Maggie H. Johnson

Writer • Speaker

Author: maggiehjohnson (page 1 of 31)

The Cure for Comparison

Last year, Relevant magazine came out with an article called “Millennials’ Biggest Problem: Obsessive Comparison Disorder.” And of course, I read it because I’m a millennial and I wanted to know why they think this is our biggest problem. In the article, the author listed three ways for us to overcome our issue with comparison. His solutions were things like: Use social media less, and know your value. While those are very good things to do, they don’t get to the root of our problem.

People in the Bible also had issues with comparison, not least of which is the guy who wrote Psalm 73. His obsession even began to affect his relationship with God. The writer starts off by saying:

Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.

When the psalmist says that his foot had nearly slipped, he’s using imagery to describe what happens when a steadfast and faithful follower of God almost slips into sin. He’s setting up the chapter by telling us that what we’re about to read is HIS issue. He’s owning his depravity. In verse 3, he says…

For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Then he lays out why. As followers of Christ, I’m sure many of us can relate. He observes how the wicked have no hardships. They’re rich, they’re happy, and they are never in want. How can God allow this to continue while his own children struggle? That’s the question that plagued the psalmist. And that’s the line of thought that led him to make this statement in verse 13:

All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. All in vain, he says.

If I can’t have that cush life, then what’s the point, God?

This guy is getting more and more worked up. He’s desperate, and in verse 16 he says, “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God.” And suddenly his focus shifts. He goes from focusing outward on all that seems unfair and unjust to looking upward. When his focus shifts and his heart turns. In the house of the Lord, he begins to worship God.

The only cure for comparison is found in authentic worship. Worship cures comparison because the goodness of God cannot be overshadowed by anything the world will offer us. In verse 25, the psalmist says, “Whom have I in heaven by you? And there is nothing on earth I desire besides you,” and then in 28, “But for me it is good to be near God.

Theologian Richard Foster once said, “As worship begins in holy expectancy, it ends in holy obedience. Holy obedience saves worship from becoming an opiate, an escape from the pressing needs of modern life.”  Authentic worship focuses on the worthiness of God, not the wealthiness of God. In other words, we worship God because of who he is, not because of what he can give us. Authentic worship says, “In the midst of even this, God, I will praise you.”

In November 2015, three days before Thanksgiving, I miscarried yet another baby. What began as an exciting ultrasound ended in waves of grief that could not be quelled. I was angry, wounded, and felt slighted by God. How could God let this happen to us again? We’d prayed for this baby every day. It wasn’t fair! After all of my verbal processing was done, I fell silent. I had run out of words, so I turned on my iTunes and starting listening to worship songs. All of a sudden, the grace of God began to engulfed my pain. For weeks, I played the same song over and over, because I needed its truth to take root in my spirit.

The only cure for comparison is found in authentic worship. It’s found when we acknowledge God’s goodness in our lives. It’s found when we meet with him. It’s found when we proclaim his faithfulness, his grace, and his unfailing love. The only cure for comparison is found in authentic worship.

Tell Your Story

I entered the room with reverence, just as I did every week prior. The familiar presence of dusty books and sweet perfume filled my senses as I perched myself in the creaky wooden chair. I held a throw pillow tightly against my tummy, almost as if to brace myself for the next hour of raw conversation. We met in an old office building, but for a short sixty minutes, it felt like we were in a secret, holy place. Jesus was in that room. Maybe that’s just what happens when we tell our stories. Maybe that’s why God commanded over and over for us to tell future generations about his faithfulness in our lives. Regardless, she steadily laid bare her hopes and hurts for this young 20-something to see, and it changed me. It gave me perspective for my own life and ministry that I would not have otherwise gained. My faith is firmly rooted because a woman 30 years my senior let me into the most tender parts of her walk with God.

