I had a wrestling match with an old enemy last week.
It was shame, but at first I mistook it for conviction – a toxic mistake.
So I am newly aware how vital it is for us to discern between the voice of shame and the voice of the Lord speaking conviction.
Can you tell the difference?
When I am in the grip of shame I feel not so much that I have done something bad, as that I am beyond redemption. Shame burns me with the certainty of looming rejection by God and other people.
This time shame crawled over me because I desired and received a Christmas gift that felt extravagant to me. I am vulnerable to this particular shame: God is angry at me for living in privilege relative to the rest of the world.
Do you know what brings on shame for you?
Sometimes we wear shame related to weight, career, intelligence, sins from our past, or aging issues.
Addictions of any kind use shame as fuel, offering solace in one hand and then smashing us with shame from the other hand, the pounding of shame enticing us to reach again for the tantalizing solace of the substance of our addiction.
When we are shamed we do not hope for mercy and we don’t know what to do to change. Shame breeds hopelessness and drags the soul down to a death-like despair: we feel lost beyond saving. Perhaps this is because shame has a terrifying social aspect to it, having to do with being different and worse than everyone else.
A few weeks before the tussle I had with shame I experienced the Lord convicting me of sin, pointing out a way of my heart He wanted to change.
When He did this, I did not feel embarrassed or afraid. His voice seemed firm but kind. I did not feel condemned; instead I felt challenged to rise up to be more. I felt called to life, greater life, by His conviction.
Conviction allows us our dignity. It is specific and clear: we know exactly what we are meant to change and why. Conviction inspires us to leave something lower for something higher. Rather than pulling us down to death, it calls us to richer life.
Jesus and a Woman in Shame
Think of how Jesus spoke to the woman caught in adultery. She was dragged from her lover and tossed to the ground in front of Jesus – disheveled, exposed, and terrified – surrounded by men with the power to stone her.
Listen to what Jesus said to her:
Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more,” (John 8:11).
Do you hear the love in his voice, the dignity he bestows on her? Do you hear him calling her to something greater than her sin because he values her?
This is the way the Lord speaks conviction, and He says we must know his voice:
My sheep hear my voice,” (John 10:27).
In the midst of my struggle with the painful emotions of this past week I finally realized, I am listening to shame; this is not how my Lord speaks to me.
It was a hand-up out of the pit.
Today I am thinking about why we do not have to drown in shame. Paul writes,
Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame,” (Rom 10:11).
Because Jesus took our shame.
The Shame of the Cross
The cross was an instrument not only of pain, but of shame. People were not crucified in dungeons; they carried their cross through the city – their agony publicly born – to a place outside, symbolizing their expulsion. Victims hung naked and exposed – a social humiliation designed to heighten the shame of the torture.
This Jesus bore for us, to free us forever from shame.
These verses from Isaiah were the end of my battle this time:
Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation (Is 12:2).
If my acceptance by God is up to me, then I really am lost. But if He is my salvation, shame is a goner, and I am released to joy.
Here’s the astonishing truth:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus,” (Rom 8:1).
Because of Jesus, we do not need to listen to shame. We can have done with it.
All that remains for us is conviction – a life-giving challenge to rise higher, to be more, to grow.
Discerning Between Shame and Conviction
So how do we tell the difference? Here’s my best shot:
- Shame condemns; conviction challenges.
- Shame increases fear; conviction calls for courage.
- Shame is broad, causing confusion; conviction is specific, creating clarity.
- Shame brings despair; conviction brings remorse.
- Shame breeds passivity; conviction provides an action plan.
- Shame entices us to hide; conviction invites us to respond.
I pray we will all grow in our capacity to discern the voice of shame from the voice of our Lord when He speaks a word of conviction. May we learn to resist the voice of shame while growing more responsive to the voice of conviction. Amen.