I've made many mistakes in this stage of life I'm coming through, and I don't want to make them again. In fact, I don't want to make mistakes at all! I wish I could walk into this new era without the worry that I'll mess it up again.
I want to be perfect.
But it is not up to me.
I was reminded recently in a book I'm reading that personal and spiritual transformation is by the power of the Holy Spirit: “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (II Corinthians 3:18)
There have been many times when I've struggled to become who I should become on my own - it's a desperate search for identity and purpose in my own strength. But God has been gently reminding me lately that "My grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. […] For we are glad, when we are weak, and ye are strong: and this also we wish, even your perfection.” (II Corinthians 12) God desires my perfection too! But my perfection will not come by my own doing - it will come only by His strength - and not only that, but in my weakness. I see that in my own life right now; healing has come only as I have surrendered myself completely to Him; giving Him permission to do with me as He wants and use me as He wishes.
We see that holy transformation and perfection are not up to us, which ultimately is very liberating. We wonder, though, what should we be doing? As I've studied to understand God’s will for my life in this season, I’m coming to understand that really, what He asks of me is rather simple. For starters, He desires faithfulness: “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (I Corinthians 4:2). He also desires obedience, rather than a lot of giving up or doing: Micah 6 tells us: “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
God isn’t asking for big sacrifices, unbelievable service, or anything that we cannot possibly accomplish. His will is for us to walk humbly and uprightly and to show mercy to others, as He has done for us. This is echoed in II Samuel 15:22: “And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”
We're also encouraged by Paul to press on, to keep pursing that perfection that we so desire, and not to give up. “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14)
As I floundered around searching for purpose and understanding, God showed me all of these things. He made it clear who He wanted me to be coming out of several years on the mission field, and He helped me find Truth in all of it. And then at the end, He gave me II Corinthians 7:
"Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."
II Corinthians 7 goes on to talk about joy in tribulation and godly sorrow working repentance. I felt like verse 11 could have been written directly to me: "For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter."
I felt like God was saying, "look at the journey I have taken you on! Look at how much you have learned, how much closer to Me you have become, and how much better you understand that your strength is only in Me!" He's right - I would not exchange these years for an easier way, ever, now that I know how much He did it for my own good.
I know of no better way to "cleanse myself" than by being washed by heavenly rain. And so, as that tender herb, I'm poking my little green head out of the rich, black soil, ready for Him to continue to "perfect holiness" in me.