Written by Qiqi, China. Originally written in Simplified Chinese
It was another long day. Between taking care of my kid, doing chores, finishing work, studying, there was just no time to catch my breath. After my kid had gone to bed, and we had finished dinner and tidying up, I finally had a moment to myself. So. . .should I pray? Read the Bible? I knew I had been neglecting these, but when I finally had the time, I just wanted to plop into bed and scroll my phone.
After a while, I noticed that it was late, and I was getting sleepy. So I said a quick prayer in my head. And that was it for the day.
Then the next day comes, and it’s the same thing all over again.
You have time to play on your phone but not to read the Bible? Well, clearly you just don’t love God at all.
Serves you right if your spiritual life is not in good shape, ‘cause you don’t even pray seriously.
Soon enough these voices appeared, and since they rang true, I was stricken with shame. I’m just terrible, aren’t I? I just don’t put God first! To think that I’m serving in church, and we’re even leading a small group at home. . . I am such a terrible believer. . .
Somehow, I had thought that having these “realisations” would help me repent, that I would be pushed to start reading the Bible and praying diligently, to live a “healthier” life. But after some time, I noticed that not only did I not become motivated, my heart gradually hardened. Eventually, it was as if I just gave up altogether. The worldly stuff started becoming more attractive to me. I wallowed and let time drift by. As my guilt and self-blame worsened, I became less and less inclined to read the Bible or pray.
Then one day, a fellow sister in my cell group mentioned having the same problem. It was then that I realised how many sisters-in-Christ shared this problem (I do wonder if it’s the same for the guys?). We often fall into a vicious cycle, scolding ourselves on the one hand while continuing down our destructive paths on the other.
In times like these, how can we find the strength to overcome? If that rebuking voice within causes us to fall deeper and further away. . .should we perhaps not listen to it?
Discerning the voices in our hearts
When I began to examine that scolding voice, only then was I able to head down the path of being renewed and restored. I had always thought that the voice was the Holy Spirit’s correction. But was that really the case? Could it have been the devil’s accusation instead?
If it were the Holy Spirit’s admonishment, should it not have led me to repent and turn to the Lord? Yet I continued living in sin. Would the Holy Spirit’s admonishment not bring peace to my heart? Yet my heart was full of shame, unwilling to obey and repent. This voice caused me to turn away from the light and hide in the dark.
Just as we recognise trees by their fruit, the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s admonishment would be to turn me toward God, but the devil seeks every way to draw me away from God.
From this, I learned that our thoughts are often used by the devil. He not only tempts us to sin, but when we do sin, he continues to accuse us. The accusation may look like self-reflection, and even masquerade as the Holy Spirit’s correction. But in reality, it seeks to put us to death, so that we do not even have the chance to repent.
When I thought about it, whenever I rebuked myself, every line was a condemnation. Sentence after sentence of accusation. These drew me away from grace, from the gospel, from God. Therefore, we need to discern these voices. In 1 Corinthians 4:3, Paul says, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.”
The repentance that God desires
God desires that we repent. But the repentance that He desires is that we turn towards Him, so that we can be renewed by Him. He does not desire that we live in guilt or self-condemnation.
Judas is a good example. When he saw Jesus shamed and whipped, he realised his sin. Yet he chose to let his sin consume him, and ultimately walked down the path of suicide. It might look like he “paid for his sins,” but he had eternally lost his chance of salvation. God gave him grace, yet he condemned himself.God desires that we come before Him as our true selves and draw strength from Him, so that we can be renewed and strengthened.
Even so, I found that it is not easy to deal with my thoughts. Accepting such accusations had become a habit. I often automatically condemn myself when I do not do something well. Therefore I need to become more alert to this tendency. Whenever I have such thoughts of accusation or condemnation, I’ve learned to say a quick prayer, asking God to help me in my weakness and hard-heartedness, so that I can immediately enter His grace. It is interesting that after such a prayer, I find that I’m more able to do what I need to.
Going back to that vicious cycle—sometimes we just don’t want to read the Bible or pray, and there is no shame in acknowledging this. Reading the Bible and praying are not the proof of our salvation (that is, it’s not that we’d lose our salvation if we didn’t read the Bible or pray). Nor is it something to check off a list. Rather, it is a time for intimate communication with God. He is after our hearts, not empty appearances.
Therefore, even when we feel tired and exhausted, we can bring our real selves before Him, and honestly tell our heavenly Father how we feel. In addition, we ought to sleep when it’s time to sleep, and rest when it’s time to rest. God has promised that “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:29), and tells us to “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). He will surely give us strength and rekindle our passion for reading the Bible and praying.
Come, and let us return to God’s presence with our true selves.