Almost my entire life I have been categorized with a personality of independence. In typical middle child fashion, I would often strike off on my own and tend to isolate myself from my family. Throwing myself into school and activities, I gained leadership skills and developed a sense of responsibility to care for myself. My parents would describe how I rarely ever asked for money and as soon as I started driving I had even less of a need to ask them for things. Throughout high school, I looked forward to going to college and truly getting to be on my own.
While I was in college, I strived to figure things out on my own. I didn’t want to have to ask others for help, so I did everything I could to learn on my own. My self powered responsibility, strength, and motivation is what powered me through college and I would argue, it even powered my relationship with God.
The two disciplines that I quickly latched on to when I started following Christ were obedience and scripture memory. These were things I enjoyed because I appreciated the clarity in what I was being told to do. My task-orientation took over, I looked forward to the bible studies and the scriptures that told me how to live a life that aligned with God’s will. I wanted leaders and studies to tell me what to do in order that I could change my life and look more like Christ.
Want to grow in holiness? Great, stop doing these things.
Want to disciple women in my life? Show them these illustrations.
Want to be a spiritual leader? Memorize these verses.
Want to have a deep relationship with God? Read these passages.
I wanted to have something tangible in my relationship with God and there was something that met that desire in me when I made a list of things to do.
At first glance, this all seems great. Most people struggle with obedience and being told what to do, but not me.
But somewhere along the line, there was a shift in my heart. My joy was not rooted in God, it was rooted in the things I did that made me feel close to God. When I felt as if I was going through the motions, I looked for other things to do in order to revive my relationship with God. I wanted someone to tell me what to do so that I could feel close to God.
While I was support raising, it started to be clear to me how this shift was affecting my heart and my perspective on the grace that God had given me. My support coach once said to me, “Zoë, you can’t change your heart. Only the Holy Spirit can transform you, you can’t transform yourself.”
This was a direct hit against the way I had been living my life, I relied on my works and my tasks in order to provide transformation in my life. In support raising, I grew a lot in what it meant to depend on God for the fruits of my works. I learned that I could only be faithful to what God had asked for me to do, but I couldn’t make people join my support team. When support raising was finished, I thought I had learned all I needed to learn when it came to dependence on the Lord.
Then I got to South Africa.
The first few weeks were a true honeymoon season. I reconnected with so many friends that I hadn’t seen in over a year, I got to buy things to decorate my room, and I was really enjoying my seminary classes.
But after a weeks, it all started to catch up with me. I was struggling with the fact that I didn’t have an established ministry so I didn’t know what to do most days, I couldn’t drive so I relied completely on my house mates to take me to meetings and to drive me to my events, and I felt so tired.
I had lost the joy in my time with God tasks, some nights all I wanted to do was watch shows and not talk to people, and I kept looking for things that were going to snap me out of this funk I felt l was in.
I believed that if I just kept doing the things that I had always prescribed to myself: a dose of reading the word, reviewing scripture memory, and writing my single page of prayers that eventually I would be more adjusted.
But, when you move to a different country and a new job, your capacity is a whole lot lower than you are used to. I truly felt exhausted and I wasn’t feeling refreshed in my time with God.
Then one Sunday, God revealed to me what I was missing. At the church we attend here, we go to a service in the morning and a service in the evening that preaches a different service.
In the morning I was reminded that if I wanted to be growing in godliness, I needed to spend time with God, but that growing in godliness starts from within, my right behaviors will not fix my heart. Our pastor spoke on how godliness grows from a knowledge of the truth of the gospel, loving and knowing the truth will lead us to godliness. He finished by going through 1 Timothy 3:16 and sharing that true godliness springs from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
“Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great: He appeared in the flesh , was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.” 1 Timothy 3:16
I walked away determining that I needed to find the root problem for why I wasn’t growing in godliness since arriving in South Africa. I know the gospel and the price that God paid in order to have a relationship with me but there was something missing.
At our evening service, I found that piece. The message was based in Ephesians 2:1-10 and was entitled, “Disciplined by Grace”. He highlighted the fact that we are sinful and we can do no good thing by our own desire, we were dead and could do nothing. But out of His great love, He gave us grace so that we could be made alive in Christ. It is only by His grace and His revival that I am able to do any of the works that He has given me.
And that was it, I sat in the pews after the service and felt convicted about how I had been trying to live off my own strength and been trying to motivate myself in order to deepen my relationship with God. I was reminded of 2 Timothy 2:1. I was not letting the gospel strengthen me to do all these works. I didn’t just need to depend on God for ministry needs but also, I needed to depend on Him for my relationship with Him.
“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 2:1
I need to depend on Him for my joy, for learning in His word, for strength in scripture memory, to care for my anxieties, for everything.
So I decided to go back to basics. I lamented, I laid out my heart before God in prayer. I asked Him to give me the strength to be in His word. I asked Him for joy in the works that He had given me to do. I asked Him for strength, just to get through the day.
Psalm 51:12 has been my life verse these past weeks, and I have prayed it each night. He has answered this prayer by reminding me of the gospel through teammates and training and He has blessed me with the desire to be in His word each day.
My prayer is that you will ask God to transform you and to deepen you relationship with Him, because He alone can change your heart.
“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.” Psalm 51:12