I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6 CSB
00:01:04 Hey guys! Welcome back to the PSALMS to God podcast. Today we’re talking about “Most Improved.” I feel like most improved is one of those superlatives that you're happy to get because it means that you're doing awesome, that you've come a long way, but at the same time you're kind of embarrassed to get, because it's also pointing out that you used to basically be a hot mess. Whether it's a most improved in an academic subject—meaning you used to be like flunking out and now you're passing—or its most improved in your personality or your behavior, whatever the case may be. It signifies that you used to not be good at it, and now you're either awesome at, it or you're just doing substantially better. 00:01:51 So it’s one of those bittersweet awards that you kind of don't want to get, but at the same time you're really proud of yourself when you do get it, because you generally have worked really hard to get to that point. And the person that, I think in The Bible, really shows us how to be most improved and how to turn our lives around, and to go from being, you know, quote-unquote the wretched sinners that we are, to being just on fire for God and being an example for other people, is of course Paul.
Who Was Paul? (00:02:29)
Paul the Apostle, who is known for spreading the gospel to the Gentiles and wrote, you know, so many letters—a good chunk of the New Testament was actually written by Paul, and we're all being inspired by the things that he wrote and the things that he did today—but Paul started off really, really rocky. I want to read this passage to you guys it's from Galatians 1; it's verses 13 through 18:
13 For you have heard about my former way of life in Judaism: I intensely persecuted God’s church and tried to destroy it. 14 I advanced in Judaism beyond many contemporaries among my people, because I was extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. 15 But when God, who from my mother’s womb set me apart and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me, so that I could preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to those who had become apostles before me; instead I went to Arabia and came back to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to get to know Cephas, and I stayed with him fifteen days. Galatians 1:13-18 CSB
So, the reason I wanted to read that particular passage before we jump into talking about Paul, is that I feel like we all think that Paul saw Jesus on the road to Damascus, his life was changed, and like the next day, he was out leading the church, and he had a congregation, and he was out preaching The Word—but that's not what happened. And I feel like this kind of instantaneous, you know, come to Jesus—that's even a phrase, I know growing up they called it the “come to Jesus moment”—but this idea that one minute you're a sinner and you're doing all of these horrible things, the next minute you know God and you’re perfect is like this idea that kind of surrounds the church and floats around, but it's not realistic and it's not what actually happens.
Many of us—whether we've been in the church forever and we've been followers of Christ for as long as we can remember or whether we found Christ at a later age—many of us have struggled with things and continue to struggle with things, because it's a relationship and it's a journey. It's not a set of rules that we follow and, you know, perfectly are able to handle. That's the whole reason we had to get Jesus's sacrifice of grace, because there is a learning curve. There's a time where we have to go through things to shape and build our character, and that's likely what happened when Paul was gone for three years.
He was purging all of these habits and ideas he had developed while he was persecuting the Christians. He had… Like that didn't just go away, instantaneously. What happened in that moment was his desire to surrender to God, the moment that he realized he was wrong and that he needed to change. But that's just like if you're an addict, and you're addicted to heroin or alcohol or anything you can be addicted to, the moment that you wake up and you said “I have a problem,” that's not the moment that OK, the next day you no longer do this. There's a process that you have to go through, and the first step in that process is always admitting you have a problem.
Improving in Our Own Lives (00:06:19)
Last week, last...yeah, last week. Not yesterday, but the Saturday before that, the pastor at my church gave one of the realest sermons I've ever heard in my life. I have never heard a pastor go up on stage and admit to the things, the experiences, that they've been through the way she did. A lot of times adults in the church period, but especially, you know, pastors, deacons, whoever is in a position of quote-unquote, power. They typically won’t tell you the things that they got into as a youth. They won't tell you the troubles they had. You're not going to know that when they were your age they was out in the club doing 10-15 shots. You know, they're not going to tell you that you know they didn't wait until marriage to have sex. They’re...it’s just not, it’s a taboo topic I guess. And a lot of people after they've quote-unquote overcome things—‘cause there's some people in the church who are acting like they overcame some struggles that have not—but when people get into those positions, sometimes they sweep a lot of things under the rug, and pretend like they didn’t happen. So that when you, as a youth, or somebody who is struggling with that issue try to talk about it, they just look at you like “I wouldn’t do that because the Bible says don't do that and we’re not supposed to do that.” And they give you this holier-than-thou type of persona, which people have a hard time identifying with that.
