It is very easy to turn to and get fouled up by self-scrutiny in our approach to God. “Is my motive pure? Am I seeking Him for what He does or for who He is? Why am I reading my Bible or praying? Am I trying to get favor with God? Am I doing it right? What if I’m doing it wrong? Oh, I’m such a puzzle!” Frankly, these kinds of questions often tangle me up in the sometimes hidden pursuit of self-righteousness with God. That never goes well—my history shows it. Maybe yours does, too.
Here’s the thing: I am often a mess when beginning to talk with God or to read the Bible, and one of my greatest delights is how He restores me to my right mind and brings forth the new creation Ralph. Oh, how I like that Ralph! Fear is gone. Rest is restored. And love, God’s love, fills and moves me again. I think that’s a pleasure for Him, too. “Ralph! Look what I’ve found—it’s you!”
I have found Him to be perfect with me, so I now care less about why I’m approaching Him and what my motive might be in the deep and dark recesses of my mind than I once did. I care far more about knowing and enjoying Him in any condition I might encounter.
While I sometimes discover that rickety Ralph has been tripped up by fleshly demands that God be more obvious, more helpful, more useful, or more like Santa Claus than He evidently is to me, He fixes all of that craziness in me. He cleans up the mess! He is good with me (and with you), and I find all over again that He is the solution—The Solver—of all that confuses and harasses me, Mr. Puzzle; pure motives or bad, honorable intentions or not, doing it right or doing it wrong.
While it is a powerful temptation, the flesh that plagues me cannot be solved by me. That fact makes room for my sometimes reckless and rickety approaches to God, who then emerges in me as The Righteous One, The Rescuer, The Victor and The Solver of the lifelong puzzle that is Ralph Harris. Maybe you’re that puzzle for God to solve, too. He doesn’t mind. He’s The Puzzle Master, and He’s good with bringing you together—especially when you know you cannot. Right then.
During those times when your puzzle pieces are scattered all over the place, and the picture, the puzzle box top of how you should look and how you should be is condemning and eluding you, those times actually keep you to the free and fabulous effort of God in you—the Spirit of grace. Those crazy times keep you from believing the lie that you’re supposed to have this all figured out: “Move your own pieces into place, for God’s sake!” That’s just not true.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians about the danger of trying to do everything right and of not needing Jesus:
Galatians 5:4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.
I know that I eagerly wait sometimes, don’t you? Well, that’s a good thing!
If just now you’re a puzzle box of craziness, don’t worry about how to do anything properly with God. Simply tell Him what you’re thinking and feeling, however reckless, rickety and ugly it might sound. He’ll put you together because He knows the fit. He’s great at it because He’s your Puzzle Master.
Do you know any control freaks? I do. And I don’t know about you, but I am sometimes visited by the powerful suggestion that if I would just get everything under control—get myself, get you, and get what I want to have happen all organized and directed by me—then everything would go well. Finally. Do you know that suggestion?
CONTROL. What do you do about it?
Many of us who recognize the inner struggle we have concerning “control”, tell you something like this: “YOU must give up control so that God can be in control.” Is that true? I don’t think so. That statement indicates that YOU are the problem when I don’t think YOU are. It suggests that you have a problem with control, but I don’t think you do.
Since you were born all over again through faith in Jesus’ cross and resurrection, YOU are not the problem; you have already lost everything that was the problem. There WAS a problematic former YOU, an old you, but in the same way that there was a former covenant, an old covenant, which has now been replaced by a new covenant through the death of Christ, so YOU have been replaced by a new YOU. As there is nothing you have to do in order to earn or become anything in the new covenant—the change has been made, it’s all secured, it’s all good—so there is nothing you have to earn or become as a new you—the change has been made. Yours is only to grow in believing the change has happened for YOU.
If you don’t know or don’t believe the change has occurred, then you will be in error, which hurts you, of course. Because you don’t know the cure of Christ, you will misdiagnose yourself and treat yourself as though you are sick. This will become a twisted and sickly caricature of Christianity; while perfectly cured, you will deny your health. You will frustrate yourself by looking for health—freedom from a former YOU—based upon what you do, rather than upon what Jesus did. That won’t work—of course not, because He has already done it. What He did is your cure and health, not what you do. Jesus was in the eradication and re-construction business with you, but you’re not.
