Most of my life I thought I had to make myself right before I could approach God.
I had to stop swearing, stop having sex with my girlfriend, stop lying to cover up things I didn’t want to admit, and stop eating entire large pizzas for comfort when I was feeling blue. I needed to meet my wife’s needs better, pay more attention to my stepson, give my employer 8 hours of solid work every day, and control my temper.
I thought I had to change before God would accept me, but I had it backwards. What I didn’t know was that I needed only come to God as I was. Then to the extent I kept trying to get closer to him, the more the things that needed to stop would go away, and the things I needed to do would happen. In other words, God took me as I was, but was not content to leave me that way.
So I spent many years with my sins and shortcomings. Some of them I overcame by force of will, although I found that they tended to leak out under stress. Some of my sins I justified or minimized, telling myself they were no big deal. Some of my sins I could not stop no matter what I did. They were strongholds over me, keeping me in shame.
When those strongholds finally damaged my life enough that I had no recourse but turn to God for help, he took me in. In time, he cut those strongholds out as if they were a cancer in deep tissue. Although I can see he did it as gently as he could, it triggered consequences that hurt like hell. I don’t know how it could have been otherwise; nor do I regret that suffering for the peace of mind it has brought. God has also used life challenges to bring certain changes in me. Finally, some changes just seemed to happen, and I didn’t realize it until I looked back. I notice how calm I usually am now. I notice how much more easily I find happiness and joy. I notice how I increasingly can handle problems that used to baffle me.
You see, when you turn to God, he begins working to renew your mind, rework you in the image of Jesus Christ, and grow the fruits of the Holy Spirit in you. You actually start becoming the person God meant you to be! As I keep turning to God, he will keep working on me. I expect my serenity and joy to increase, even in the face of difficult times that surely will come. God will keep giving me everything I need to serve him and enjoy this life he has given me.