforts and all of my trying harder, my heart remains the same.  The idol of control and planning has been sufficiently removed.  I’m in a place I didn’t plan to be.  In years past I’ve always had a plan for the fall by the beginning of the summer.  I can honestly say that I don’t know what the fall holds.  The only thing I know is what God has given me to do today…and some days this week.  (It’s His grace that gives this Type-A planner some type of working plan for the week.)  My eyes are open and my heart is asking who are the people He has given to me to serve this week.  All I can do is take the next step and trust Him more, extremely difficult and sometimes painful for this melting Ice Queen.

When it’s time to clear the stage, all I can do is surrender the stage.  He is the One who moves the pieces where they need be.  He is the One who decides what goes and what stays.  The stage of my life belongs to Him because He bought it with the precious blood of His only Son.  I want him to have the stage because he will make it beautiful.  When I have the stage, I tend to mess it up because I’m not perfect.  I want him to be in the center because he is perfect.  He is the Creator of the universe, sovereign over all, reigning in love.  I am merely a piece of that stage for him to use to tell His story.  Whether I have a big part or a small part is all up to the Director.  So let the clearing continue!  God…what else has to go?  All I want, all I need, all I have is You.

So how is God asking you to Clear the Stage?

Click here to see a video of Jimmy Needham’s song, “Clear the Stage.”

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