The old covenant has nothing to do with the new covenant. In the same way, the old you has nothing to do with the new you. YOU ARE NEW. So stop deriding yourself as though Christ’s death and resurrection made no change for you. It did!
Romans 6 tells you that you were crucified with Christ, and a new you was raised with and in Him. How good is that new you? Did Jesus get you right? Did His cross and resurrection work for you? I think so. What do you think? And that’s the issue.
You are well with God—“the old has gone, the new is here” (2 Corinthians 5:17). So you are not a “control freak”, neither are you your own worst problem, nor are you God’s problem. You are a new you, and you’ve been given a new way to live.
Ephesians 4:22-24 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life (the way you used to do things when you were a control freak, when you were a problem) to put off your old man, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds (think about what happened!); and to put on the new man, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Italics mine.)
Whoa. You’re good.
So instead of telling you that you must give up, you must surrender or lose control so that God can be in control, I would say it this way: You used to have a control problem when you were the problem, but now you don’t because you’re not. You used to be deluded by a belief that restraint and domination was the navigational way forward—but not anymore. Don’t get confused about the problem; it’s not you. Instead, stay in step with the truth and with the Holy Spirit, who is living in you right now, because control is not the problem now that you’re alive and you’ve got Him and His life. Believe—and life is with Him.
If, as Jesus said in Matthew 5:14, “you are the light of the world”, then it seems obvious that Satan’s work is to craft a sort of covering for you, an acceptable covering, and then to induce you to pull it over yourself. To hide. It’s terribly devious.
Jesus has made you salt and light, and that will never be altered. You don’t have to become salty, you don’t have to become lighty—He did that to you already. Satan’s game is to point out your failures and weaknesses, as though they could ever change the change Jesus made for you, and then, if you’ll accept them as identifying who you are, to induce you to hide yourself.
But still. You are a light.
The good news is that Jesus didn’t make you the light of the world “IF”. There is no if. The light that you have emanates from you but does not originate with you. You’re a lamp—a very nice lamp, the lamp He intended—but a lamp! And you will always be plugged in. You will always be on. Anything and everything that might imply you’re not a very good lamp does not change your lampness. It’s who you are.
So throw off the devil’s offered covering. It doesn’t fit you. It doesn’t belong. It doesn’t help. Weaknesses and failures simply make it evident that the light you have is the Son of God, who lives in you and provides the light. You are the vessel, He is the content. Sometimes that’s going to be obvious. I might think, “I’m such an odd lamp lately, but I’m a lamp! A lamp is what I am.” And then I am revived because I am believing that Jesus’ work through the cross and resurrection worked. I’m living by faith.
So shine on, my lamp friends. It’s who you are, so it’s what you do.
Matthew 5:14-15 You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
Is there a place or two that when you visit, you come alive? Maybe it’s a distance away, like a vibrant meadow, a mountain view, or a breeze that brings the scent of the ocean to you. Or perhaps it’s nearby, like a certain chair in the early morning or a walk through the neighborhood.
One of mine is an emerald pool on a secret river near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Since the late 60’s, I have been wading through its long, slow waters and scanning the currents and sinister snags as I hunt what lies within it. The very moment I enter the water I find myself sighing deeply in welcome and relief. It’s as if the Divine Masseuse has begun gently massaging the cares and deep anxieties that have knotted me up, and made me tense, fake and mechanical. I don’t like Ralph The Fake, or Ralph The Robot. He’s not real. But somehow I can be held captive by him—a sort of hostage from myself. But not in the river. I get myself back.
There is a better way that brings me back to life, and I don’t have far to go to find it.
Years ago God worked in such a way that I discovered Him to be the greatest treasure. Not simply because of His value, supreme as it is, but because of what happened to me when treasuring Him. I wasn’t simply dazzled by what I found, like a pirate after lifting the lid on a treasure box; the radiance filled me and affected me! I was filled with the Spirit—God Himself—and I became the best Ralph possible. In other words, my Treasure treasured me! I was forever changed—and hooked on Treasure.
After that discovery, no commands to obey or tithe or pray or read or witness were really necessary, having been made superfluous by the one command: Enjoy your treasure. It happened again this morning when, resisting the impulses to read the newspaper or to turn on my computer, I turned my thoughts to Him. “Father, I need you. What are you thinking about today?”
