Girl, Trust In God.

For months I've been seeing friends, family, fellow churchgoers--an endless list--gushing about one book: Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop believing the lies about who you are so you can become who you were meant to be, by Rachel Hollis.

This isn't the type of book I read much anymore, but because so many people I knew were talking about it, I thought I ought to check it out so I had a better understanding of what they were reading.

Tim Challies wrote a review of the book that I thought was decent, so I'll let him do the direct blow-by-blow. Admittedly, Challies and I are on different theological pages, what with me being raised in a Pentecostal church and thinking women can have a significant role in church. Nevertheless, much of what he says is similar to my reaction. [UPDATE: Here is another specific review of the book worth reading.]

Instead of a book review, then, I want to do a kind of general approach to these kinds of books in a way that reveals the wariness I have with these self-help-motivational-success-mindful-but-christian type books that are very popular. I don't consider myself a theologian, but I have been greatly disturbed by some of what I see passing as Christianity when, at best, it is merely spiritual sounding, and at worst, denies the power of Christ without doing so outright. I guess I want to help people really question what they read so that subtle untruths don't take root and grow a huge weed of faithlessness. I am not saying that this book by Hollis will (or won't) do that. I simply want to present some ideas to make you think.

To do so, I will present a series of questions I've asked myself when I read books and consume various media of this nature.

Who is in control?

The first question I ask is who is depicted as being in control, or given credit? I'm not talking an introductory shout-out, and then the rest of the book uses "I did this" and "I did that." If the author gives credit to God, it should be tightly woven through the whole book, or it's only lip service.

Do we believe God is in control or don't we? Do we think that God helps those who help themselves (because that's not in the Bible)? Do we think that Christ really finished the work on the cross, or don't we?

It's worth asking why we keep reading books written by successful people for cues on how to whip our lives into shape. Are they truly successful? We can only see an outward version, and so we really do not know. And, if we don't know them personally, we can't really see the kind of fruit their life produces. Some of the least "successful" people I know continue to model beautiful and active faith in Christ. Would I read their book?

So again, what it is it you're after that drew you to the book? Who do you want in control? Do you want to be the master of your fate, the captain of your soul, or do you want God to do it? I'm a big screw-up about 99 percent of the time, so I'm going to let God do it, thanks. My whole life has felt like a shotgun approach (with anything that hits a target totally being God). Just because it has felt like it, however, doesn't mean that's the reality. Obedience doesn't always have a realized payoff that I understand or see. I don't know what's going on behind the scenes. So I'll let God captain this ship. It's his agenda.

Is this offering freedom or bondage?

The next thing I ask is whether the advice and content in the book offers freedom or bondage. This could be different for each reader depending on their life situation, but it's important to be able to recognize the reaction in yourself and stop reading what is creating bondage in your life.

Bondage is when you start feeling pangs of unworthiness, failure, or making mental lists of all the things you need to improve in your life. Bondage is when you you let some idea or movement dictate how you feel and respond about things instead of putting it through the Bible to see if it's true or not.

True freedom comes only in Jesus Christ. Any book that points repeatedly to him is on the right track. The rest is all a form of bondage that may, for a time, seem like freedom and accomplishment but, in the end, result in bondage.

Picture it like this:

  1. You feel guilty because your house is messy (Who made you feel guilty? Photos on Instagram, or did the Holy Spirit prod you to make a change? That matters.)
  2. You read a book on tidying up and organizing, and take action to use those methods.
  3. You feel wonderful when you look around your house and see how clean and organized it is.
  4. You post photos online to show people what you've accomplished.
  5. Pretty soon your house is spotless, but your family is constantly being lectured on throwing, sorting, putting things away. Maybe conflicts arise. Rebellion and fights over your new rules become more commonplace. Or, you create a disorder in your children in which they obsess over things being put away always.
What this book offered -- was it freedom or bondage? 

Can you compromise and let your family have a little clutter? Which is more important, your family relationships, or your feelings and preferences? Are you most pleased because you're proud you did it and want to show it off, or because you feel like it made your family's home better? Do you have more conviction about the holiness and godliness of a clean house than letting your spouse leave their Bible study materials out on the dining room table? Are you more excited and a bigger evangelist for a clean house than you are for talking about Jesus? Are you making others feel ashamed about their clutter instead of being an encourager about the negative reasons we have clutter without demanding perfect results?

We are a people who take good or innocuous advice and turn it into slavery through obsession and a desire to prove ourselves worthy.

Is this about what I have to do, or reminding me it's done?

