Bypassing the Neutral Zone

By Michelle Melchor — 12 May 2023


Hopefully, you enjoyed a joyful celebration of our Lord's death and resurrection with family and friends. Now that the brightly colored eggs, jelly beans and chocolate bunnies are eaten, I find myself needing to extend the season of Lent and its lessons for me.

At the beginning of 2023, I began thinking about waiting on the Lord and what that means in my daily life. Psalm 46:10, New Living Translation) says, "Be still and know that I am God." Psalm 27:14 (NLT) encourages me to "wait patiently for the Lord." Psalm 62:5 (NLT) tells me to "wait quietly before the Lord." Honestly, I am not good at waiting, let alone doing it patiently and quietly.

God showed me that instead of walking with Jesus, I was often in front of Him, trying to pull Him in my direction ... or behind Him, pushing Him to do what I want. In my quiet times with the Lord, I would rush into His presence with my agenda and to-do list, and then move on with the day, not taking time to listen and hear His plan.

Frequently, I think I am waiting on God, when actually I am just marking time until God answers my prayer by accomplishing the task, changing the circumstance or giving me the insight I am seeking.

"When it comes to a choice between denying self or following Jesus through some painful circumstance, I want to be neutral …"

It's not a coincidence that the two biggest days on the Christian calendar — Christmas and Easter — are preceded by seasons of deep introspection. Lent, like Advent, is a time for reflection when we are called to turn from our own efforts and seek God to transform us with the resurrection power of His Son.

In her book, "40 Days of Decrease," author Alicia Britt Chole focuses on John the Baptist's assertion, "He must increase and I must decrease" (John 3:30, English Standard Version). She leads the reader to examine habits and attitudes that draw attention to oneself rather than point people to Christ as John did. Instead of trying to make some material sacrifice for Lent — although it would not be a bad idea for me to decrease my chocolate intake — a lasting change toward a more Christlike character could result from choosing to fast from criticism, comparison, regrets or seeking praise.

Chole, on page 121 of her book, suggests one fast she calls Neutrality. "Jesus died in our place to reconcile us to God (2 Corinthians 5:18, NIV). On the other hand, Jesus Himself told us to ‘take up [our] cross daily' (Luke 9:23, NIV) therefore, when we define the cross as ‘self-denial', the fact that Jesus went through it does not mean that we get to go around it" (emphasis mine).

That's an accurate description of my approach to obstacles or hard situations. Whether I'm driving or dealing with computer problems I look for what's called a workaround. When it comes to a choice between denying self or following Jesus through some painful circumstance, I want to be neutral, find the path of least resistance, a posture Chole describes as saying yes and living no. Upon reading this, the Lord defined it to me as wearing the cross but not bearing the cross.

"How can I be sure I'm actually bearing the cross and not just wearing it?"

I own two or three different jewelry crosses that I like to wear as a sign of my faith in Jesus. But how can people tell if that's a statement of belief or a fashion statement? How can I be sure I'm actually bearing the cross and not just wearing it?

"Deny self or deny Jesus: this is the crux," Chole writes a page later.

"Remaining neutral is not an option. We have to choose a side. Today, fast neutrality. In the small, undocumented details of life, choose Jesus over self and recommit to living cross-ward. The cross is the ultimate call to decrease."

As I move forward from this year's Lent and Easter observance, I'm seeking to bear my cross daily rather than just wear a cross.

So I hope to grow in waiting patiently and quietly by following Chole's recommendation to fast, one day at a time, from attitudes and actions that foster self-centered ways and allow His love and grace to shine through my life. Won't you join me in continuing the season of self-examination?

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez / Unsplash


Michelle MelchorMichelle A. Melchor is a writer and lead editor for Cru Inner City. She has served with Cru for 48 years.

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