It didn’t take long before the stone moved and there He was: Treasure. And I was treasured back. As a result, Ralph The Fake and Ralph The Robot vanished, driven away after a simple turn of my thoughts.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matthew 13:44)
The next time you’ve lost your way, resist the urge to go faster in order to get where you’re going. Instead, get off the common avenue, if only for a minute or two, and return to your treasure. He will dazzle you back to yourself. And that’s good.
A great danger today is for Christians—the ones who have been made holy and blameless and new and radiant, and who are right now the happy homes of God Almighty—to read a book or listen to a speaker or pastor or leader who does not see them as they have become in Christ through the cross and resurrection, but who sees them only in the disguised and lowly appearances of this world. What they read or hear will be worldly—even if it sounds good and useful—it will be flesh to flesh. And that is a very real form of torture. It will not be of the Spirit, who gives life and who always makes free. And confusion, although cloaked in good packaging, bright lights and smiling faces, will produce frustration and disillusionment. It is inescapable.
They will have become blind to themselves, and you can’t do well if you don’t know who you are. It’s impossible. But, having accepted the lie and the torture, they will have to accept worldly ways to navigate relationships as though they see well. As though they see perfectly. They will accept worldliness as though it fits. And that is a terrible thing. They will fumble in worldliness—of course!—but act as though it’s godliness. This happens every day. A blindness comes at you all the time, and if you accept it, you’re accepting torture. Over time, you might even get used to the pain and call it normal.
If, on the other hand, that book or that speaker, pastor or leader truly sees them and is at all dazzled by the royalty they are, then they can rest confidently because what they read or hear will invigorate who they are. New creation majesty will be unveiled—even to themselves! And then they will be themselves because they will see themselves. This is how to live by faith. This is New Covenant living! In other words, “Aha! I know who I am because of Jesus and His cross and resurrection, so now I know how to live . . . By faith in Him about me.” And that is powerful.
It is then that the glory of God in the sons of God is brilliantly evident. Obvious. The sons of God will be living in this world by faith in God—and that is how the world is changed.
Is Intercession Difficult? Do you have to study it; do you have a lot of knowledge about it in order to do it right?
A supporter-friend of mine recently asked for my thoughts about the New Testament word “intercession.”
The word “intercede” has unfortunately come to mean something that we’re supposed to do by ourselves—“Ralph, go intercede for so and so”—rather than something that happens to us and for us.
On a small scale, perhaps you know what it’s like to be praying along in a sort of “minding-your-own-business” kind of way, when suddenly a care, a concern or a godly desire rises up in you—it happens to you—and “leads you” in feelings and words that you had no prior intention of praying. This is intercession granted or caused by God, who intercedes with you.
He shares His cares, concerns and desires with you because, 1) you’re a son, and you’re like Him; 2) He wants you to know Him; 3) He wants to get something done through you. Paul wrote about this happening to him in Colossians 1:29 – 2:3. (Please read that.) In that passage, Paul was literally “being labored,” and “being struggled” by God for a result. In other words, the Holy Spirit was doing something with Paul in order to prove the perfect ability of God for someone else.
Paul wrote that the same thing happened to his friend, Epaphras, in Colossians 4:12-13, where he was literally “being wrestled” and “being worked hard” by the Spirit in order that the Colossian believers would stand firm in all the will of God. How important is that? This was an amazing evidence of Christ in Epaphras and, as it happens to us, an amazing evidence of Christ in us! Christ in you.
On a grand scale, Jesus is interceding for us. We are in Him, so everything that “comes at us” or is “done to us” or “by us” affects Him. In that way, He intercedes for us by being our innocence, our righteousness, holiness and redemption, our strength, courage, comfort, love, patience, peace, kindness, self-control, and more. Nothing can separate us from Him because He lives perfectly for us in a way we cannot. As we grow in believing and trusting Him “in whom we live and move and have our being”, so His security, His defense, His ability and grace become more and more evident to us—and to everyone else because of it.
That’s freedom because He is doing it with us! And that’s powerful.