This past Sunday, pastor told a story about Dwight L. Moody. A man who came up to Moody after he had finished preaching and told him that Moody needed to tell people to do more. Apparently for the man, Moody's sermon had weighed too heavy on love and grace for the sinner. Moody responded by saying that the man had a faith of two letters, DO, while he had a faith of four letters, DONE.

I'm going to make a bold statement that can be misconstrued a million different ways: There is no self-help for the Christian.


We are nothing without Christ, and through Christ, the work is done. God is perfecting the work he has started in us (Philippians 1:6), but it is God who is doing it, not us.

My salvation is done. The perfection required in me is up to God, and will be finished at the exact right time on the day of the Lord. I do not have to chase after other forms of perfection and achieve them on my own for any purpose that has any effect on my salvation or relationship with God.

This is HUGE.

Believer, right now, where you're sitting, the person you are in this moment: it is done. It's not up to you to earn anything. IT IS DONE. Please rest in that!

It took me a while to get even close to that rest (still have my moments). It's easier to think I need to do things to be more worthy of whatever it is I think I need to be worthy of.

Does this book make me feel unworthy?

I don't read self-help books now, in my mid-forties. They don't appeal, and they don't ring true. I've made enough efforts over the previous decades to whip myself into shape, to be more productive, to market myself, to achieve, to crush it, to bust my butt, and to, in all ways possible, strive for a better more spectacular version of myself.

After all of that, I have a rather long list of jobs and failures, a small bank account, and no renown. After all of that, I have a habit of seeing all that I'm not, according to the world, instead of all that I am in Jesus Christ. But I tell you, the more I read the Bible and not the bestseller book, the more I sure love the Lord, and more each year. I'm weary from all the self-motivation attempts, successes, and failures. They have brought NOTHING eternal into my life, only distraction.

Even the most well-intentioned self-help books of this nature have the unfortunate result of making people feel inadequate and ashamed.

Be more! Do more! Be better! Try again, like the gerbil running on the wheel! Never give up, and therefore never turn the reins over to God! I am eager for the day when I can run and not be weary, walk and not faint. You get there by...waiting on the Lord (Isaiah 40:31). Waiting. Not striving (which we'll talk about in a bit).

No matter how the author reassures them they don't have to be like them, the reality is that people bought the book because of an understood success and a desire to mimic something therein. There's an assumption that I have something to learn from the person, and then, even if the author reassures me that I don't have to go about making it happen in that way, there is the premise the book is based on that assumes I have those problems in my life that need to be solved. What if I have some of the issues in my life as listed in the book that aren't sin according to the Bible, but are almost considered sin by the current culture? Are they actually problems that I am to be solving? What if they are what God wants and designed?

Let's use weight as an example.

I'm not skinny. If there's a famine, I'll be able to get a few laughs as the folks at my gym drop like flies, at least for a month or two. So I read all of these "Biblical" books on losing weight, or the subtle passages in books by successful women who assure me they once were fat but then trained for a marathon and now it's all great and I can do it too, and I beat myself up for twenty years and let it become a distraction that at times replaces God as I turn food and health and exercise into a little god of obsession, sometimes loathing myself to the point of being unable to function in the church, and I forget how--when I was watching my little nephew years ago and he was crying and upset and he crawled up into my lap and cuddled in, and said that he liked that I was soft and he fell asleep and stopped crying--God has different priorities.

That's not an excuse to eat 6000 calories a day and weigh 600 pounds (we tend to over-correct and stay off course), but why do we beat up regular people for regular things and wrap it as if it was an expectation from God? I'm not a glutton. I can barely finish a hamburger. Yet these books have caused me to feel guilt when I eat anything that isn't listed in Ezekiel 4:9, or what Daniel ate! I want the Holy Spirit to be the one pinging my conscience, not the world's expectations.

It's OK to have a small life. I cannot say that enough. Be faithful where and when you are, and if you read a book that feeds any sense of discontent or unbiblical guilt (which always leads to bondage), taking your gaze from God at all, put it aside and open your Bible.

Did this book need to be written?

Frankly, I wish Christian publishers would stop publishing books by famous pastors, bloggers, business people, and other folks who try to boil down their God-given success into some sort of outline that you can apply and get the same result. That's nonsense.

It's one thing if they are helping explain a topic in the Bible, or writing a Bible-study-expository-type book, but beyond that, it sometimes borders on self-idolatry in which you have the power within you and can achieve great things if you just motivate yourself enough in the right way at the right time, achieving X success like the author did. These books are churned out more for the publisher's timeline and budgetary calendar than God directing someone to write them.