In the Old Testament, there is a strong leader named Joshua. Moses led the Israelites before him and taught Joshua all about God’s goodness and might. When Moses died, Joshua led the people with courage and compassion. But Joshua dies in Judges 2. Here’s what happened (Judges 2:7-15):

And the Israelites served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and the leaders who outlived him—those who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel. Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110. They buried him in the land he had been allocated, at Timnath-serah in the hill country of Ephraim, north of Mount Gaash. After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel. The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight and served the images of Baal. They abandoned the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They went after other gods, worshiping the gods of the people around them. And they angered the Lord. They abandoned the Lord to serve Baal and the images of Ashtoreth. This made the Lord burn with anger against Israel, so he handed them over to raiders who stole their possessions. He turned them over to their enemies all around, and they were no longer able to resist them. Every time Israel went out to battle, the Lord fought against them, causing them to be defeated, just as he had warned. And the people were in great distress.

It’s easy to look at those who are younger and bemoan their insolence. But what if it isn’t entirely their fault? We affect a whole generation when we keep our stories to ourselves. Discipleship sounds scary, but it’s really just a fancy way to say: “Put Jesus on display by telling your story to someone else.” There are countless examples of these types of intergenerational relationships in Scripture – Elizabeth and Mary, Naomi and Ruth, Paul and Timothy, Moses and Joshua, Mordecai and Hadassah, and on and on. The Bible not only gives us instruction to tell future generations, it also provides countless models for how to do so.

1 Thessalonians 5:8 says, “We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too.” The movement of the Gospel will not end with us, but we have the opportunity to love people by sharing our lives. For some, the hardest thing you will ever do is tell your story. But imagine the impact when those who hear find out that it’s Jesus who walked with you. It’s Jesus who rewrites the ending. It’s Jesus who makes the difference. Telling your story isn’t about you; it’s about Jesus.

Who will you tell?

A Ministry of Presence

He sat at the table answering a barrage of emails while I meticulously fit another load of dishes into the dishwasher. Standing over a sink full of dirty dishes has always been a sacred act for me. I scrub away the grime as God kneads my heart. It’s my secret place – the spot where He and I wrestle through my most tender hurts and most stubborn sins. This particular day was no different.

I was soul-weary and pretty sure I’d found the one mountain God couldn’t move. I turned on the faucet, pushed up my sleeves and waited for the water to warm. With both hands gripping the counter, I closed my eyes to pray. No words came but tears began to run, and that’s when I opened my eyes to see my sweet husband looking at me. He had never observed my sacred, dish-washing, worship session, and his confusion quickly turned to concern.

“What’s wrong, honey? Are you okay?” With those two simple questions, my husband inserted himself into my pain.

I’ve found that many people are willing to sit with you in pain, but only temporarily. After a moment the anguish becomes too uncomfortable, and it makes much more sense to add our own two cents to the situation. There’s a story in the bible of a man who lost everything. His kids died, his livelihood was destroyed, and his house collapsed. At the end of Job 2, his friends show up. Verse 11 says, “When three of Job’s friends heard of the tragedy he had suffered, they got together and traveled from their homes to comfort and console him.” Friends who come running are invaluable! Verse 13 continues, “Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.”

A ministry of presence is one of the greatest things we have to offer others. Not solutions, not money, not opinions, and not even food (although I do like food). As followers of Jesus – the ones who embody the Spirit of God in our ordinary, walking-around selves – nothing is better than being present. Community can heal. Colossians 3:15 in The Message version reads, “Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness.”

Life with Christ isn’t about picking yourself up by your bootstraps. It’s about letting others enter into the messiest parts of your life and walking with you toward healing. It’s about being present, even in silence. Pursuit of community has been one of the most humbling parts of my journey with Jesus because it doesn’t matter what I have to give. It only matters that I show up. This is hard for me because I like to contribute. Who wants to enter with empty hands? We all want to feel useful…worthy.  But Jesus modeled emptiness so we wouldn’t have to obsess over ranks and worthiness. We shouldn’t be embarrassed to come with empty hands because that’s exactly what Jesus did.

