Forgiven, Fearless, and Free: Session 5

paper kite butterfly perching on red flower in close up photography

Navigating the River of Life: Salvation to Sanctification

Welcome. We’re moving deeper and deeper into the River of Life. We pray you’re finding freedom from fear and basking in the Father’s love.

Father God, open our hearts to what You have for us. May we wholly embrace Your love and grace.

Review: Waist-Deep in the Waters of Life
Fearless: Finding Strength in the Spirit – Part 1

brown wooden fence on gray and white ground
Photo by Dulcey Lima on Unsplash

Finally, my brothers, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
Ephesians 6:10 MEV

What did you discover in your study of Waist-Deep in the Waters of Life

What impacted you most?

What did you learn from your own story?

What did you discover in God’s story?

What questions were answered?

What new questions arose?

Carol says:

Wading in the Word of Ephesians 6, finding strength in the full armor of God, led me to questions I never considered before.

I was struck that love is not represented as a piece of His armor. But of course, if we remember He is love, then how do we view His armor in relation to Him as love? Is His armor a picture of His love? Is putting on His armor the way we gain strength from His love? Is it how we discover His love?

I believe love gave Jesus the strength to stay on the cross — His love for God, His love for us, and God’s love for Him.

So, when we — by faith — don His armor do we gain strength from understanding the truth of His love, the rightness of His love, the peace found in His love, the freedom in His love, the power of His love? Do we gain strength by putting faith in His love?

Seeing the absence of love made me realize there must be a connection between the full armor of God and His character of love.

In His armor, we see the world from His perspective. From within His love, we find strength to love our enemies and strength to stand against the scheming forces of evil.

With continued trust in the pieces of armor, we become more and more empowered to stand firm in a world of evil, loving God and others, as Jesus did and does.

We find strength by resting in the power of His might.

I can do all things because of Christ who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13 MEV

gray stainless steel armor
Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

Stacy says:

Carol not only asked God questions about His armor and love, she asked me too. As I read her text and considered her questions something within me began to stir as well. Does the armor have anything to do with love? It must because God is love. But what or how? I thought about the story of David and Goliath. How Saul gave David his armor to wear, but it was too large and heavy?

Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail,  and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off. 
1 Samuel 17:38-39 ESV

Saul offered protection for David by clothing him in his own armor. Yet nothing about it fit right. It was heavy, cumbersome, and way too big. 

This is the opposite of the full armor of God. The armor God creates for us is tailored made to fit perfectly. I see God using our hang ups  and experiences in to fashion each aspect of our armor in just the right way.  God takes what the enemy meant for harm and creates a beautiful armor to protect the most vulnerable places only He knows about. 

It’s more like a quilt than a piece of iron. And not just any quilt, the most beautiful quilt we can imagine. The kind that only comes from a Creator that loves to redeem and restore what feels lost and turn it into a beautiful work of art. 

So yes, in answer to my sister’s questions, our armor is a beautiful expression of God’s love for us.

Session 5: Chest-High in the Waters of Life 
Fearless to find Strength in the Spirit – Part 2

woman in black and white striped shirt hugging girl in black and white striped shirt
Photo by Ekaterina Shakharova on Unsplash

There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life — fear of death, fear of judgment — is one not yet fully formed in love. We, though, are going to love — love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.
1John 4:18-19 The Message

Stacy says:

I spent most of my life attempting to measure up, to somehow be worthy of the sacrifice Jesus made. I lived in a perpetual state of self-condemnation. I was my own worst enemy judging my thoughts, feelings, and actions as unworthy. And it made me scared.

Terrified to enter God’s presence. 

Fearful God would see right through me and know I would never be enough no matter how hard I tried to get it right. 

By my own standards I was a complete failure at following Jesus. I saw God through the foggy lens of fear, and it kept me cloaked in unworthiness.

Perfect love casts out fear. Jesus came to illustrate God’s perfect love for everyone, even though we are the ones who wrecked the relationship with disobedience.

Read Genesis 3:1-10

Who, in the garden of Eden, questioned God’s authority and integrity?

How did the others in the garden respond to his questions?

What was the result?

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Photo by Sebastian Spindler on Unsplash

The serpent caused the very first people to distrust God, to trust their own opinion and judgment, rather than the One who gave them life. They failed to recognize their weakness. They failed to guard the garden. They opened the door for shame and fear to enter the world. Piercing right through their hearts and into every generation to come.

