Thursday, June 4, 2015

When God prunes people from your life

For it is not an enemy who reproaches me, Then I could bear it; Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me, Then I could hide myself from him. But it is you, a man my equal, My companion and my familiar friend; We who had sweet fellowship together Walked in the house of God in the throng. Psalms 55:12-15

 Ecclesiastes chapter 3: There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens...a time to tear down and a time to build...a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing... a time to search and a time to give up...a time to keep and a time to throw away.. a time to tear and a time to mend...a time to love and a time to hate.

Through my years of working in ministry, one lesson that I have learned repeatedly is that there are in fact changing seasons in ministry and in life and general. Jobs change, kids grow up, moves are made, goals change, and circumstances fluctuate. There are seasons of waiting, seasons of activity, seasons of hardship, and seasons of ease. Seasons of confusion, and seasons of clarity. God transitions us through life in seasons. One huge aspect of the seasons of our lives are the relationships that we have, and the people who are with us in them.

For most people, myself included, the changes in relationships that come with different seasons in our lives can be one of the harder aspects to accept. When we lose a friendship that we have valued for decades, or we are betrayed by our closest confidant and friend, or there is a rift in our family that isn't able to be repaired, or a loved one who is a huge part of our life dies- we are often left confused and feel the deep void that is left by the person's absence. It can be hard to understand how someone that we were so close with- someone we shared life with- could just be gone. So many times, when someone leaves our lives, that's exactly how it happens. They are here one day and gone the next. Did they ever truly love us? Oh, the pain of a lost friend!

In the past three weeks, I have had two very close people walk out of my life. People who I was sure would be by my side forever. At first, I was very bewildered about what went wrong and why it was happening. Things- as far as I knew- were great. One of these relationships, in fact, had come to a place a few weeks earlier in which the relationship was better than it had ever been. Then out of nowhere one day- suddenly and without warning- it all came crashing down, and they decided to walk out of my life- almost one right after the other. I was so caught off guard and bewildered by what had happened. When I started to pray about what had happened, and asked God why,  God revealed to me that he had allowed it to happen because their season in my life was over.

I think God removed these people from my life in order to protect me.  These people have known my husband and I for a very long time, and they have seen us at both our best and our worst. While on the surface they loved me and wished me well, there were some underlying resentments that were beginning to bubble to the surface. Feelings of jealousy, of unforgiveness, and of pride. Feelings that I didn't deserve the grace and mercy that God has extended to me. Feelings of self-righteousness, resentment and comparison that had slowly built up into a toxic level of  unspoken malice within their hearts towards me.

The thing is, some people hold onto your past, no matter how much you may change. Many times I think it is sub-consciously, but it's there. The very people that watched you at your worst- struggling through your addiction and near death- the ones who prayed for you and always told you how they wished you could just stop and get better- are some of the first people to resent you when you do. The people that should be the happiest that you made it out of the hell of addiction which they had a front row seat to, are sometimes the first to cast stones. Feelings of envy come when they think back to who you used to be, and wonder why you have a good life now while they may be struggling when you were such a rotten person before you came to know God. If you are happier than they are, or blessed with material things that they may not have, or begin to become successful, or have a contentment with your life that may escape them, thoughts creep into their minds about how you don't deserve it. After all, who are you to have a good life when you were so horrible for the first half of it? Why should a drug addict be doing better than they are, when they were a good person for their entire lives? Surely they deserve to be in a better spot than you when they have done the right things their entire lives, and you just started. How is that fair? The bible addresses this exact issue very clearly.

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

Matthew 20: 1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

It is God, and God alone, who decides what to bestow on each of his children. Do I deserve God's grace and mercy? Absolutely not. I am well aware of what a sad excuse I was for a human being before I had on a head on collision with Jesus Christ, and I will be the first one to agree with people who say that I don't deserve how good God has been to me. As horrible as I was, for some reason, God decided that I was worthy of his love. In
Romans 9:15, God says that "I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION." I deserve nothing. The only reason I have been shown the mercy, compassion and grace that I have in my life is because God decided to show it to me.

Ephesians 2:4-9 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

While I- a lowly former drug addict- certainly don't deserve God's grace in my life, neither does anyone else. No one is righteous, and no one has earned God's grace. It becomes really dangerous when people start comparing what they think they are deserving of, and start taking a mental tally of how they feel they are better than others. We are all sinners that fall short of the glory of God, and when we are able to see that, it makes us not judge others so harshly, because we see how desperately we need grace ourselves.

For I say, through the grace given to me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God has dealt to every man the measure of faith- Romans 12:3
I am saddened over the lost relationships- especially because they were lost over the fact that these two people are upset that my husband and I are doing well and extremely happy. If it were an argument, a falling out, or someway that we had wronged them, it would be much easier to accept the end of the relationship. It hurts to think that these people would be more content if we were still in our addiction, destitute, miserable  and dying and on the fast track to hell. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy, let alone someone I professed to love. To know that people who claim to love you are holding that kind of resentment against you in their hearts and secretly wishing that you were what you used to be is mind- blowing. It is not something I can wrap my mind around, because I have always been happy for others, even if I had nothing and my life was in shambles . Jealously is just something I cannot understand. I want everyone to be happy, and your happiness takes absolutely nothing away from mine.

God knows the heart of people, and he sees all of the hidden motives, agendas, and feelings. What we may miss-especially when we try to look for the good in people- God sees. I really, truly believe that God pruned these relationships from my life because he was protecting my future. The resentments that came to the surface in the past couple of weeks could have turned into something monstrous in a few more months, and the damage could have been much worse. Their hidden attitudes could have manifested in a way that would have been devastating to me personally or to my ministry. I won't question God removing these people from my life, but I hold to the promise that he works all things out for the good of those who love them. Sure, I miss them- and would gladly welcome them back into my life with open arms- but God can see a future that I can't. If they intended to harm me, God prevented it. If  they are able to get to a point in their lives where they truly love me as I am, I'm sure that God will bring them back into my life. Until then, I will continue to pray that God removes anyone from my life who intends to bring me harm.

The bible says that there is NO CONDEMNATION IN JESUS CHRIST, and that includes being condemned for doing the right things. I have come to a point in my life where I have made up my mind to fix my eyes on Jesus, and to continue to do the next right thing and to follow the path he has laid out for me- regardless of the backlash of those who don't agree with it. People can throw my past in my face now and it has absolutely no effect on me, because I know who I am in Jesus Christ. I just pray that one day they can come to the realization of who they are in him, and that we are all the same in his eyes.