Amy Carroll » Growing Spiritually » Strength and Space

Strength and Space

I’m not a big resolutions person. I’ve made them in the past, but resolutions are slippery things. By the end of January, I find they’ve usually slid into the “I’ll do it some other time” pile.

I love a fresh start, though, and this year a prayer is echoing in my heart louder than any resolution. It’s a simple prayer.

Lord, please make me completely righteous and not a bit self-righteous.

My personality loves to know the rules. Boundaries make me feel safe, and that’s a positive thing. But I tend to swing toward the extreme and use the rules and boundaries to define myself as “good”. Here’s what scripture has to say about me (and you) being good…

“All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 14:3 NIV)

As our youth pastor says it, even on my very best day–the day I think I’ve acted rightly, spoken rightly and thought rightly–I still fall short. I absolutely, positively cannot be good on my own.

That’s why I can’t follow the rules. I must follow Jesus.

The Message version of Psalm 14:3 gives a fresh perspective.

“He comes up empty. A string of zeros. Useless, unshepherded Sheep, taking turns pretending to be Shepherd. The ninety and nine follow their fellow.”

When I read this version, I realized it describes exactly what I do. When I am following the rules and thinking I’m doing well, I actually start seeing myself as the Shepherd instead of a dumb sheep.

And THEN…(this is big)

…as I take my turn playing Shepherd, I begin to think I have a right to boss the sheep. That’s where self-righteousness begins to be a big stumbling block for me and a big, stinkin’ mess for those around me.

I want to be vulnerable here but not whiny, so please hang tight. There are others who have this same issue, and I’m not alone. In the past few months, I’ve been one of the sheep being bossed by multiple pseudo-Shepherds, and it doesn’t feel good to be on the receiving end.

Snarky comments, judgmental attitudes and a lack of grace, love and compassion should have no place in the body of Christ. Period.

That’s a statement for all of us…including me. Being on the bossed sheep end of things has broken my heart as I realize how often I’ve done it to others.

So how do we begin to live out the prayer to live completely righteously and not one bit self-righteously?

It starts by following close on Shepherd Jesus’ heels and recognizing ourselves as dumb sheep. That may seem very simplistic, but it actually takes immeasurable self-contr0l. I really think if we took those two tasks seriously, we’d have see so much of our own mess to sort out that we’d have very little time to evaluate and judge everybody else’s mess. Humility fuels compassion, grace and love.

Secondly, we’d develop strength and give space. As we grow, we seek God and His Word to strengthen our own convictions about how to live while giving space to others to do the same.

Several years ago I met three incredibly close friends who beautifully painted a picture of this way of living. The friends were at different points in their spiritual walks. Rebecca was a mature Christian who had attended church her whole life. Beth had been a Christian since a child, but she had only recently returned to a close walk with Jesus after a period of choosing a sinful lifestyle. Ruth was a brand new Christian. (Note: I’ve changed the names of these precious women.)

The first time I met Ruth I was instantly struck by her beauty and the fact she had a figure most women would envy. As we spent time over the weekend, Ruth shared how God had convicted her heart about modesty. Before she started to follow Jesus, she had capitalized on her beauty and figure with very revealing and racy clothing.

One day during her prayer time, God began to show her how He saw her, and it transformed Ruth. Because of her change of heart, she almost completely emptied her closet that day of every piece of clothing He showed her was inappropriate for one of His own.

Over and over as the three friends told me this story, Ruth repeated that her friends had only loved her and never nagged her. Rebecca and Beth shared that although God had given them strong convictions in the area of modesty, He had simply asked them to love Ruth while letting Him change her.

I love that story, because it instructs me and shows God as the transforming hero He is. I am thankful He is big enough to make each of His sheep righteous without the help of pseudo-shepherding. I’m praying for all of us that we’ll be increasingly righteous sheep encouraging each other on the path we form behind our gloriously righteous Shepherd.

Lord, make us each righteous in 2014 without being a bit self-righteous.



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  1. Thank you Amy for your honesty and encouragement. You spoke straight to my heart! Yes, Lord, please let this be a year of righteousness and NOT self-righteousness!

  2. Oh I love your prayer, Amy! And what a wonderful story of the power of love and prayer. I am guilty of being judgmental and harsh in confronting one of my friends who has just stayed too long in her pity party…but I am convicted. I need to love her and pray for her…and trust God to reach her. Happy New Year, Friend!

  3. I needed the reminder that “God is the transforming hero.” NOT ME!!! This thought will change my prayer life for 2014. Thanks for being the conduit.

  4. Dear Amy,
    I needed to hear this message today. I am involved in a budding situation/friendship and I found myself spending a lot of yesterday thinking how I could “help” this person “fix” their life.
    Thank you for reminding me I need only think on my relationship with God, and my own issues in life.

    1. Amy Carroll says:

      Shelly, thanks so much for your encouragement. I really wrestled with how to write this post, because I do believe there’s a time to speak hard truths in our friendships.

      I’m just trying to learn to hear God’s voice about when to speak rather than following my own yucky inclinations to change people’s behavior with rules. Jesus wants to change their heart first. This grace and truth thing is a challenge!