This intercession, this miraculous evidence of Christ in us, for us and through us is described in my new book, “Life According to Perfect.” Maybe you’ve been listening to me in this video and thinking, “Hey! That sounds like what happens in your new book!” Well, you’re right. It is. This is one of the thrill rides of Christianity that too many of us are missing—we don’t understand it, we don’t recognize what’s happening in us. So because we don’t trust that God is doing it, we take another avenue, another way of praying that all too often is boring and uneventful. We forsake the adventure and mystery of “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27), and choose template prayers. “Just get it done” prayers. For that reason, many of us give up on prayer altogether. But I don’t want anyone to miss “Christ in you, the hope of glory”.
Fear is the biggest “ripper-offer” that keeps us from looking to Christ in us because we’re afraid that something out of control, something dangerous might happen. And, actually, that’s the truth! That’s right. This is when the grace of God in you and the grace of God for you and through you is beautifully evident, most powerful and most beneficial—and you’ll know it! You must know that your enemy, the devil, fights aggressively against this happening in us and through us.
This is one of the most fun, most incredible aspects of Christianity. You have it by new birth—He is in you and you are in Him. And He loves for you to know the fullness you have been given. (See Colossians 1:9-10.)
That is the Plan. It’s not something you have to do, it’s what He is already doing with you and for others. He is busy, so simply pay attention. That brings about Christ’s intercession for you and through you . . . and I hope this helps.
Think of Jesus. Imagine Him. Imagine Perfect. Now imagine yourself actually in Him. What’s life like from there?
And think of this: Unless I see myself as God sees me, in Christ, actually in Him (it’s all over the New Testament), then whenever inexplicably difficult and odd things happen to me, I will wonder what has gone wrong and what I have to do to make things right.
For a lot of us, that’s how we think a lot of the time. “Why is this happening to me?” “Why do bad things happen to me?”
That thinking means endless days of pressure—or of trying to avoid it, which is essentially the same thing. Either way, I’ve got to educate myself, strategize and work to orchestrate my days so that weird and wrong stuff doesn’t happen.
And I will have been tricked into seeing myself as separate from God, with assessments and techniques for proper management always in demand. After all, I’ve got a lot to do. No wonder I’m nervous, no wonder I’m prone to anxiety. But I’ll give my self toward that—more than to anything—and I’ll think it’s the right way . . . the responsible way. The separate way.
But I am in Him. At all times. At every moment. He put me there (1 Corinthians 1:30). What happens to me or what goes on around me is for the two of us, not for one of us, but for both of us—together—united forever in everything. That’s the plan. Never separate! His life and His ability are always at the ready for me and through me, as the case may be. Obviously, it helps if I will believe we’re together—not just God over there and me doing my best to follow. I am in Him. He is in me. “Following” is not the issue; believing that He made this change happen is the issue.
Believing it’s true and enjoying it is how Christ is formed in me. That’s His agenda and now that’s my agenda. In other words, “Jesus, I am in you and you are in me. Make me aware of what you’d like to do in me and through me, your vessel. Let’s do this together. I would love that. Amen.”
This is the “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” life (Galatians 2:20), and that’s for me. And if you’re a Christian, it’s for you, too. How exciting is that life?
The way we take God’s grace for granted—the way we mistreat it—is to believe and act in a way that says we have to earn something from God, who thinks He has given us all things already for free. (See Ephesians 1:3-10.) In other words, if you want to really bother God, here’s how to do it: try to earn something from Him. (Good luck. Bon voyage.)
God’s grace never creates debt; it always pays debt. Otherwise, it would cease to be grace and instead become obligation. Oh, how that word bothers God! He’ll have none of it. Not with Abraham, not with the Galatians, not with you, and not with me. (See Romans 4:4-5.)
The apostle Paul got rightfully angry with the Galatian Christians who had fallen away from grace, because they were attempting to earn favor with God by their own behavior. The problem was, they already had perfect favor! They already had every blessing! Jesus had given it to them—in full. To believe otherwise was to believe a lie and to give themselves to that lie through their efforts. That’s how people get twisted and disappointed. Have you noticed?
Believing that we have to tithe, pray, worship, sing, witness, fast, or love in order to gain favor with God is anti-Christ. Doing something apart from Jesus in order to get what He presumably failed to secure is not only worthless, it is against the truth. That’s awful. For the Galatian Christians to add Jewish customs or ceremonies or rule-keeping to a supposed required mix was to put themselves under a curse!
