Heading home from New York City after my internship, I knew that my suitcase was overweight. I had tried to get rid of as much as I could before I left, but, after three months there, I not only carried my belongings home with me, but many sentimental items too.
There were gifts from the teenagers I had worked with, hand-drawn cards from some of the kids, not to mention my team t-shirts, a scrapbook, and two leadership binders I had accumulated during my training.
At the airport, I gingerly approached the check-in desk, laden down with a full-to-bursting suitcase and a backpack stuffed with all my heavies. I swung my case onto the conveyor belt and watched the numbers of the scale shoot upwards.
“I’m sorry,” said the airline attendant, “your case is too heavy. You will need to remove something.”
“Can’t I just pay the overweight fee?” I asked, wondering how on earth I could possibly fit anything more into my backpack.
“You don’t understand,” she replied politely, but with a slight bite in her words, “Your case exceeds the overweight limit. You must remove something as well as paying the overweight fee.”
Eugh. It was the last thing I needed when I was tired and anxious to get home to my family for Christmas after my extended absence. I hauled the suitcase back off the conveyor belt and slid it to the side, so as not to get in the way of other passengers. I did not relish the idea of all my belongings being on show for passersby but there was no way around it, I had to lighten the load.
My hands dove into the carefully packed trunk, feeling around for something I dared to part with. I tried to pick the smaller, but heavier items and cram them into my backpack. I also had a handbag and a mono-strapped camera bag that I was able to drape over me to relieve some of the pressure on my suitcase. Hoping I had done enough, I dragged it back across to the woman at the desk for another weigh-in.
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Fortunately, my extra effort had had the required effect and my suitcase was now accepted for check-in. I stumbled away from the desk wearing all my heavy items but with my purse feeling considerably lighter.
It had not been the first time I had been charged for overweight baggage, and it certainly would not be the last. But the fact of the matter was, I could not travel to my next destination without emptying my case a little. And this is true for us spiritually, too.
We all carry baggage: hurt, anger, resentment, pride, shame, fear, mistrust, bitterness, withheld forgiveness. They are all things we have picked up along the way through our journey called life. But in order for us to move forward into new seasons, we need to leave some of these items behind. Otherwise, if we insist on bringing our extra baggage with us, we can count on there being a hefty price to pay further down the line.
When I was faced with the issue of extra baggage in NYC, all I did was move the problem from one bearer (my suitcase) to another (myself)! That may have satisfied the airline regulations but it did not really solve the problem; I still carried the same excess weight onto the plane. But with our own issues and hang-ups, moving it from one place to another, suppressing the hurt and anger deep down, or simply ignoring the problem altogether will do nothing to lighten the load. Those issues will continue to fester and mould in our hearts until they are dealt with properly.
Fortunately, we have our very own, and very willing, baggage handler, God. He knows what we have packed away in the corners and crevices of our hearts, better than we often know ourselves. He also relishes the opportunity to help us to clear some space – God is no hoarder!
He has had to handle a whole truck full of my luggage on my adventure so far. Each new season has begun by facing some of the hidden intrinsics to my being and off-loading just a few more items to make my journey that little easier. The deeper we dug together, the more surprised I was to find that I had been holding onto scars and false ideals that had formed decades ago. It is great to be rid of so many old and tired containers and feel the heaviness lifted. The off-loading itself, however, can be painful.
In order for us to be most effective in our pursuit of God’s best for us, we must be vulnerable and humble before Him. There is nothing that we can expose to God that He does not already know, but the very act of confession and surrender before God begins a healing work in our hearts and allows Him permission to begin gently extracting the battered, old suitcases that we have long hidden away.
The good news is this: as He begins to remove the extra baggage, one item at a time, it creates more space for Him to fill it with other things – good things! – His love, His acceptance, His power, and His dreams for your future.
Our biggest item of baggage that we all begin life with is sin. But when we commit to living our lives for God and ask Him for His forgiveness, He lifts that burden off of our backs and hangs it on the cross. Yet, the effects and consequences of sin often linger.
We all battle sin. Every single one us has an internal predisposition to sin because of Adam and Eve’s original sin in the Garden of Eden. But our attitude towards sin issomething that we can control. God detests sin, so the more we invite Him to play an active role in our lives, the more we will become like Him, and the more we, too, will hate sin. Our attitude toward sin will change as we grow to be more like Christ, resulting in a diminished desire to wantto sin.
