The following is an excerpt from my new book, From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel. If you want to read more, you can find the book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Christianbook.com.
that we have a Helper--as Jesus calls Him--in the Holy Spirit gives us a fresh perspective on
spiritual disciplines—everything from Bible-reading, prayer, fasting, giving,
and church attendance.
was coming to recognize my goodness obsession, I didn’t know quite how to view
spiritual disciplines. For many years, I looked to spiritual disciplines as a
checkpoint of how I was doing as a Christian. I was a “good” Christian if I did
them and a “bad” one if I did not. But this to-do list way of practicing
spiritual disciplines, I discovered, is self-oriented. I created them. I set
certain standards for myself, and I used them as a type of formula for
this scenario, God was a supporting actor and I was both director and main
actor. I could, in effect, practice spiritual disciplines without actually
relating to God. And those disciplines in themselves could not change my heart
or cause me to grow spiritually. In all my efforts to effect change in my life,
something was missing.
because spiritual disciplines are not intended as replacements for the Holy Spirit. They are intended as ways to ask for and receive help from the Holy Spirit. God is the director and main
actor. We belong to Him. Spiritual disciplines, when practiced correctly, place
us in positions of submission, acknowledgement of need, and ready receptors
when the Holy Spirit moves, leads, speaks, or convicts. I am essentially using
spiritual disciplines like a door, opening my heart to God, ready to receive
from Him. They are a means of continual receiving.
the role of the Holy Spirit actually elevates the spiritual disciplines beyond
a to-do list, because they are our way of asking for the Holy Spirit’s help.
for example, becomes a vital connection to God. If, as we’ve established, the
Holy Spirit is the only One who can reach into the heart of man and if, as
we’ve established, we can’t control or affect heart transformation, our role
and responsibility in partnership with the Holy Spirit is to pray for Him to
me, this comes into play often as I consider how to help my children know God
and trust in Him. When my first son was born, a struggle with fear was also
borne in my heart. In the beginning, trivial fears gripped me: What if he won't
sleep when the book says he should sleep? What if he cries like this for the
rest of his life? What if I never shower again? But when he was diagnosed as
having autism, the realities of motherhood and the weight of profound fears
landed hard. Would he ever speak? Was his future a hopeful one? Would he ever
enjoy relationships? Would I be able to parent this child how he needed to be
soon realized was that all moms struggle with fear at some level. Every mother
wants their child's emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being, and every
mother wants to do right by her child. Every mother fears that she might not be
enough, or that life might be a big bully to the one she loves.
recognize my fears as a mother, and I also recognize my typical responses to
those fears. I either anxiously feed the fear and am motivated by it, or I
attempt to tamp down the fear through my own effort.
primary method of handling fear is the second response—the control of fear
through effort. And what do I fear most? I fear that they won't know and be
assured of what God has done for them in Christ. I fear that they won't love
God or love others well. So I set goals of what I want to instill into my
children. I make lists of activities to help them grow. I write down ideas that
other mothers share. I scour blogs and Pinterest. I pack the schedule with
opportunities. I help them pursue friendships. I peel open the Bible every
morning after breakfast and read it to them.
doesn't sound so bad, so why is this response to fear such a bad
thing? Being purposeful with my children is not inherently bad, but if it is motivated by fear, it is sin (Romans
14:23). It’s sin because, if we
believe that our efforts are the way to protect our children or produce heart
and character transformation in them, we're saying that we are God. We're
saying that we can control life and circumstances. We're saying that we have
the power to do what only God can do. This
is why controlling our fears through effort is so dangerous.
I've been thinking a lot lately
about my typical responses to fear as a mother and recognizing that, truly, my
children belong to God, and that I have no ability to produce character in
them. I can teach them and lead them to this end, but only God can actually do it. Wouldn't I much rather allow Him to
protect, provide for, and work in the hearts of my kids? A million times, yes.
what is our response to the fears we have as mothers and in any area of life,
for that matter? He gives us a way to ask for help and for things to change: we
can pray! We are to pray fervently for our children and ask the Holy Spirit to
do what only He can do. And we not only pray, but we trust the answer that He
will give, which is so often different than what we think it will be or should
must also be obedient to put the structure in place that He asks us to put in
place in our families, but we recognize that it is not actually this structure
that will do anything. It's Him, and it's only ever been Him.
is true for anything we are concerned about, whether it’s marriage, career,
ministry, relationships, or suffering. The change or growth we desire can only
be done by the Spirit. So instead of controlling, we pray. Instead of
self-sufficiency, we pray. Instead of trusting in behavior modification, we
pray. Instead of fear, we pray.
have a Helper, after all, whom Jesus promised would help us when we call on
is, in fact, the posture of a child who looks with complete security and
assurance to her father for help and guidance. We are now children, brought to
the Father’s table, and, because we are no longer orphans, we don’t have to act
as orphans who must take care of themselves. Jesus said, “I will not leave you
orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). How did He come to us? He came to us
through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our guide and our
sufficiency, and by depending on Him, we are looking to our Father for help and
for our needs to be met each day. The Holy Spirit leads us to the Father-heart