There is a phrase, "There are none so blind as those who will not see." Well, there are none so enslaved as those who think they deserve slavery. I thought I was only fit to be a slave, so I saw the Gospel message as a list of assignments. Jesus said, "if you love me you will keep my commands." I didn't realize that Jesus was telling us to focus on getting to know Him and learning to love Him. I thought He was focusing on behavior. I searched Scripture to discern what behaviors God liked and pushed myself to do them: thankfulness, worship, service, evangelism, prayer, Bible reading, meditation, discipline, accountability, compassion, confession, giving, tithing, .... My duties expanded, and the weight of my shackles had me plodding more and more slowly.
I was troubled because I could see that my good actions were not coming from my heart. They were coming from obligation, not love. Phillis Wheatley, the poet who lived much of her life as a slave, wrote, "In every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance." I could see this longing in my heart, but I tried to tell myself I was already free. My heart knew the truth. I was making myself a slave.
Three years ago, my husband and I were reading The Jesus Storybook Bible with the children. Wonderful book! In the chapter called "The Singer," Sally Lloyd Jones said that Jesus had come to teach us a song we were made to sing: "God made us. He loves us. He is very pleased with us." Shortly after we read it, I was talking with one of my daughters. At five years old, her eyes were already haunted with the failure I felt, and it bothered me. I remembered the song, and I told my daughter, "God is pleased with you." She answered in a voice of disbelief, "How can that be true?" Her voice and words were a knife in my heart, but I struggled to answer her, because I didn't believe that God was pleased with me.
(As a side note, at that time, God gave us another name for that daughter – Anastasia, which means resurrection. He also gave me a new verse to sing her about His love for her. It has been wonderful to watch her eyes lose their haunted look as God has been healing me. As I am healed, I am able to be part of God's healing of my children.)
Since them, God has been pouring the thought of His pleasure into my heart. I don't know how many times He has breathed those words into my heart. I do remember clearly the last time I heard them vividly. It was a few months ago. I was walking with a friend whom I dearly love and rarely see. We were taking our children to the park. It was a beautiful spring day. Everything was glorious except one thing, my heart would not rejoice.
I tried to make my heart rejoice. I tried to praise God. I knew when you are discouraged, you are supposed to find something good and praise God for it, yet here I was surrounded by wonder and glory, and my heart would not let me praise. The harder I tried to praise God for the wonder I could clearly see around me, the more my heart revolted. I despaired. My heart just wouldn't cooperate. If I couldn't make myself praise God about things which were wonderful, there was no hope. What would I do in hard times? I was still failing God.
It was at that moment that I heard clearly, "I am pleased with you." There was a smile in that voice. I could hear God's pleasure in His tone, and my pressured heart sank into God's embrace. It wasn't rebellious anymore. It was dancing! I could praise God when it came from my heart, and that was enough! I didn't have to manufacture praise! Since then, though my heart still rebels at times, I have found praise flowing from my heart more and more.