Through Jesus’ saving work on the cross, we can all claim freedom from sin and, thank God, He looks on those of us who have accepted His salvation as right and sinless in His eyes. We can claim Christ’s victory over sin for ourselves.
However, living in this victory does not come without a fight. The fight against sin is one that we will enter into daily until the day we die, or Jesus returns to take those who love Him to be with Him for eternity. It is a fight that is impossible to win in our own strength, but the more we depend on God and draw close to Him, the easier the fight will become.
By allowing God to remove those bags of sinful habits – lying, greed, gossiping, envy, selfishness, and so many others – deeply rooted in our hearts, we create more space for Him to reside there, and He not only equips us to fight the sinful desires that remain, but His presence repels that which we once found appealing.
Jesus told a parable about a man with two sons. The younger son came to his father one day and asked, somewhat cheekily, for his half of the family’s inheritance. What he was really saying to his very-much-alive father was, “you are not important to me, you are as good as dead. All I am interested in is your money.” But the father graciously offered his younger son the inheritance due to him.
Having received his half of the family’s wealth, the son packed up his belongings and left home. He travelled around, squandering his inheritance and partying hard. But, inevitably, his funds eventually ran out. A famine hit the land and he found himself in desperate need.
In his search for work, he found a man who hired him to feed the pigs on his farm. As he stared longingly at the food the pigs were eating, he thought to himself, “My father’s servants get fed better than this, and here I am starving! I’ll return to my father and ask to be a servant in his home, because I am no longer worthy to be treated as a son.”
So he got up and began the long, lonely walk back to his father’s house. But while he was still far from the house, his father spotted him and was filled with compassion. He ran to meet his son, and embraced him tightly. “Father,” implored the son, perhaps ashamed to even look his father in the eye, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But his father threw his best robe over his son’s shoulders, placed a ring on his son’s finger, and new shoes on his feet. “Tonight, we celebrate!” exclaimed the father, “for my son has returned. He was dead, but is alive again. He was lost, but has been found.”
Jesus painted this picture so that we could glimpse the love of our Heavenly Father. We act foolishly, or use God for our own selfish ambition, but when we return to Him, He welcomes us with open arms! There is no judgement or price to be paid, for Jesus has already done that for us. Instead, the Father celebrates that we have returned home to Him.
A few years back, I hit a really low point. It may not have been particularly obvious to those around me because I continued doing all that I had been doing, just as I had been doing it; I continued working in ministry, I continued serving in church, and I continued attending worship services. But my internal world was a mess.
You see, I had allowed a pattern of sin to develop in my life and the guilt and shame that came with it was nearly too much to handle. For as long as I could remember, I desired to be married and have a family. But as I careered towards thirty – still single, with no potential husband in sight – my mind became a battle-zone. Though I was not living in the reality of my dream, I began to live it in my mind. Glamorized Hollywood love scenes would play through my thoughts and my purity was compromised. I did not need images to stimulate me because my imagination was vivid enough.
I began to believe the lie that this – all that the media portrays – was what real love looked like. And that is what I craved. Yet, deep down inside, I knew this was not what God wanted for me.
Knowing my imagination needed curbing, I began to take measures to reduce the stimulation. I stopped watching movies or TV series that were rated above ‘suitable for 12 years and over’. I got rid of the DVDs that I owned that had vivid love scenes or nudity. I took simple measures to help protect myself from the sin that threatened to burst into addiction. I tried everything I could to change my habits but that was not enough. Only Jesus could kill this sin once and for all.
Accepting God’s forgiveness, as incredible as it is, is not usually something I struggle with. Learning to forgive myself, on the other hand, has proved far more challenging. It was this very problem that led to guilt, shame and condemnation. But if God forgives us, then is it not an insult to Jesus’ work on the cross to withhold forgiveness from ourselves?
The weight of guilt, shame and condemnation I carried was sucking the life out of me. For every time I slipped up, the burden I carried would grow. Soon, the sin was no longer the main issue, but the guilt and shame that it resulted in. The spiritual fire that had once burned so brightly in me was reduced to a glowing ember and I distanced myself from God and from others. But that was a mistake.