It's interesting, because after my pastor gave this sermon, it kind of opened a whole new perception. It started a chain of events that has been extremely powerful within the young adult group that I participate in. I think the combination—I just got to say God's timing is perfect timing. I cannot stress that enough. We forget I forget a lot of times. I'm like I want this right now; I want things to happen like this, but it never fails that when God lines some stuff up, He lines some stuff up! And so, at the end of the preacher’s sermon, this past week we've been reading The Purpose Driven Life. We've been going through the days, and the day lined up in the aftermath of this pastor sermon were all on temptation—recognizing temptation, understanding temptation, dealing with it, just, you know, how temptation works in our lives to develop character; the concept that it's not a sin to be tempted, it's a sin to fall into the temptation, to go through with it. And just that whole chapter combined with the sermon that she gave spoke volumes into, I think, all of our lives. As we were discussing those chapters yesterday, we just had great fellowship, and great conversation in the past couple of days. And the center of our conversations was on authenticity and on sharing our experiences and allowing ourselves to help each other and learn from each other and support each other by admitting that we're struggling to the same, with the same things.
As I said, the first step for anything is being able to admit that you're struggling and that you're having a problem. It’s interesting because for the longest time I did not fully understand this whole idea of confessing to another Christian. I definitely was like, OK yes you have to understand it, you have to confess to Jesus, but you don't necessarily have to confess what you're doing to other people. Like why would you have to do that? It just didn't necessarily make sense to me, but over the past couple of weeks, particularly this past week like I said, I realized that there is something very profound about how this, how this works. How confessing to somebody else actually enables you to clean house, so to speak.
Illuminating the Darkness (00:11:01)
There is a verse in The Bible that talks about, you know, basically what was done in darkness comes to light—the light always illuminates the darkness, and we know that Jesus is the light. Basically, what I realized is that… I want to use a metaphor. So, when I first moved into the place that I live now, the walls were painted all kind of crazy. They looked a hot mess. So, I want you to think of your life like a room in a house, or think of your life as the house and there are parts of your life and think about the part that's messed up as being a room in the house. And in that room, maybe it's dirty. Maybe it's dusty; you need to clean it. Maybe it's the walls are painted all kind of crazy, like my house was when I first moved in. That room just looks a hot mess. You can always close the door, but you know that it's a hot mess, right? Like, I know that this room is a hot mess and something needs to be done about it, but I'm closing the door. I'm cutting off the light. I don't see it, no one else sees it. It it just stays a hot mess. It may be shut, but I can't use that room. I can't do anything with it. It's wasted space. It's wasted, you’re spending resources on it—the air conditioning is still trying to cool it, the heat is still trying to heat it. There, you know, you're wasting your money paying for resources, to deal with this room. If you're paying rent or if you're paying mortgage, that square footage is counted in whatever you're paying. You are spending money on it, but you're not using it ‘cause it's dead space. The moment that you're inspired to clean it, and to get it done is when you have to open that door, when you have to cut the lights on, and people can walk by and see that that room is a hot mess. Because you don't want guests coming to your house and realizing that this room is packed with dust, it’s still got boxes in it that you didn't unpack, you know, toys are strewn everywhere, whatever the case may be—the walls is painted 4 different colors and they don't match and they all clash... You suddenly have the motivation to clean it up.
And you know, it’s kind of sad that we can't get that motivation just from God knowing, but the truth is when we tell people about a problem, we feel more compelled to fix it. But there's also more to that. I realized that for any of you guys who have followed my blog, have follow the podcast, you know that I'm very open about talking about the fact that I used to have anger problems. I will quickly be like yeah I used to be saying some things that I ain’t had no business saying. And one of the reasons that I feel comfortable talking about how I used to have anger problems is because I have—I don’t want to say I’ve overcome it, I think I might be overstating it, but I've become extremely aware of it. I've developed, you know, strategies to deal with it. You know, me and God have talked about it, and I asked for forgiveness. I know that God has forgiven me; I’ve forgiven me. And I have started, you know, the the process of becoming a better person. It’s something that is wholly in the past. Yes, occasionally I have my moments where I get a touch of road rage or something like that, but for the most part me struggling with anger is something of the past, which is why it’s easy for me to talk about it—because I don't feel the temptation now the way I did then.
