In the last article, I talked about rest as the first ‘Done’ Discipline in addressing unfinished business. For you leaders who are willing to engage with God in a ruthless searching process, the revealed specter of the sin of your heart (anger, lust, greed, envy, sloth, gluttony, pride) may scare you and seem to you more powerful than the practice of rest. We are much like kindergarteners who cannot grasp the need for nap time at school. The sad part of working with leaders is that they – you – are probably not going to consistently take the time to get what you really need because you will not value rest. Rest is transformational. To be with God with no demands and with no resources of our own, is the most potent antidote for such a destructive presence in our souls. As counter-intuitive as this may seem, doing nothing in our own strength to save ourselves from the power of sin is doing the most we can possibly do in the process of becoming the person we were created to be by God.
When I say ‘with no resources,’ I am speaking about our personal stockpile, not God’s. A further prayer by Paul in Ephesians 1:18 asked God to show his readers the wonders of His supply for all they needed. He had alluded to this in 1:3 when he blessed God for blessing His people with every spiritual blessing in Christ. I ask people, “How many blessings has God given us?” “All,” they respond. “Has He withheld anything that you will have to ask for later?” “No,” they admit. Why is this interaction so important for us? Because so often when we are at our wit’s end over the unfinished business of our lives, we find ourselves asking God for spiritual stuff as if our cupboard is bare. You know you have. I know I have.
Paul’s request for them is an appropriation prayer. “You guys need God to open your eyes to what you have.” He speaks of
- The hope upon which believers can stake their future
- The riches of His glorious inheritance in his children and
- God’s immeasurable power.
Clearly these are the blessings we already have been given by God. Gaining understanding about these assets is not merely to set our minds at ease; they are there as the resources for every day of our transformational journey. So if rest is the first ‘Done’ Discipline that we practice in order that we might move towards spiritual wholeness, appropriation is the second.
What is appropriation? In my home, we have a refrigerator where everything is fair game. The other day I stowed a left-over meal there when I returned from a long day on the road. And then I told my wife that I knew it would be eaten by our teenage son. Sure enough, the container was empty in the morning as my son, who knows that all food is available in the refrigerator, claimed it as a midnight snack. This is appropriation – freely taking what is provided there for you without hesitation. No begging. No fear. Need filled at the moment you reach out to take. I cannot tell you how much this powerful discipline has freed me from one addictive sin after another over time.
Here’s how I first learned how deeply appropriation brings transformation right after I submitted myself to God’s ruthless search years ago. Early in our marriage I had been highly critical of my wife, Shirley. I arrogantly found that she did not measure up to my standards of doing things – how she kept house, how she raised the children, etc. I foolishly tried to fix her through pointing out her faults, thinking that in time she would get better. I had no idea how badly I was wounding her and destroying our marriage.
One day, soon after I entered into the healing process with God, He showed me that I was to stop criticizing Shirley. I was staggered, but because now I wanted what God wanted, I told Him that He would have to do it in me, as I was not able in my own strength. That day I appropriated His power. A year later, conditions had so changed in our marriage that Shirley, who journaled her thoughts, wrote in her notebook that day all the reasons she loved me as her husband. The first statement she wrote was, “I love Steve because he doesn’t criticize me.” I first saw this list seventeen years later, on a day when Shirley was cleaning out her storage chest. When she handed me the list, I was dumbstruck at the confirmation of God’s changing our marriage by changing me years before. Through that one act of empowered obedience, love was rekindled in my wife. That day is engraved in my memory and moves me even now.
Miles Stanford wrote years ago, “In order to appropriate something for our daily walk in Christ, there are two essentials: to see what is already ours in Christ and to be aware of our need for it.” What I see holding so many people back from experiencing freedom from unfinished business is our failure to sense our need, rather than any lack in supply. It is our obliviousness that leaves us hopeless and open to the lies of the enemy that the sin of the heart is our only comfort.
Look closer at the four reasons that we do not feel the need for appropriation and see if you can discern the reason for your own hesitation.
- You have not yet grown tired of the false relief you think you are getting from your addictive sin. You still feel empowered in anger, justified in comments prompted by envy, sated in the appetite gluttony is feeding, or whatever the pleasure of sin has taken in your private world. You will need God to bring you to crisis before you see the need.
- You are not aware of what you have in Christ in practical ways. Experientially, God’s hope, riches and power are merely Bible study fodder to you, not your spiritual reality. I have seen this often and believe it is the result of poor discipleship, a void in a believer’s growth process due to churches making more important the ‘do’ disciplines rather than the ‘done’ work of God. While you may feel your need, you still will have to deepen your trust in God’s presence with you through rest before His supply becomes real to you. Remember that one of the enemy’s lies is to tell you that you are alone. Rest and appropriation are interconnected in Ephesians and in real life too.
- You are still investing deeply in the blame game. Revenge, hurt, or exposure of the guilty – as well as self-pity and helplessness for yourself – are your goals, not spiritual wholeness. You may not be willing to admit this, but it is true. You will not feel your need until you ask God to ruthlessly search your heart.
- Your addiction is too great in your eyes to believe any freedom is possible. This is a lie of Satan and moving forward will require help from a spiritual community.
Why should the discipline of appropriation be important for you? Because like the rest of us, you so often try to deal with your unfinished business with your own resources. Face it – you have nothing that works. If you continue to ignore this discipline, the lid will blow off of your unfinished business in time. But the good news, that is, because of the gospel of Jesus Christ, destruction and defeat do not need to be your future story. Next post I will chat about the single most critical factor in healing your unfinished business.