I truly thought that I had entirely ruined my chances of ever being useful to God again. All those dreams that I had once carried and the purposes He had called me to seemed to sink into the abyss of my shame.
The truth was, God had never left me. In fact, as I reflect on that dark period, it is incredible the prayers He answered and the way He guided me, even when I was too ashamed to seek His hand. I can see now that He had already begun working on some of the underlying issues that pained my fragile heart, that had led me to this point. He did not condemn me. He did not heap shame on me. He lovedme. And He was the only one who could pull me out of the pit that I had dug for myself.
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I had never wanted to be in this mess. I had consistently asked God for His help and His power to overcome the lust in my heart. But it wasn’t until I began to understand the root of the problem – the insecurities or lies that had pushed me into these sinful habits in the first place – that I was able to begin to allow God to chip away at the sin itself.
My focus had always remained on the problem, and that was my mistake. If I tell you not to think about elephants, what immediately pops into your head? Elephants, right? I had been living with one eye on God and one eye on my sin. But until I fixed both eyes on Him, the problem remained.
When we want to break bad habits and deal with the sin in our lives, we must humble ourselves and call out to God to deal with it for us. Sometimes that is the last thing we feel like doing, because the guilt and shame we carry is too much. But God is a loving God who convicts us and seeks to help us overcome. He does not shame us or condemn us, instead He watches for our return and runs out to meet us with open arms.
Gently, step by step, God began to restore what was broken in my life. He gave me a new understanding of true love. He removed the guilt and shame that had weighed so heavily on me. He corrected the lies of insecurity and worthlessness that I had been carrying for so long. Like the Father of the Prodigal Son, God threw His loving arms around me and celebrated that I had returned to Him; not in a perfect, polished state, but broken and dirty, in need of His embrace.
The future that I had once hoped for but thought I had lost, was slowly and graciously restored. My heavenly Father accepted me and repeatedly spoke words of affirmation and love over me in the months that followed. I feared that my mistakes had cost me my dreams, but, in fact, they were the very things that were the making of me. What the enemy meant for harm, God used for good. His love, His pursuit of me, His grace and forgiveness were more real to me than ever before. I learnt what real love is, and I learnt to love myself. I began to see myself how God sees me, and I felt safe in His acceptance of me. Psalm 34:22 declares a comforting truth, “The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.”
When I finally turned my full attention to Jesus, the rest of my problems began to melt away. And this is true in whatever difficulties we are facing; when we keep Jesus at the centre of every aspect of our lives, the issues don’t seem so overwhelming. Our priority is to draw close to Him, and He will, in His goodness, take care of everything else.
But the enemy is still out to bring us down. He does not want you to thrive in your adventure so he will do everything in his power to disable you. He will remind you of the baggage you still carry. He will echo the lies you believe about yourself. He will encourage you to compare yourself to others around you, urging you to conclude that you fall short; that you are of no use to God; that you have wandered too far to ever receive grace and forgiveness.
But this is absolutely not true.
“With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death. God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that. The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us. Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.” (Romans 8:1-6 MSG)
That is the beauty of God’s love. Love overcomes imperfections and flaws, weaknesses and sin.
When we take steps into our adventure, you can count on the enemy’s attack. Any advance we make towards identifying and dismissing the lies we believe, is a danger to his strategy. When we deal with insecurities, and hurts from our past, he panics, because his offensive has been weakened. Choosing to forgive those who have wronged you will make him mad. So you can bet he will look for other ways to distract you and sway you back off course. But remember this: the enemy may be big, but God is bigger. We need to establish ourselves firmly in the Word of God to resist the enemy and his efforts.
It is not easy to share our deepest struggles or insecurities, but sharing them in a safe place with trusted individuals brings freedom and breaks the hold of sin in your life. The enemy loves to work in secret, filling your mind with lies and doubts that drive you away from God and from others. But community interrupts those destructive patterns and allows the voice of truth to break in. Find someone who you can open up to; someone who is discreet, who can be trusted, and is seeking to live a godly life; someone who cares more about your faith than your comfort. Talk to them about how you are feeling and ask them to journey with you and to hold you accountable. The great thing about having someone who walks alongside of you through the struggle is that they are also there to celebrate with you when you experience breakthrough!
