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I really hope you have enjoyed reading this sample chapter from Losing the Fig Leaf. To read or find out more, click here.

God bless,
Nicki

Freedom in relationships

Jesus’ security in the knowledge of who He was can also be seen by His remarkable humility. It meant He felt free to serve without worrying about having to maintain a particular image in the eyes of other people. In John 13 He had no qualms about washing the disciples’ feet, because He knew that there was nothing He could do and nothing anyone else could do that could change who He was or take away His Sonship. This gave Him tremendous security and great freedom, as He had nothing He wanted to prove. This provides a stark contrast to the disciples, who argued about who among them was the greatest (Mark 9:34).

I would encourage you to rest in the knowledge that you are a son or daughter of God, and to allow Him to love you for who you are. Ask Him to help you to step out from behind this tree of power. And as you take His hand and begin to step out from this hiding place, remember that you don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love. You don’t have to do anything to earn His acceptance. You don’t have to do anything to earn His approval. You already have it. Take the hand He offers you and ask Him to help you to live secure in the knowledge that you are His child.

I would also encourage you to realise that, in the same way as we cannot earn God’s love, we should not try to earn the love of other people. God loves us unconditionally, and we should live our lives as an act of worship to Him, so that everything we do flows from our gratitude for what He has done for us and out of our love for Him in return.

If we feel that we need to earn the love of another person, I would say we need to re-evaluate the relationship. Real love does not demand; it gives freely, and it receives what the other person wants to give. There is a big difference between receiving and taking in a relationship.

If someone loves you because of what you do for them, you may feel that you have an element of power and control because you are able to ‘make’ that person love you. However, the reality is that they are actually the one who is holding the power over you, because you feel obliged to behave in a certain way, otherwise you fear that their love will be withdrawn. The balance of power is weighted strongly in the other person’s favour. I would say to you, very gently, please consider whether this person really loves you at all, or whether they are just loving themselves by manipulating you to do what they want you to do. In my opinion, this is self-satisfaction; it is not love. What are they offering to you to express their love for you? Is this the way you really want to be loved? What will happen if and when you can no longer give them what they want, perhaps through illness or other circumstances? Is this the way God loves you – for what you can do for Him?

I was once involved in a relationship like this. The person concerned led me to believe that they loved me, and that they would continue to love me if I did everything I could to please them. Foolishly, I went along with it, and for far too long. I did everything I could to make the person love me, and I thought for a while that they did love me. But it always felt as though whatever I did, it wasn’t good enough. So I tried even harder. But nothing changed.

Eventually I came to recognise what was going on, but not before much damage had been done to my already low self-esteem and self-confidence. I realised that actually, the person didn’t love me at all, in spite of all their words, and that they were really only interested in loving themselves. In the end I found the courage to cut loose from the relationship, and God in His grace and mercy put people around me who loved me for the person I am. These people were – and still are – willing to give to me without wanting anything in return. I still find it hard to receive love at times, and always feel that I ought to be giving something back, but I am realising that real love doesn’t ask for anything in return. It gives freely, without counting the cost. And it welcomes and receives our love in return, if we choose to give it.

If this situation sounds familiar, I would really encourage you to pray and then to talk to the person about your concerns. Cite examples of real situations – it is difficult for anyone to dispute facts – and then describe how those occasions made you feel. Do everything you can to bring the relationship to a place of a more even balance of power. Cover it with prayer, and speak together with a wise and experienced third party if you are both willing.

Allow yourself to be loved for who you are, not for what you can give.

Power is something we all have, and indeed it is something we all need in order to flourish as human beings. But we can hide behind our power and use it for the wrong reasons. We should consider how we use our power, and ask God to help us to use it for the benefit of others, to help them to blossom and develop as people, and to enable them to reach their full potential. We are all made in the image and according to the likeness of God, and He has blessed every one of us with a task to carry out and a role to fulfil. And that role is different for each of us. Let us step out from behind this tree, drop this fig leaf, and use the power we have to help others grow and become the people that God created them to be!

Now to the second ‘tree’: the hiding place of material possessions.

Fig leaf on white

Losing the Fig Leaf by Nicki Copeland, published by Instant Apostle, is available from Christian retailers and online sellers. Order from Amazon in print or on Kindle here.

Today’s the day! Losing the Fig Leaf is published today! Click here for more information.

Here is today’s extract, continuing our look at the ‘tree’ of Power. The final part of the chapter will be published here tomorrow.

What about Jesus?

So how did Jesus, the perfect image of God in humanity, identify Himself? What did He do when things weren’t going His way? How did He respond? Did He exert His power to retain control?

One thing that is certain is that Jesus was always self-controlled. He never allowed His personal wants and desires to get the better of Him, and He never manipulated any situation for His own benefit. His concern was always for those around Him.

Jesus was immensely powerful. But He never used His power for His own ends. He was brilliantly clever with words, yet He never used them to belittle anyone. Neither did He just go along with the majority for the sake of an easy life. Jesus wasn’t a people pleaser; He was a God pleaser.

As the Son of God, Jesus could easily have commanded respect wherever He went, from everyone He met. Many, of course, did love and respect Him, but many did not, and eventually these people wanted to kill Him.

How do we respond when we think people don’t like us? I know I have a habit of doing everything I can to try to make people like me: there is an inbuilt need in me, as there is in all of us, to be liked and to feel accepted. If I feel that I am not liked, that must mean I am not a good person, that I am lacking in some way. It makes me doubt my worth.

Jesus did not allow Himself to be bothered by what other people thought of Him, and He did not try to find His identity in what He did, whether that was His work – most likely as a carpenter – or His ministry as a teacher and healer.

Before His ministry had even started, Jesus’ identity was questioned. In the desert, immediately after His baptism, the devil tested Him: ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread’ (Luke 4:3). Are you really who you say you are? Prove it!

Jesus was also tempted by food, not fruit as Adam and Eve were, but bread. He had been fasting in the desert for 40 days by this time so He would have been feeling very hungry and weak. As a human being, Jesus was subject to the same physical needs as the rest of us. The devil often targets our basic human needs and desires; he knows where we are vulnerable. Jesus had the opportunity here not only to change His circumstances, but also to prove who He was – to prove His power. But He resisted the temptation. His response? ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone”‘ (Luke 4:4).

Of course, there was so much more at stake here than just Jesus’ physical hunger. But the point I want to make is that Jesus knew who He was, and God knew who He was, and Jesus didn’t feel that He needed to prove it to anyone. He didn’t have to do anything to prove who He was: He was secure in the knowledge that He was the Son of God, and that was enough for Him. It didn’t matter to Him what the devil – or anyone else for that matter – thought of Him.

When I am faced with the temptation to prove that I am capable of doing a particular thing, or when I feel that I am being compared with someone else and don’t want to be found wanting, it can be very hard to remember that I am a child of God, and I don’t have to do anything to prove myself. I am a daughter of God. You, too, are a son or a daughter of God, and we don’t have to do anything to earn it or to prove it. We are loved and accepted just as we are.

Fig leaf on white

Losing the Fig Leaf by Nicki Copeland is published by Instant Apostle today, Thursday 1st October 2015 and is available from Christian retailers and online sellers. Order from Amazon in print or on Kindle here.