Be careful what you pray for.
It was not the only time a specific prayer had been answered in my life--but it was certainly one of the first incidences of God working out a very dangerous prayer.
And by "dangerous" I mean risky, life-altering, identity shaking.
It was the weekend before Easter Sunday. While walking across my college campus, I had this nagging conviction that running had become an idol in my everyday life. I could not get enough of it.
Training for a sprint triathlon, I was busy building up my endurance in three sports. Self-discipline came naturally to me, but that also meant I was really hard on myself when I missed a day or failed to meet a distance/time goal. My diet was restricted to foods only beneficial for supplementing my workouts (that meant dessert only once a week), and I would wake up before classes sometimes at 6am to run.
I knew something was wrong when my running--or lack thereof--began to dictate my mood for the day. Yes, endorphins are a natural result of exercising, but I would get genuinely upset and feel guilty if I skipped a day. I also found myself refusing perfectly fun college outings to the local ice cream shop because "I couldn't eat dessert yet" that week.
I knew, somewhere deep inside, that my identity was being wrapped up in my running and physical appearance. I was blinded by the lie. So, as I walked to work out I prayed a dangerous prayer: "Lord, I know that running is becoming an idol. If that is really true, then please do what You need to do to refocus me on You."
On Easter Sunday, I blew out my medial meniscus. I can no longer run without intense pain.
The enemy is very good at twisting innately good things into ultimate things. He would love for us to believe that our identity is wrapped up in what we do--not in who we are as God's children. The problem begins when he lures us to these good things and convinces us to build a foundation upon them:
If our identities are wrapped up in the things we "do", then when those things change and alter, so do we. We have nothing to stand on, and we are lost with them. Do we really want to build a foundation like that? Our foundation here on earth is a reflection of where our foundation will be later--eternally built or forever lost.
What instead should we build on, then? What can possibly defeat this lie, "you are what you do"? Let us look at John 16, when Jesus says to His disciples:
32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Jesus Christ knew His foundation. He assured His disciples that they absolutely would be "scattered", that they would "leave [Him] alone". Yet, Jesus knew that the Father was with Him, despite the changing circumstances. The result of exposing the lie and dwelling on the truth that God is the only unchanging One is peace.
So, what are some practical ways to build on a firm foundation? How can we expose this lie when it tempts to derail us and focus us on earthly identity? Let us look at Luke 6:47-48 for three guiding principles from Jesus:
47 Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.
ONE: "...comes to Me". Spend time with God. The only way a sure foundation is built is by spending time with the One upon Whom we built it. We cannot know someone intimately without investing the time and effort. The more time spent with God (in quiet, prayer, praise) the more apparent our potential idols will become to us--because they are a glaring contrast to God's character and steadfastness.
TWO: "...hears My words". Read the Word. Listen for God's still, small voice. Heed the Holy Spirit working within you. The more time we spend learning God's word, the more likely we are to recall it during difficult circumstances.
THREE: "...and does them". Obey. Simple as that, but never easy. It is not enough to simply hear what Jesus has to say--the ultimate test is to obey Him. A good question to ask yourself is, "What fruit am I seeing in my life?" Obeying God produces the fruit of the Spirit. Only in obeying God can we form a foundation of strength, trust and secure identity. Obedience must be practiced; it is an active choice.
Do not believe that your identity is wrapped in what you do! If that were the truth, then our identities would be constantly in flux with the changing nature of the world. We cannot live like that, ladies! Let us build on a firm foundation, God Himself, to expose this blinding lie. As the hymn sings:
On Christ the Solid Rock I stand / All other ground is sinking sand.
Solid Rock, We depend on You for our identity. We confess that we put too much weight on worldly accomplishments, successes and titles. But these things will not stand. So we look to You for the truth of who we are. Lead us to love spending time with You, to soak up Your word, and to obey. Lead us to build a foundation that matters.
Which of these practical guidelines speaks to you today? What lies have you been believing?