This is made clear when Joe Pastor gets a contract to write X books over X time. What if he doesn't have anything God wants him to be writing about? He's still going to write.

I understand that we often connect strongly with a book that reminds us that we aren't alone in the struggles we have in life. That's fine. But you have to be careful about what you're reading, especially when you're practically screaming "yes, that's me!" on every page and unwittingly absorbing some sketchy theology in the process.

Stop believing these lies.

I'm going to borrow a page from Hollis, and tell you some lies that you are told, and then discuss them.

1. You can do and be better.

You can't do and be better in your own power. No one is good (Luke 18:19, Romans 3:10). It's all up to God.

If you know of an area in your life where you are struggling with sin, or the Holy Spirit is prodding you to make changes, that's prayer time, repent time, and God time.

Not convinced? Still think it's kind of up to you to make your life better and more good, rack up measurable success?

Consider that we are all image-bearers of God, and that each of us is loved and created for a specific purpose in God's amazingly intricate plan. Consider people who are developmentally disabled, physically disabled, elderly, or otherwise in a life situation where they can't "crush it" and achieve things. Their time spent with God and his Word and in prayer is an achievement that is literally out of this world. You can do that right now, today, without having to train for a marathon, get famous, perfect your family, meet with a publisher, or any other thing. Literally, right now, you can do the most important thing for all eternity, and rest in knowing that by doing so, God is making you better.

Please stop reading books on how to be better or more successful, and just read the Bible! I am serious. The simple act of reading the Bible, studying it -- this has an actual impact on your life. It brings peace, joy, assurance, wisdom, contentment, and a closeness to God. It speaks into you, not at you. All of these things are more permanent than any sense of emotional "happiness."

God perfects you. You don't.

2. You can achieve more.

All good things come from God. They might be outright good, or they might seem very painful at the time and then, about twenty some years later, you finally see how good and life-changing that really was. The latter example is from my life.

Why do you want to achieve more? Is it for you, or do you think you have to do some good things to win God's favor?

My friend and I are working through the Bible study Experiencing God, by Henry and Richard Blackaby, and one of the things that struck me right out of the gate is the difference between saying "God, I want to do great things for you" versus "God, I want to join you in your work."

Please look at those two different worldviews.

The first is all about me and what I can do, as if God needed my feeble efforts to be glorified. The second acknowledges God is doing what he is doing, and he has invited me to join him, and now it's whether I'll obey. He might want you to join him in his work as a cog, a bolt, a driveshaft, or a marquee. You don't know. You just obey. But if you're given the task to be the marquee, the last thing you should do is put your name on it.

What a shame it is when we use the first worldview to hide our prideful desire to accomplish more for our name (not God's), or to hide our lack of faith and try to find value in what we can do instead of who we are, right now, in Jesus Christ.

Are you doing it for God's name, or your name? Is it for God's glory, or yours? When you talk about your success, do you use God's name or yours? It's funny how people are often quick to blame God for the bad things and the failures, but quick to claim the success as based on what they did.

3. I can make a template out of what worked for me so others can do the same.

This stems from a lack of understanding that the Holy Spirit is in each believer, and is actively at work. We deny that the Spirit directs, guides, prods, and helps us in all that we do as a believer.

None of us know God's ultimate plan, and so not one of us really can say, with great certainty, that what seemed to work for us will work for someone else. Chances are very good that we don't exactly know what really "worked" for us other than the reality that God is at work in and for us.

You don't fully know why you lost the weight, why you got the job, why your book go published, why your kids turned out right, why you can keep your house clean, why you find it easy to manage your money, why you have specific talents, why your life is absent lots of drama. And you don't really know why you can't take off the weight, why you didn't get the job, why your book is never published, why your kids turned their back on God, why your house is always a mess, why you can never have complete and perfect control over your finances, why you don't have lots of talents, why your life seems to be full of drama and needy people.

Oh, sure, we know some basics, starting with a sinful world and a broken creation. We know that eating junk food all day will keep the weight on for most people (but not all!). Watching TV instead of keeping house will lead to a messy house. Practicing and exercising the talents and giftings God has given us (remember who gave them!) is necessary to increase our ability to use them well. We know some basics.

Heck, you probably know those kinds of basics because your conscience is prodded when you neglect the path God has outlined in the Bible. What we call "common sense" is more likely the Holy Spirit and God's sustaining grace at work. This is especially true if you're a believer in Christ and have a crazy enough faith where you talk to God about everything and think every part of your life is of interest to him, so you ask for help in these areas and lo and behold, the Holy Spirit starts nudging you to not eat a Snickers bar for lunch, and have an apple instead.