He showed us how to love by being present. He healed us with his very body. When rules and regulations and theories couldn’t set us free, Jesus knew that only his flesh and blood would be enough. Maybe our flesh-and-blood presence can heal the world too.

When She Speaks

I feel flutters in my belly that get stronger as the day drags on. It could be the two ice cream sandwiches I inhaled this afternoon, but it’s probably the growing baby girl who is already wanting her place in this world to be known and acknowledged. She’s trying to get my attention, and you can bet your belt-buckles that her mama is listening. This strong babe will come out of my womb with the assurance that her voice (and movement) is validated. In the second chapter of Unseduced and Unshaken, Dr. Pamela MacRae writes, “Voice is not solely offered through one’s words, but also through one’s presence and a willing engagement of the whole self.”

It is a courageous thing to engage the whole of oneself.

It’s courageous because it’s rare. From the beginning pages of our story with God, we mastered the art of hiding. We cover up the parts of ourselves that we deem unworthy or useless. We tuck them away and present a polished, partial version of ourselves. But the tragedy is that God’s power is usually most evident in the parts we push to the side. You see, that’s how kingdom living works. It’s upside down, like a never-ending “opposite day,” which is a game that has always irritated me. For a power-hungry, goal-oriented control freak like me, the nature of God’s kingdom can still throw me off. Weakness is power, the last are first, and the poor are rich. I don’t like it, but it’s Good News for the parts of myself that are hidden from your view – the unfettered rage, the suspicion, or the anxiety. Those things aren’t pretty but they’re the things Jesus is using to draw gentleness out of my stony heart. Bringing the mess of our lives into the light allows us to believe the truth about who Jesus says we are, but it takes courage.

Here’s the thing about courage – it’s risky. People have a tendency to turn away in disgust when we show all of our cards, and this can cause shame to burrow down deep in our hearts. Shame is the ultimate silencer.

But what happens when we have people who cheer us on, even and especially when we step into the light? Our voices get stronger when they’re validated. Engaging the whole of ourselves becomes the best choice because it’s the only path to love, grace, and hope. We choose courage because it leads to freedom.

And that’s what I want for my girl: freedom.

Long Miles & Loud Lies

I woke up before the sun, still wrapped in a cocoon of warmth and coaxing my own mind into submission. Darkness does not give way to reason, and this has always been my fight. My feet obediently hit the floor as I prepared to do that which I do not want to do – run four miles at seven o’clock in the morning.

I laced up my trusty sneakers, stretched my limbs, and started down the asphalt path. Step by step, the familiar lies began to bombard my mind, just as I knew they would – just as I hoped they would.

“You’re not good enough.”

“Who do you think you are?”

“You don’t have what it takes.”

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The longer the miles, the louder the lies. I need them to show their faces at this point in the day so that I can prove their falsehood at first light. I need them to rare their ugly heads when I’m most vulnerable, because if I can believe the truth when I’m tired and sweaty, then I can believe the truth all day long.

Lies are both elusive and visceral in nature, which is why they thrive in darkness. They can’t necessarily be pinned down with logic and intellect – my preferred weapons of choice. The only other approach at my disposal at seven in the morning is brute force. So I run, but not without intention. I run to train my mind to believe the truth, to pound out the inconsistencies that have dug their way into the crevices of my mind.

dark-and-light

But there are days when I lose. There are times when the lies start to sound a lot more like truth, and I forget how to untangle the web.

Then I remember that Jesus came for the losers. He shines a light for the ones who can’t reason their way through the dark. He sorts through the mess and leads us back home. When lies grow louder, he speaks up on our behalf. He draws close to the losers, and that makes all the difference.

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I grinned victoriously through labored breaths and said, “You made me from scratch.”

That’s all it took to silence the shouts. Suddenly accusations were exchanged for peace. Instead of seeing a litany of weaknesses, my eyes shifted to the reality of my origin. He made me good.

I rounded the corner to our house just after sunrise and knew what had been true all along: Lies can’t survive in the light of day.

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