Lately I’ve been talking and writing about this idea of being in prison. Sometimes God takes us through seasons where he makes our worlds very small, and it doesn’t make sense to us. It got me thinking about Paul, John and others who wrote most of the New Testament while sitting in prison. I thought about the excuses I often gave and the things I complained about in my metaphorical prison sentence. They are things I say that discount my calling as a writer/ speaker/ teacher and discourage my heart. Here are 10 things we never heard Paul and John say in prison:
I’m too tired to write.
Only 20 people are going to read this, so why bother.
I should be “out there.”
God must be done using me if I’m here.
Doesn’t God know I’m more effective as a speaker than a writer?
I thought I was called to preach the gospel, but since I’m stuck here, I guess I was wrong.
I’m not doing enough for the kingdom; I should be doing more.
I’m just not happy.
I’m wasting my gifts.
When I read this list, I have to say “ouch” because such things have often come from my heart. They reveal what I truly believe about God and about myself. I’m not saying that Paul and John never had down moments or moments where they thought these things. However they never had the audacity to put them on paper. In fact, they put quite the opposite on paper. What they wrote were words of deep faith and deep hope in spite of their dire circumstances. We know that they continued to preach the gospel and advance the kingdom no matter where they were.
The challenge for you and for me is to replace the faithless statements above with faith-full truths from scripture. I know what’s on my new list, what’s on yours?
This question came via text this week. Often the basis of this question is the teaching on the passage that we must love others as we love ourselves. I have heard it taught that you can’t love other people until you love yourself. I think that we have to able to receive love before we can give love. But when I ask myself what Biblical self-love looks like, I have a hard time finding examples, especially when I look to the life of Jesus.
I don’t think there is such a thing as Biblical self-love. The Bible doesn’t directly talk about loving ourselves as something we ought to do. I’ve been studying John and particularly how Jesus related to the Father as a model for how a Princess relates to the King. We never see Jesus trying to love himself more. Rather we know that he loved the Father and that the Father loved him. His one desire was to do the will of the Father (John 4:34). He sought the glory of the Father, more than glory for himself (John 5:41). We also know that he entrusted himself completely to the will of the Father (I Peter 2:23).
Jesus didn’t model self-love, but he did model self-care. He withdrew and took time for himself, but I believe it was because the Father told him to. Everything he did was submitted to the Father. The people he healed and the teachings he taught came directly from the Father, not from himself. (John 7:18) He didn’t heal every person, cast out every demon or raise every person from the dead. How did he know where to go? How did he know when it was time to minister to others and when it was time to withdraw? The Father told him. Jesus modeled a beautiful submission to the Father and what it looks like to abide in Him. When he died on the cross, it was not self-love or self-glorification (Ice Queen) nor was it self-loathing or self-hatred (Orphan). Rather Jesus obeyed the Father to the point of death on the cross because he loved the Father and trusted him completely.
Likewise for us, the Princess loves the King and desires to please him. The Princess loves what the King loves, and the King loves her. But it’s not that the Princess tries to love herself, to protect herself or take care of herself. Rather she trusts that the Father loves her, that he protects her, that he takes care of her. In a practical sense, I trust the Father to give me time to refresh. I trust the Father to give me strength when the list for the day is overwhelming. I trust the Father to help me know what boundaries to set with others. I do this because I know that my time, my heart, my emotions are worthy of protection because the Father has made me worthy of love. I can trust the Father even in the midst of suffering when my world is falling apart because I know that discipline leads to righteousness (Hebrews 12:11).
Maybe the struggle is not in loving yourself, but believing that you are already loved. John says, “We love because he first loved us” (I John 4:19). He is the one who shows us what it feels like to be loved and how to love other people. We must “come to know and to believe the love that God has for us” (I John 4:16). Brennan Manning in Abba’s Child challenges us to “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. God’s love for you and his choice of you constitute your worth. Accept that, and let it become the most important thing in your life.”
So my dear Princesses, the love you have for yourself does not come from yourself or your own desires. Rather you can love, accept, value and cherish yourself because the King Father first accepted, loved, valued and cherished you.
If you have a question for Free Advice Friday, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.