But some of the over-arching scheme of things -- why does she have success and he doesn't -- can't simply be explained by "she busted her butt harder." Anyone trying to sell you the idea that if you work harder you can achieve all of your dreams did not find that in the Bible, and they are setting you up for failure, frustration, and self-loathing. God gives and God takes away. God chooses the foolish and weak to accomplish his will. God opposes the proud. He is the one who blesses, who opens doors and closes them. It is almost an idolatry to say we can identify why we got some success and try to sell it to people, because we don't acknowledge what God did (and didn't) allow.

I want you to start reading deeper, when people make claims about how you can achieve their success. That amazing idea that changed everything? It didn't come from them, but from God. Don't let them tell you otherwise. That amazing opportunity that made everything happen? It didn't come because they busted their butt, but because God was working.

4. Hard work means success.


I know people who have worked hard all their life and never achieved worldly success. Let's use the piano as an example.

We can understand that, for example, if God gifted you in music and you don't practice, you probably won't be asked to perform and won't be very good at it. We also know that those who are excellent piano players, and performing all over, put in lots of practice. So we think: hard work equals success.

Do you know how many excellent piano players who have practiced and practiced are living somewhere in Podunk, USA, giving piano lessons to little kids? Would you read their book? Their hard work didn't equal the success we like, even though God may be using them as an influence on one child. Yes. God might put you through a life's worth of hard work, disappointments, efforts that don't launch, all to reach one person. Are you OK with that? Will you still be faithful even if it seems your life doesn't matter to the rest of the world?

Read the book the faithful life-long Christian little old lady down the street wrote, the self-published one about her life, a book about her marriage and family and nothing spectacular to anyone but her. That's the book to read.

5. I am responsible for my success.

I worked for a local startup for a few very stressful years, and every article I read about them now glorifies the founders and their efforts and work and smarts, and I, knowing they say they are Christians, wonder when it is they'll give God some credit for their friendship, the paths and doors opened, the giftings, the opportunities, the founding employees (who all left), and the blessings.

I don't see it mentioned.

People who forget God's hand in their success dangerously believe their own PR. They think they are special, deserving, and earned all that they have. They don't acknowledge all the many ways their life could have been so different that they had no control over.

I'm rather loathe to read a book by someone successful who is either willfully or forgetfully hiding the real reason for their success. They are fooling themselves, and aren't giving God the glory.

6. The power to do great things is within me.

I tell you unequivocally that this is a lie, lie, lie.

You are not great. You are not good. You are not able to achieve great things through your own work ethic, power, intelligence, and ability. You can not put your mind over matter. You have never succeeded beyond what God has allowed. You have done nothing, achieved nothing, accomplished nothing, beyond what God has had control over. You have no gifts and ideas that God has not given you. You have no success, no money, no family, no comfortable home, no anything that has at all come from you and your goodness and worthiness and hard work.

And this is good news!

It's not all on you! It's on the King and Creator of the Universe! What a relief!

There's a reason people say, when coming upon someone in hard times "but for the grace of God, there go I." When you understand your entire existence relies on God's grace, you stop seeing people who have failed, been jailed, messed up their lives, and hurt people as throw-away garbage because, without God's grace, you could be them. You are not better, you are not less sinful, you are not more deserving. It's all due to God's grace.

The minute you forget this, you stop allowing God into every aspect of your life and start to take a little credit here and there. And then you think you're maybe kind of good and not such a bad sinner. And then you think you deserve good things and get upset when you don't get them. And then you try to find other ways to get those good things, or look elsewhere for help instead of God.

If you are a Christian, you have no business believing that lie. Yet I can't tell you how many online memes, social media discussions and graphics, and books I've seen in the past decade or so that have put that forward as a Christian belief and people have bought it.

It's idolatry.

Oh, sure, some Christians will package it up with some version of Philippians 4:13 (or similar) and say that since the Holy Spirit lives within Christians, the power is there. That's a seriously wrong path based on a subtle sleight-of-hand based on the truth that Christ can do all things. The Holy Spirit, who lives in each believer, is part of the triune God. God has a plan and seeks obedience from us, and the Holy Spirit, if we listen and obey him, helps us work with God. That is a far cry from "I have all power to accomplish all things, and that power is within me to wield as I will for my purposes", which is what that original lie is saying, and is a statement that leaves out the importance of God's sovereign plan and God himself. Instead, it raises us up as little gods with the ability to do work without God.

"But Julie, if that is true, why do the evil and wicked prosper? Why do unbelievers have such success? Is God blessing them, since they aren't doing it of their own power?"