But there are other things that I struggle with that I would not be so quick to jump up and be like, “Yo I struggle with XYZ,” because it's still a struggle. And there's something about verbalizing a struggle that you have that finalizes the fact that you are saying “Get thee behind me Satan! I am not going to struggle with this. I have given it to God. I am telling people that you're here knocking on my door trying to get me to do these things so that: 1) I will have accountability, that people will be watching out for me doing these things; 2) That I'm bringing your darkness into the light, because I am handing this to Christ.” It's like a physical, it’s like a tangible way of bringing it to the light, and of handing it over to Christ. Saying, “You know what, Christ? I've been trying to cover this up, I've been ashamed of this, but I'm going to tell people because I want to be accountable for what is happening.”
And this is one of the things that we see with David. When David committed the sin with Bathsheba he tried to hide, he tried to hide this thing, and it spiraled completely out of control. I don't know what would have happened if he had just fessed up to it, and told the man like, “Yo, I slept with your wife. She's pregnant,” as opposed to trying to get him to sleep with his wife and then getting upset and then trying to kill him—or having him killed—and all of these other things.
00:16:36 There's a lot that we try to sweep under the rug and we should just be saying it outright. And so yesterday when I was talking to my friends and you know we were all discussing this concept of authenticity and of sharing with each other and being real and the sermon and the temptations, you know, we just had this moment where we just got real with each other, and we just told each other the things that were bothering us—the things that we were struggling with. And so one of the things that I had to admit, that I think was terrifying to admit, because it's a problem that I think we don't associate with women, and I think that me being me, it’s a problem that I don't think people would associate with me, and so for me to say it out loud—I was like oh goodness, OK I'm going to say this, because God is telling me I got to say it, but as I was saying it, I also realized, that I had a responsibility to say it on the podcast and in my blog, because it's about being transparent. It's about, like I said, showing that you are growing just like Paul.
00:18:00 Paul didn't become Paul overnight. There was, like he said, three years that he went out and was just working on becoming the Paul that we know and that we love, and so as believers we also have to go through these processes and through these learning curves. And so for any of us that are, you know, sharing our faith and talking to people and trying to become better Christians and help other people become better Christians, we have a responsibility to admit that we struggle with certain things. Just like we were talking about for authenticity, for realness, and for helping people to connect to The Word.
00:18:50 And so the thing that I struggle with is controlling my thoughts—and yes sometimes it relates back to anger, sometimes it's me controlling you know negative thoughts or petty thoughts or whatever, but one of the struggles in my thoughts is for lustful thoughts. You know, I kind of talked about this in a roundabout way when I talked about—I can't remember which podcast it was, oh guys getting old—but anyway I talked about people waiting until marriage, and how a lot of times we don't necessarily think that we're going to be waiting as long as we wait. And I think, for me that's one of the things. Like you, you know, you're sitting around you're just waiting and you're waiting, but we're inundated with what basically amounts to softcore porn, from what we watch on TV, what we're listening to in the music industry, conversations that are happening within the secular world... The ideas are just always floating around and the devil is always ready to put some ideas in your head. And it's funny because when I was in high school, one of my friend made the comment that he thought that I was asexual, basically because I, you know, wasn't out there doing anything crazy and I wasn't gay so he was like “oh, you must be asexual,” but in truth like what goes on in my head is not always the cleanest thoughts. It's just I've always been good at not acting on the things that are necessarily going on in my head.
And I think that, you know, as people we may be teaching and learning things like “oh you know if this is your temptation, don't go to, you know, this person's house alone; don't be in the dorm rooms by yourself.” It’s really easy to come up with ways to keep yourself from doing things, to actually doing things, but your mind... Even if you're just sitting at home by yourself or you know you're sitting outside, you zone out and your brain just kind of goes where it goes. So one of the things that you know over the past couple of weeks, I realized is that now that I have more free time—we all know an idle mind is the devil's play place. When I was in college, when I was in grad school, there was always something to be done. My mind was totally full on learning whatever I needed to learn for class, getting my research done, reading these papers, but as I've gotten out of that and into just the regular working world, I’ve had a lot of free time, and a lot of procrastination, ‘cause I'm a procrastinator.
