This post is part 25 in a blog series that I have entitled “the wilderness between legalism and grace,” in which I share how I came to realize that I had an incorrect view of God and self and how I became free of the system of legalism whereby I was trying to earn God’s favor. You can view all of the posts in the series here on the series landing page.
In my last post I shared the first moment from the PWOC International Conference 2012 that brought me to the point of being able to accept God’s grace for my life. I spoke of a woman named Kim, whose session about our identity in Christ reminded me that I was a desperate sinner in need of God’s grace.
I was so impressed with Kim and touched by her session that I decided to hang back after the session to thank her and talk to her, maybe find out a little bit more about her since it seemed that we had very similar backgrounds. It turns out that they were more than similar. They were almost identical. We were both raised Independent Fundamental Baptist. I was flabbergasted! We exchanged numbers and agreed to meet up at dinner.
At dinner, I was brave and honest – I wanted to know how she did it. How did she break away from legalism? How did she get to where she was today and get over where she had been?
We talked about so many things. I confided in her about all of my struggles and fears of not being good enough for God because I wasn’t good enough for the people in my past. Because I couldn’t measure up to all the rules that were required to earn their favor, and thus God’s. I told her how lonely I felt in church after church where no one has reached out to me when I was hurting. She met me with grace, understanding, and honesty. She shared little bits of her story and how God led her away from legalism.
But she also met me with a little bit of tough love. She was quick to clarify that people from ALL denominations hurt other people. People are human. And if I am looking to not be hurt, well, tough luck. Those kinds of things happen all the time, regardless. She perceptively pointed out that I have been looking for acceptance and for people to meet my emotional needs, when ultimately, I need to look to God and Him alone.
She shared with me the vast importance of staying in the Word of God now matter how hard it is because of how people have used those very words against me. She told me that I can’t react out of hurt against the crippling problems of legalism and go off and just do my own thing. I have to stay grounded in HIS truth. To see what the Bible really says. For myself.
She told me that I needed to “trust who He is with who I am.”
After several hours of tears and talking (and eating free ice cream thanks to her generosity), we were bustling back to the evening session, for which we were already late. But she stopped, pulled me into a quiet (okay, not so quiet) corner and prayed with me. Silent, healing tears fell as she prayed for me to trust God in all things. To forgive those who have hurt me and judged me. She prayed that I would not judge them back. She prayed that I would remember that they have Christ and His spirit living within them too. She prayed that God would lead me and my family into grace. She prayed that like the lilies of Matthew 6, I would stop toiling and spinning, and come forth being arrayed in the glory of Christ.
And then, she prayed that I would be beautiful…in His time.
(She did not know I was a blogger, nor my blog’s name.)
I’m not making this up. Only God can do this.
I wiped the tears from my eyes, hugged her, and then we went into the service, just in time for Laura Story to take the stage to lead worship. She started off with the song Forever Reign. I had never heard it before. I tried to sing…but then was just overcome by the lyrics and had to just be silent and cry, all the while Kim sang next to me with a strong and beautiful voice praising God.
You are good You are good
When there’s nothing good in me
You are love You are love
On display for all to see
You are light You are light
When the darkness closes in
You are hope You are hope
You have covered all my sin
You are peace You are peace
When my fear is crippling
You are true You are true
Even in my wandering
You are joy You are joy
You’re the reason that I sing
You are life You are life
In You death has lost its sting
You are more You are more
Than my words will ever say
You are Lord You are Lord
All creation will proclaim
You are here You are here
In Your presence I’m made whole
You are God You are God
Of all else I’m letting go
Oh, I’m running to Your arms
I’m running to Your arms
The riches of Your love
Will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign
My heart will sing no other name:
If you would like to see what it was like to hear her and 1400 women sing this song, here’s a Youtube clip of that very moment. I did not take this video but I am forever thankful for the woman who did. I still cannot watch this without crying:
In that moment, I felt myself truly let go of “all else.” All the rules. All the guilt. All of the self-righteousness. All of the self-deprecation. All the voices from my past telling me that I’m a disappointment because I didn’t end up “in the ministry” or married to a pastor. All the fear of messing up or displeasing God…all the fear of being hurt that cripples me from approaching God’s throne each day. I felt myself running to his arms. Accepting his love, his peace, his forgiveness, and his grace, even as I have wandered for the last six years trying to make sense of our strained relationship that was born and then seemed to die in the bed of legalism.
When I got home from the conference, that next Monday morning I opened up a new Praise Baby DVD I had previously ordered online for Ezra, Forever Reign. I didn’t even know that Forever Reign was the name of THAT SONG. So when it started playing I was so overwhelmed with the goodness of God. I stood in the kitchen and just bawled, watching babies running to the arms of their parents, experiencing that moment with God all over again right there in the privacy of my home in the midst of the early morning chaos.
Forever Reign has become a symbol of freedom for me. A reminder of that moment. And each line is full of such goodness, touching on something I’ve struggled with.
To share just a few:
You are good – when there’s nothing good in me:
Because I need reminded that I’m not good, no matter how “righteous” I can manage to be, the only goodness I have is because of him and his grace.
You are hope – You have covered all my sin:
All the guilt, all the shame – His righteousness has taken it all away.
You are peace – when my fear is crippling:
Legalism is such a fear-based system. And often I fall back into it, paralyzed by the fear that God is unhappy with me. Paralyzed when other people are upset with me. In those moments, I need his peace.
You are true – even in my wandering:
He has been true to me, even after seven years of wandering away from him. He chased me down and drew me back with his love and grace.
You are God – of all else I’m letting go!
All else. Every rule. Every other person’s opinion. Every relationship. Everything. Nothing matters but Him. Nothing. I mean nothing.
The riches of Your love Will always be enough!
Even when people reject me and accuse me. Even when I feel like I’ll never be good enough. Even when I sin. Even when my life is ugly. Even when I’m hurting. His love is all that I need. It is enough. It is ALWAYS enough.
This is the song that I listen to more than any other. I listen to it multiple times a week, sometimes even a day. I exercise to it. I listen to it on my iphone on those days I just need to crawl up in bed and cry in the dark. And I tear up every time it comes on the radio.
I can’t make this song be your song. It’s mine, and God most likely has another plan for you. But Dear One struggling with legalism, wondering how you can let go of your old life, I urge you to listen to it a few times on repeat and soak it in, soak it up. Feel God love you, and let go of everything but him.
To view all the posts in this blog series, visit the landing page.
Next post, part 26: Leave it all behind…