You're not the first to ask that. Start with Psalm 73 and go from there.

It's a tough question, and I wrestle with it a lot, particularly when I see the faithful wrongfully targeted or punished. One thing that has helped me is in reading different takes on the types of grace that come from God. There's creation grace, delivering grace, sustaining grace, and more (depending on the person discussing it).

Consider that this whole world is functioning under a kind of sustaining grace. The saved and the unsaved alike are benefiting from this, as God continues to hold things together and has yet to withdraw his protection and pour out his wrath (see Revelation for a non-cuddly Jesus). There are still terrible things--calamities, murder, war--but nothing like we'd see if (and when) God completely removed his hand from this world and turned it over to the enemy. God blesses and gifts as he will, for his plan, on the believer and unbeliever alike.

A Christian faith means we trust the Lord, especially when situations don't seem to make sense.

On some, God pours out gifts and success and all that we think we want. Those gifts come with a responsibility (Luke 12:48). So while we don't know why some people are blessed with gifts and success, we ought not assume it is based on someone being more deserving than another or that we are a failure. Perhaps we haven't been faithful with our finances or giftings, and God is still working on us with that. Perhaps that person has been obedient to God in small and big ways and is firmly located where God is working. Perhaps our time is coming, but we aren't ready yet. Perhaps God has turned the defiant over to the world and they are enjoying the favor of the world (for a very temporary time). God does what he does, and wills what he wills. In the absolute end, it all works out for the good of those of us who believe.

The power is God's. It is not something within me of my doing.

7. All striving is the same as pressing on to the goal.

Striving is usually a human endeavor. Pressing on to the goal that Paul talked about (Philippians 3:14) is a spiritual endeavor. We write books about striving, books about the struggle to obtain or achieve things.

If I'm going to strive, I want it to be for the things God has laid out, things that are eternal. I do not want to strive for temporary things. 2 Corinthians 4:18 makes it pretty clear: set your eyes on the unseen things that are eternal. The rest, the seen things, are temporary.

Whenever I sing or hear the song "In Christ Alone", I am always struck by the first verse:

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

What love and peace there is, when we quit with all our earthly striving!

Stop your striving for seen things, for seen results! Stop chasing a carrot that is a perfect home, tasteful decor, perfect health, perfect kids, mindfulness (don't even get me started on that), a life of meaning to a world that wouldn't know what means anything if it punched them in the face -- just stop! Jesus did the work, not you!

The greatest achievement a believer will ever receive is hearing "well done, thou good and faithful servant." If you are focused on anything that gets in the way of that, it's garbage.

Hollis wanted readers to get past lies that were keeping them from being what they were supposed to be. There's a tricky assumption in that title. Who were you meant to be? If you are a follower of Christ, it's finished! There is no thing greater to be than a servant and follower of Christ. The only lie keeping you from becoming who you were meant to be is any lie that gets in the way of a life focused on Christ!

We never believe it is finished, so we keep buying books.

I hope this didn't come off as a slam to anyone who enjoys these books. We all respond differently. I'm not saying don't read these kinds of books, or that you aren't able to filter these things out for yourself. I just don't want you to finish one, and then latch onto a plan of being and doing under your own power and neglect to include God.

Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus is the author and FINISHER of our faith. He endured the shame so we do not have to. Don't ever let the hot new book suggest there are things you need to do to be saved or worthy. Please understand this, no matter what hot new book you read:

  1. As a follower of Christ, your identity is in Christ. Nothing else is your identity, neither your status as a parent, your job title, your sexual attractions, your past failures, your present successes -- nothing. Don't you dare identify with anything or anyone but Christ.
  2. Christ finished it all on the cross, and his resurrection means we are victorious in Him.
  3. The only lies you must not believe have to do with denying who Jesus was and what he did, and who you are in Him.
  4. Be faithful and obey, and join God in the work he is doing. 
  5. If your part is small, or if your part is big, all of it is to the glory of God and for an eternal plan that has nothing to do with how you feel about your life on this earth right now. Your feelings will change over the years, but what is eternal will not.
  6. Your weight, your looks, your family, your job, your house, your business, your value, your importance, your name, your everything -- give it to God, let go of feeling shame that you aren't what you think you should be, tell Him he can do what He wants with your life, and live each day faithfully focused on Him and not on what you think you need to achieve. 
  7. Let God do the work in you, perfecting the work he started in you until the day of the Lord, because your faith is one that is DONE.
It is finished. Jesus said so. Your salvation is complete, and God is doing the perfecting in you. Rest in that. As a believer in Christ, you are who you were meant to be, right now.


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