It just opens the avenues that the devil needs to get into your head, and I've been telling myself, Shiree, you gotta stay focused, you gotta do what you're saying you're going to do. Don't let, don't let the devil tell you you're tired and check out. Stay present, and use that free time for good. It doesn't necessarily have to be on the podcast and reading The Word; you know, there's just so many other things—painting, all of the hobbies that I have, you know practicing my instrument, whatever. These are things that can keep you on the straight and narrow, but it's not always that easy to just do that because like I said when you feel tired, you feel tired, but for me I don't necessarily fall asleep at that moment, so in those moment you know sometimes your mind wanders and the thoughts that I would have are not necessarily thought that I should be having.
And so this past week, as I was thinking about the pastor’s sermon, as I was reading The Purpose Driven Life about temptations and you know how we handle them, and as I was sitting there listening to my friends, and as we were kind of talking about this concept of authenticity, I realize that, I was like “yeah, you know what, Shiree? I think you need to just tell people that that's what you're struggling with.” Because once you say it out loud, it's not a struggle anymore. ‘Cause you're exposing the devil, and you're saying know the devil is at my door he's trying to come for me, because in the past year or so I have been doing better about reading The Word and I have been doing better about centering my life towards God, and it's only been in the past couple of months that I really really been struggling with, you know, my brain going into crazy places. And I know that that's the devil trying to pull me away, and trying to you know, make me feel like I can't do it. But that's not true.
We are all up for the most improved award. Everyone who will make it to Heaven is going down as “Most Improved,” ‘cause we're all starting off as crazy sinners that are just doing the most and doing things that God doesn't want us to do. And some of us, it’s going to take us a long time to ourselves right. It may be more than the three years that Paul took, it maybe less. it just depends on you and your walk, and whatever you're struggling with, but the fact is it's OK. It's OK. If the devil is coming for you, and tempting you, and you keep thinking like “oh man I keep failing this and I'm I'm struggling.” You know what? That's actually a good thing, because the fact that the devil is still bothering you means that you still on God's side, because once you left and you know, you have left God and it's not a thing anymore, there's no reason for the devil to tempt you. He can tempt other people, he already got you. So as long as God is still giving you that test, that means God is still talking to you. God is still calling you home, and you still have the opportunity to go home.
So keep fighting, keep struggling. You will be most improved, just like Paul, and hopefully you will leave a legacy like Paul. And if you're willing to come out and say, you know, “I had to struggle. This is what I went through;” it will make you a better person. The reason Paul can tell us all of the things he told us in these letters, the reason he can convey so much wisdom, is because he went through a lot. Like I said, we always think of Paul as “the Apostle Paul” who had the answers for everything. Paul who was out here writing letters and mentoring everybody. But Paul wasn't always Paul.
Paul was somebody else before Jesus met him on the road to Damascus, and even after Jesus met him on the road to Damascus, it took time for Paul to develop the fruits of the spirit. It took time for Paul to become the person that could mentor Timothy and whoever else that he was mentoring. And the same thing is going to be true for us. It's going to take time, but we have to put in that time. So don't be discouraged. Just make sure that when the day comes y'all going to be standing up there with me getting this “Most Improved” award in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Wrap Up (00:26:25)
Thank you guys for tuning into this episode. If you have not subscribed, please Subscribe. Don't forget to tune in every Monday for new content. You can check the website for additional content, at www.psalmstogod.com you can also find the transcript for this episode at www.pslamstogod.com/mostimproved I'll see you guys next time!
References and Footnotes
- Jennifer Hernandez. Experiencing God's Redeeming Love". Plantation Seventh Day Adventist Church. February 16, 2019
- Rick Warren. The Purpose Driven Life. 2013
- Luke 12:3, John 12:46, Romans 13:12, 1 Corinthians 4:5, Luke 8:17, Mark 4:22
- Matthew 16:23
- Ree Hughes. "The Pioneer". PSALMS To God. January 28, 2019