We often want to get all the kinks of our lives worked out before we answer God’s call to adventure, but that is not how He works. God calls those who feel like they have nothing to offer to do His greatest work. He chooses those who know they need His help over those who think they can do it themselves. The very things that you have allowed to rot for so long – those putrid items in the hold of your heart – are the tools He wants to use to set others free. He uses the adventure to purify your life. Your testimony will pave the way for someone else’s freedom.
Remember, God wastes nothing. The battles we conquer and the lessons we learn become powerful weapons in our arsenal to lead others out of the darkness and into God’s glorious light.
In Anticipating Adventure, we learned a little about David, a man after God’s own heart. So would it surprise you, then, to learn that he messed up too? Big time. His lustful thoughts led him into adultery and fathering an illegitimate child, which eventually led him to commit murder in an attempt to hide his failings. But that did not end his work for the Lord. David had to pay the price for his sin, but he repented and God restored their relationship. Despite his mistakes, David left a godly legacy and the Son of God, Jesus Christ, was born through his bloodline.
In my twenties, I realised that I was carrying a hefty suitcase around, labelled ‘coping mechanisms’. I whipped it out regularly and rummaged through it to find a strategy or mindset that I could adopt that might help me respond to the circumstances I faced. I even employed my bag of tricks in my walk with God. I failed to recognise that God had good things prepared for me, and that He was working all things together for my good. Instead, in every situation I faced I braced myself for the worst to save myself from disappointment, but all that says to God is, “I don’t trust you to look after my heart.”
Much of my thoughts and actions at that time were fuelled by guilt. I wasn’t necessarily afraid of the destiny God had for me, but I was afraid of the opinions of others, of making wrong decisions, and of disappointing people as I transitioned into new seasons. But if God had called me into something new, He would not neglect me during these ‘middle’ moments.
For a long time I really struggled to accept God’s unconditional love. I was either working too hard to try to earn it, or I was rejecting it because I didn’t think that I deserved it. I constantly needed to remind myself (and choose to accept) that God loves me, He created me, He has a great plan for me, He died for me, He saved me, He chose me, and He won’t let go, no matter what I have done, or will do in the future. This truth, once realised, entirely transformed my relationship with God, and my relationships with others too, because I learned to accept love without conditions, and this brought freedom and security.
When we refuse to deal with our extra baggage, we function on Spiritual Autopilot. This is such a dangerous thing. We work, and we serve, and we minister, and we give until we are running on fumes, but unless we take the time to refuel at the feet of the Father, our efforts will be fruitless.
But if we are so crammed full of unnecessary baggage, there will be little room for the fuel of the Holy Spirit to work within us. When we stifle the work of the Holy Spirit, our efforts become wearisome because we are dependent only on our own strength, and not the infinite resources of God.
When operating on Spiritual Autopilot, there is no growth, no progress, and no room for response. If we want to keep moving forward into the best that God has for us, then we must be continually tuned into His voice to know which way to turn. Depending on a pre-set programme is not an option.
In order to maintain a healthy, growing relationship with God, we must be intentional, and responsive, and obedient. Just as with any healthy human relationship, open, honest communication is key. So be careful not to let extra baggage get in the way of that.
Sometimes God suggests an item of baggage that needs to be off-loaded, other times He waits for us to lay it before Him. He’s not going to force us to deal with it, but He knows we can’t deal with it alone. It needs to be dealt with, and He is the best person for the job. He loves to roll up His sleeves and get to work on that full-to-bursting trunk stuffed into the corner of your heart.
So what can you begin dealing with today? What pain or hurt are you carrying that God would gladly take off your hands? Has something already popped into your mind? If so, give it over to Him, He will be gentle. Confess to Him the problem and your helplessness in that situation and He will begin to do a healing work in your heart. If you are not sure what to deal with first, ask God where He wants to begin. Pray about it and I guarantee you will soon identify something out of place in your heart that needs to be left behind. Just pick an item of hand-luggage and start with that.
It took many months for me to finally leave the lustful thoughts behind. Months of praying, of returning to God and repenting when I slipped up, of allowing God to re-wire my heart into a greater understanding of the love He has for us and the love He calls each of us to. But, one-by-one, He removed the bags crammed full of condemnation, guilt, shame, and the deep-rooted issues that had led to this sin in the first place. I have no room to carry those extra bags anymore because I am running the race that God has mapped out for me and navigating this wonderful, faith-filled adventure with Him.