1 Timothy 1:12–17 – “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.”
Do you find yourself struggling to measure up to the way you think a Christian is supposed to behave? How would you feel if a great Christian leader admitted to a similar struggle? Many of us probably find Paul’s self-disclosure above a great relief because we struggle with a perfectionist ideal of how a mature Christian should behave. We idealize others we know or see in leadership and compare ourselves to them, feeling we do not embody the love, grace, patience and wisdom a “good” Christian should.
As a result we feel inferior, guilty and discouraged; our growth path becomes hampered by these obstacles. However, knowing that someone like Paul, who served God passionately and accomplished so much in his life, can say that he is “the worst of sinners,” gives us hope. It helps us to not focus on trying to be a “super Christian” and instead accept where we are today.
The goal of spiritual growth is not perfection but maturity. Our growth in Jesus will bear fruit in a transformed life and character (see Galatians 5:22 – 23). But we will still have issues and struggles. The Apostle Paul also said, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (see Philippians 3:12). We must press on and not let our imperfections get us down.
This devotional is drawn from Boundaries, by John Townsend and Henry Cloud.
The Boundaries devotions are drawn from the Boundaries book series, which has transformed marriages, families, organizations, and individuals around the world. The Boundaries series is written by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Copyright 2015 by Zondervan; all rights reserved. Learn more at BoundariesBooks.com.
Proverbs 4:23 – “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
“I know I’m supposed to forgive,” a woman to me (Dr. Cloud) at a recent seminar. “But, I just can’t open myself up to that kind of hurt anymore. I know I should forgive him and trust him, but if I let him back in, the same thing will happen, and I can’t go through that again.”
“Who said anything about ‘trusting’ him?” I asked. “I don’t think you should trust him either.”
“But you said I was supposed to forgive him, and if I do that, doesn’t that mean giving him another chance? Don’t I have to open up to him again?”
“No, you don’t,” I replied. “Forgiveness and trust are two totally different things. In fact, that’s part of your problem. Every time he’s done this, he’s come back and apologized, and you have just accepted him right back into your life, and nothing has changed. You trusted him, nothing was different, and he did it again. I don’t think that’s wise.”
“Well,” she asked, “How can I forgive him without opening myself up to being hurt again?”
Good question. We hear this problem over and over again. People have been hurt, and they do one of two things. Either they confront the other person about something that has happened, the other person says he’s sorry, and they forgive, open themselves up again, and blindly trust. Or, in fear of opening themselves up again, they avoid the conversation altogether and hold onto the hurt, fearing that forgiveness will make them vulnerable once again.
How do you resolve this dilemma?
The simplest way to help you to organize your thoughts as you confront this problem is to remember three points:
1. Forgiveness has to do with the past. Forgiveness is not holding something someone has done against her. It is letting it go. It only takes one to offer forgiveness. And just as God has offered forgiveness to everyone, we are expected to do the same (see Matthew 6:12&18:35).
2. Reconciliation has to do with the present. It occurs when the other person apologizes and accepts forgiveness. It takes two to reconcile.
3. Trust has to do with the future. It deals with both what you will risk happening again and what you will open yourself up to. A person must show through his actions that he is trustworthy before you trust him again (see Matthew 3:8; Proverbs 4:23).
You could have a conversation that deals with two of these issues, or all three. In some good boundary conversations, you forgive the other person for the past, reconcile in the present, and then discuss what the limits of trust will be in the future. The main point is this: Keep the future clearly differentiated from the past.
As you discuss the future, you clearly delineate what your expectations are, what limits you will set, what the conditions will be, or what the consequences (good or bad) of various actions will be. As the proverb says, “A righteous man is cautious in friendship” (see Proverbs 12:26). Differentiating between forgiveness and trust does a number of things:
First, you prevent the other person from being able to say that not opening up again means you are “holding it against me.”
Second, you draw a clear line from the past to the possibility of a good future with a new beginning point of today, with a new plan and new expectations. If you have had flimsy boundaries in the past, you are sending a clear message that you are going to do things differently in the future.
Third, you give the relationship a new opportunity to go forward. You can make a new plan, with the other person potentially feeling cleansed and feeling as though the past will not be used to shame or hurt him. As a forgiven person, he can become an enthusiastic partner in the future of the relationship instead of a guilty convict trying to work his way out of relational purgatory. And you can feel free, not burdened by bitterness and punitive feelings, while at the same time being wise about the future.
This devotional is drawn from Boundaries in Dating, by John Townsend and Henry Cloud.
Matthew 5:37 – “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”
All of us want to be successful in life. We want a career that is fulfilling and that creates a sustainable lifestyle. We want relationships and family connections that are warm and intimate. We want to give back in service to the world in some way. Yet so often, we find ourselves stuck, in getting from where we are, to where we want to be.