It’s even more profound when we go to the last verse of Genesis 2 to see the state of Adam and Eve’s relationship and their relationship with God in the garden before the serpent entered the scene.

They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.
Genesis 2:25 MEV

Before the temptation, before the fall, they were unashamed before one another and before God. No fear in their nakedness. Their lives transparent. Nothing to hide. 

This is why it’s a struggle for us to embrace our weakness, our complete inability to do good apart from God. Adam and Eve were sinless. They didn’t come into the world broken, unable to do good. God called them very good. But their failure to trust God and the way He called them to live introduced shame and fear into the world, causing us to put on airs in our relationships and run for cover from God and His love.

woman sitting near outdoor plants during daytime
Photo by Tiko Giorgadze on Unsplash

Stacy’s story describes this fear-full shame. A recent Weekly Digest from Renovaré, a ministry focused on promoting spiritual growth practices, addressed the issue of shame as one of the motivators behind busyness. The author referred to it as “toxic shame.” We can certainly see why. It wrecks the relationship we need to nurture most, our relationship with God. In the article, he recounted a discovery Brother Lawrence made in his coming clean before God and wholly embracing his sin.

Imagining himself “full of sores and sins… who has committed all sorts of crimes against his king,” Lawrence threw himself into God’s hands “that he may do with me what he pleases.”

But instead of condemnation and chastisement, Lawrence found: 

“This king, full of mercy and goodness… embraces me with love, invites me to feast at his table, serves me with his own hands, and gives me the key to his treasures. He converses with me, and takes delight in me, and treats me as if I were his favorite.”

Brian Morykon, Renovaré, Weekly Digest for Apr 12-16, Shame, and Space for God
Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash

Hopefully, we are beginning to find strength in this truth by putting faith in His loving sacrifice as our only means of righteousness, peace, and deliverance from fear. 

We’re coming chest-deep into the waters of life, because what we’re dealing with here is a heart issue. Woundedness that can only be healed from the inside out by our Healer and the Lover of our souls: Jesus.

Putting on the full armor of God is an exercise in, not only embracing our weakness, but humbly receiving and trusting in His love. Only we can practice what we say we believe and act according to His truth and not our own perception of things.

Read Proverbs 3:5-8

What weakness must we embrace to receive healing and strength?

What is the only fear we are to rely on?

Oh, how we need to embrace our lack of understanding and the foolishness of our own wisdom. Only God’s wisdom is trustworthy, only His guidance leads us the right way. 

Our inner compass is broken. When we don’t accept this truth, pride and fear take the driver’s seat in our lives. The only fear we are to rely on to determine the way we live is a proper fear of the Lord. Fear of leading ourselves away from Him and causing a breach in this relationship through disobedience. Like children desiring to please their parents, we too, should want to live lives pleasing to our heavenly Father.

Strength in the Spirit, healing of our souls, freedom from fear all begins with trusting God’s unfailing love in His role as the Almighty, Most High, Creator and Keeper of our souls.

The serpent’s ploy separated us from God and from one another. The healing begins with our individual hearts — our individual relationships with God — then moves into our communities. 

Spiritual formation, good or bad, is always profoundly social. You cannot keep it to yourself. Anyone who thinks of it as a merely private matter has misunderstood it. Anyone who says, “It’s just between me and God,” or “What I do is my own business,” has misunderstood God as well as “me.” Strictly speaking there is nothing “just between me and God.” For all that is between me and God affects who I am; and that, in turn, modifies my relationship to everyone around me. My relationship to others also modifies me and deeply affects my relationship to God. Hence those relationships must be transformed if I am to be transformed.

–Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart
book on top of table and body of water
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The individual work of sanctification, pursuing our personal relationship with Christ through prayer, His Word, obedience, and spiritual disciplines is not solely personal. We are each members of a larger community which needs us as much as we need them.

Read 1Peter 1:22-25

How are our souls purified? For what purpose?

Our souls are purified through Spirit-led obedience, leading to a purity of heart that enables us to love one another earnestly with a sincere brotherly love. Our faith in the Word of God moves us from being a transient being to an eternal influence for God’s Kingdom.

Read 1Peter 2:1-6

What are we called to put away? What are we to desire?