Galatians 3:10-14 10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because ‘the righteous will live by faith.’ 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, ‘The person who does these things will live by them.’ 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’ 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles (That would be me, and most likely you) through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Italics mine.)
In other words, by faith in Jesus, we get the Holy Spirit and everything that He brings with Him. You would be wise to assume that He doesn’t lack anything.
Every other hope with God, any other obligation-based hope with God is shadow living—it’s performing in the dark!—even though the reality has come (Colossians 2:16-17).
In Christ—which is where we are now—we have how many things? All things. That’s the incredible gospel we love! That’s the stunning New Covenant. And that’s why we’re crazy in love with Jesus. We’re out in the open about it! No one’s hiding this. We want to tell everyone, and we want to remind those who have forgotten and been lured back into the shadows. Come on out of there! No more performing in the darkness! Lies will have you there, and we won’t be a part of that; neither will God.
Because of Jesus, we have it all. And that’s all, folks.
Jesus is well acquainted with failure and sin and faithlessness and betrayal and ugliness of all sorts. We know about ugliness, don’t we? Well, He knows all about it, too. Remember? He was born among us to own all of that stuff for the whole world, so you and I wouldn’t have to. He is the cure—always—and we the recipients—always. Even though we often forget that—and wring our fretful hands and point our crooked fingers—He never forgets.
While your own experience with “that stuff” will bother and hinder and challenge you (as it will me) all of your days, and you’ll face the temptation to condemn others struggling with the same—It might sound something like this: “How can he/she be so stupid/evil/bad/greedy/arrogant/hypocritical”—still Jesus is the every day cure we all need. All of us. Like it or not, we’re going to prove it. You’ll know the struggle with “that stuff” in all your days, and you’ll read about it and see it on parade day after day, year after year—maybe on CNN or FoxNews. This isn’t going away, this is the Headline News! We’re broken. We don’t work right. But always the cure is Jesus Christ, although that will not play on CNN or Fox News. That’s not going to be the cure that they offer or suggest to the sufferers.
And then the temptation is for you and for me to forget the cure, and to seek or suggest one elsewhere. Elsewhere is not only foolish, it is demonic, because it leads to the worst sin, the only one without cure—rejecting Jesus.
No matter how you are today, no matter how bad your experience, or how strongly you’re caught up in condemning others, Jesus is what you want. He is the solution—yours, mine and theirs. He is the only way forward. Anything else is something else. He may not answer all of your questions—like, “Why does everybody gotta be so screwed up?”—but He will give you life—the cure for what is not life. He is the only cure, and that’s the real issue. Right?
Jesus makes an incredibly profound yet simplistic statement in John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Well, it’s pretty obvious that there’s a whole lot of us missing “to the full”! But there is no other cure, there is no other solution than the one who offers Himself—life—not only life to get you in the door with Him, but life to the filling out, life to the full. So let’s go for that, and let’s assist others to the same. Okay?
Be careful how you motivate. While there are those who point to Matthew 5 as a way of motivating each other to be salt and light in this world, remember: Jesus did not tell us to TRY to be salt and light in this world, He said that we ARE salt and light. In view of the New Covenant, telling people to TRY to be what Jesus thinks they already ARE might well imply that Jesus failed to actually make the change He intended to make, and that people need to become rather than to believe, to change rather than to embrace, to work rather than to rest. That is not Christian.
Through faith in Christ’s cross and resurrection, you have already been made holy (you’re not going to get holier), you have already been made righteous (you’re not going to get righteouser), you have already been made perfect with Him (you’re not going to get perfecter). You’ve been made clean and close, fit with Him forever, just as He intended. Before you go to heaven, there will be no last minute modifications, no bit of re-tooling or re-engineering, and no final scrubbing, because you’re fit for heaven now. You’re heaven ready.
And salt and light? You already preserve and display the handiwork of God, you already add invaluable flavor to a world in need of it, and you already are a beacon of God’s grace in an otherwise dark and frustrated world. He did it. The cross and the resurrection actually worked.
Believing that, and believing it again and again, will provide motivation enough. (For your kids, too.) You ARE salt. You ARE light.