If you have found yourself stuck instead of successful in some area of life, it is likely that there is some sort of a problem in your being free to make the choices you need to make. That is, you may not be executing the right boundaries to help you move forward. When you set healthy boundaries in the right way, really good things can happen. Here are three tips to help you move from stuck to successful:
1. Determine what you want, vs. what others want from you.
This is a critical boundary to set. Often, we think of what others expect before we know what we really want in life. Yet the Bible tells us to make choices all the time, for example who we worship: “…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (see Joshua 24:15). So get a piece of paper and write what you want to happen: a career goal, a relationship problem solved, a financial dream or a health goal. It does matter what people think, and we do impact others. Take those into consideration. But start with your own goal and desire and work from there.
2. Say no to the “good” and yes to the “right.”
Most of us don’t have major issues saying no to really toxic influences like drugs or crime. We aren’t supposed to do those things in the first place! But it is trickier to say yes to those things that aren’t inherently bad, but take time and energy from what you want. We can’t do everything, so we have to say no to good things to get to the right things. For example, you may need to decline your involvement on a committee because you can’t get to your own goals. Or you may need to tell a friend you can’t talk on the phone as frequently as you would like, because you don’t have the time. These aren’t fun decisions. But they free you up to work on that goal or relationship.
3. Have difficult conversations with people who are operating against you.
There are, unfortunately, people who can be controlling, negative, judgmental or hurtful with you. This is such a power drain, how can you move from stuckness to success when you have their influence deflating your passion? Good boundaries mean having a loving but direct talk with some key people, in which you say, in effect, “I care about you and us, but your behavior makes it difficult for me to be around you. I would like to see some changes in our relationship, otherwise I will need to make some distance, which I don’t want.”
Jesus taught us to let our yes be yes, and our no be no (see Matthew 5:37). Growth research, high performance research, and our own experience show that His words are true and that they work. Here’s to your own movement from stuckness to success!
This devotional is drawn from Boundaries for Leaders, by Dr. John Townsend.
1 Peter 2:11 – “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.”
If you have hung around the church for very long, you have probably heard that God wants people to reserve sex for marriage. If you haven’t and that is news to you, then we can understand the shock you might be feeling. For many people, both inside and outside of the church, it does not make sense. If sex feels so good, and is good for the relationship, and both people are consenting, then what is the problem?
Consider this viewpoint: When someone can say no to sex while dating, their behavior is a sign that he or she is capable of delaying gratification and exhibiting self-control, which are two prerequisites of the ability to love. If someone cannot delay gratification and control himself or herself in this area, what makes you think that they can delay their own gratification in other areas of sacrifice? What is going to curb the “I want what I want now” mentality in the rest of life? If someone is able to respect the limit of hearing no for sex, then that is a character sign of someone who can say no to their own desires and hungers in order to serve a higher purpose, or to love another person.
You fall in love with a person and think about making a real, committed relationship with him or her. Naturally, that is going to mean some sacrifice down the road. You are going to want to be with a person who can deny himself or herself for the sake of your relationship in many areas. Think of the areas of sacrifice that a relationship takes. There are sacrifices of time, when you might want to spend time on your favorite hobby, and yet the family needs you. There are sacrifices of money. One person may want to buy a new car, and yet the family needs money for the home. There are sacrifices of getting one’s way. One person may want to go to one place for dinner and the others want something different.
Most importantly, there is the sacrifice that it takes to work out conflict. One person is hurt and wants to strike back in anger or hurt, yet to reconcile, the ability to put one’s own desires aside for the sake of the relationship is necessary. If someone does not have self-control and delay of gratification in pleasure, can they delay the gratification of getting his or her own way in conflict?
Think about it. Wouldn’t you want to be with a person who can hear and respect the “no” of others? Having a boundary in sex while you are dating is a very important test to see if the person loves you. We have all heard people refer to the line “If you love me, you will.” In reality, you should say back, “If you love me, you won’t make demands that I do not feel comfortable with.” Love waits and respects, but lust must have what it wants now. Are you being loved, or are you an object of self-serving lust? Saying no is the only way to know.
We cannot overemphasize the value of dating a person who can delay their own gratification. If you are with someone who ultimately has to have what they want when they want it, you are in for a long time of misery. Choose someone who can delay gratification for the sake of you and the relationship. To the extent that he or she says, “I must have what I want now,” you are in trouble. Boundaries with sex are a sure-fire test to know if someone loves you for you.
This devotional is drawn from Boundaries in Dating, by John Townsend and Henry Cloud.