In a corporate leadership meeting a few years back, our young, overly-caffeinated seminar leader paced like a caged tiger as he spouted ways for us to better connect with our team of employees. To help us evaluate ourselves, he asked us to take out our cell phones and text this message to three people closest to us: “Quickly list five words you think best describe me.” (You might want to give it a whirl, and ask your inner circle too!)
Ron was with me, so I texted my son, daughter, and closest friend. I felt some apprehension after sending the text. Maybe I didn’t want to see their responses. Each one had a different list, with the exception of two words. They had each listed the word FAITHFUL, which I most hoped they would. However, each person also listed the word STRONG. That one took me a little by surprise.
I’m pretty sure these three knew that it was my faith that provided whatever amount of strength they had seen in me. They saw my weaknesses up close and surely knew that it had been God all along who held me up when life got challenging. However, I knew I had vainly spent a lifetime trying to make sure I dotted all of my religious i’s while crossing all of my t’s with great flair. I now know that my strength relies totally on the mercy and grace I receive from my relationship with Jesus, but deep down in my heart I once believed that it was following all the rules of religion that deemed me acceptable in God’s eyes. I was so wrong. I’ve since discovered I have faith like an onion.
The old wives’ tale suggests that the thicker and tougher the skin of the onion, the harsher the winter that’s coming. Who knew that when the sharp sword of the Spirit pierced through my toughest outer layer of religious pride that my harshest winter of discontent lurked just around the corner? God knew.
I’m not sure how many unholy layers there are in my life. I’ve been through several already and have many more to go. Just recently, there were a few days when I wished for the end of the expedition altogether. I grew tired and weary and was about to give up. But God … God held me close and let me rest for a while. He allowed me a sweet, fresh taste of the love of Jesus that hasn’t left me yet. I’m praying that taste never leaves.
What’s your thickest and toughest outer layer? Is it, like mine was, holding onto your religion instead of Jesus. Is it an unwillingness to forgive yourself or others? Or maybe you have a stubborn will that seeks its own good? Do you have lustful thoughts? Perhaps you wear busyness as a badge of honor and respect? Are you consumed with people-pleasing or perfecting your performance? Or, do you simply have pure ol’ stinkin’ thinkin’? Let the Holy Spirit have His way with you. Let Him break through your tough outer skin and perform a miracle of transformation.
If you’ve not identified what makes up your tough exterior yet, ask God. He will reveal it to you in His own special way; perhaps through some pesky trials you’d rather not endure, or possibly through your spouse or dearest friends. Don’t fear the process. The rewards far outweigh the struggle. When He does reveal your issue, give Him permission to use His scalpel while you trust His steady hand. This delicate surgery might take a while. Expect a few (or many) tears after the first cut is made. You can’t expect to get to the good stuff until the tough part is removed! After the removal, take your time as you and He work through the remaining layers together. With each new layer of freedom comes an abundant supply of overwhelming love and gratitude for the Great Physician.
God doesn’t expect perfection, just surrender. Allowing Him to pull away that defiant outer layer will hurt the most. But then, as you two work together to identify and expose every underlying, unholy layer He will create new layers of goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. (2 Peter 1:5-7) Soon, you will eagerly anticipate what the Spirit wants to show you. It is an amazing process that no amount of wealth or pleasure can match! It’s a process you won’t be able to keep to yourself!
“But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.” (2 Peter 3:18)