We are called to put away the ways of the flesh and the world. We are to hunger for pure spiritual milk like infants, in order to mature spiritually. Newborn babies can’t feed themselves. They hunger, but they need someone to feed them. As new Believers we need someone to feed us the truth of God’s Word too. It’s one of the first ways we gain strength from a faith community.

How are Believers described?

What are we being built into?

With faith in Jesus as the foundation of our lives, what do we avoid?

When we come to Jesus by faith, we become a living stone. One among many who are building our lives on the Chief Cornerstone who is rejected by the world but chosen by God. We are being built into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God.

reflection of a castle surrounded with fogs
Photo by Tim Rebkavets on Unsplash

Those who take their place among the living stones in God’s spiritual house shall never be put to shame. The church is whole only when we all wholly take our place in His Kingdom. 

Read Psalm 16:1-3

In this psalm of David, where do we see his personal faith in God?

How does his faith in God affect his relationship to his faith community?

David, as a forerunner of Jesus, shows us our place before God and our place in the community.

In this psalm, we see him embrace his weakness by calling on God to preserve him and be his refuge. David clearly states he has no good apart from God. With a right understanding of God and himself, he finds all his delight among God’s people.

We were not created to live life alone or solely for ourselves. We were created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever in the company of many others. In the beginning, God said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). And God’s law is summed up by Jesus in just two commands: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31).

Finding strength in our relationship with God — coming before Him naked and unashamed — sets us on a path of maturity, but it is not to be embarked on alone. We are a people who find strength in others who are also finding strength in Jesus by way of the Spirit.

Closing prayer exercise: Mapping the River

bare tree near lake during daytime
Photo by Nitish Kadam on Unsplash

Fear has the power to separate us from God and others. Today we will prayerfully consider our feeling of vulnerability as we shed the grave clothes and move toward freedom. 

Close your eyes and breathe deep. Turn your thoughts toward God.

Imagine standing waist-deep in the river’s current holding the strips of grave clothes you’ve surrendered to Jesus. 

Which strips were most difficult to unwind? 
How did God’s love give you the strength to let go?
What freedom are you finding as you live without it?

Hear the call of the Savior. Come… let’s go a little deeper. 

How does moving into chest-high water make you feel?
Are you frightened?
What protection do you find yourself looking for?

Think about Saul’s armor on the young David. 

Where does life feel heavy and overburdened?
Consider how the extra weight drags you down?

Going deeper might feel like we are facing a great big giant all alone and without protection. And so we fashion and fix an armor on our own only to find it heavy and ill-fitting. We soon realize protecting ourselves doesn’t work. It won’t allow us to move deeper. 

What armor have you created for yourself?
Does it work?
Will it allow you to move deeper?

Speak the words of David boldly.
I can’t even move with all this stuff on me. I’ve not tested it.

Hear God’s call to deeper waters, once again. Imagine looking to the left… to the right… and discovering you are not alone. Holy Spirit is calling others to take the journey with you.

How does it strengthen you knowing others will take the next step with you?

Look to the deeper water. Go ahead. Take another step.

Going forth.

Photo by Frank Albrecht on Unsplash

At the end of Session 4, the Mapping the River closing prayer exercise placed in the porches of Bethesda among the infirmed and dis-eased. We encountered Jesus asking us:

“Do you want to be healed?”
John 5:6

We know the man who had been ill a very long time, answered Jesus’s question with excuses, basically blaming others for his continued state of illness.

Let’s turn to the rest of the story in John 5:8-9.

How did Jesus respond to the invalid’s excuses?

What did the man do?

What we want you to go forth with today is, no matter your state, how long it’s been or what is keeping you in it, Jesus with a word can make a way for you to be healed of whatever dis-ease is holding you on your mat.

Immediately. No months of rehab or physical therapy.

Our heart wounds can be healed with His Word and when we believe His Word — take it to heart — we can rise, take up our sickbed among the poor and needy, and walk right out into a life of freedom without fear.

Getting chest-deep in the River of Life can feel threatening, but take heart. Jesus has a healing word for you.

“Rise, take up your bed and walk.”
John 5:11

Receive the Word He has for you and walk even deeper into a life surrendered to Christ. 

Let Him lead you into life: Forgiven, Fearless, & Free!

Here’s a PDF of the Week 5 Study — Chest-High in the River of Life:

We’re with you every step of the way…

Stacy & Carol

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