23 July 2012

obstructed identity [part II]

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies--in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4:10-11)
Last week I mused on one error we make in self-identification. We often think that we are important because of worldly status. In this, we idolize emptiness and reject God. Only the Lord can offer fulfillment, security, or any of the other things we look for in an identity--nothing else comes close.

{Duccio di Buoninsegna}
This week I want to talk about the second error, which is the one I have noticed in my own life lately: we refuse to embrace our glorious inheritance in Christ and shy away from the good works prepared for us. In other words, we think we are too weak to serve Him . . . and shamefully, we think He is too weak to help us. Fearing failure, we content ourselves with small ambitions instead of boldly asking the Lord for guidance.

If we do this, we are forgetting the promise of God's word. We are His beloved heirs, with the power that raised Christ at work in us! Furthermore, He has given us gifts through the Holy Spirit. He has a purpose for us, and quite often, that purpose will surprise our cynical hearts.

The Lord performs awesome deeds through weak people.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)
In the past, I have unconsciously fallen prey to the idea that I should not aspire to anything that seems "lofty." Because good Christians are content, right? Yes, but it depends what we mean by contentment. God never condemns ambition per se, only the selfish ambition that seeks to glorify ourselves instead of Him. Paul announces that
In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me . . . thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written: "Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand." (Romans 15:17-21)
That sounds like quite a lofty goal to me . . . and it is an utterly holy one, because Paul's motive is to make much of God.

Not all supposed contentment comes from humility. At times it is actually apathy (fa la la, here is the status quo so I will just meander along comfortably until something else comes up). And I truly believe there exists a godly discontent; it is the stirring of the Lord in our hearts. God knows how easily we slip into coldness toward Him and toward his kingdom. He uses this sort of discontentment, then, to call us further into Himself. He shakes us up and makes us wonder:

Am I serving You with all my heart, Lord? Or am I serving the idol of my own comfort? Could there be more You'd have for me?

And often, He puts something on our heart to do.

When that kind of discontentment arises, we should listen.

When I hesitate to pursue God's unsettling call, just because I assume that it won't work, I dishonor Him. When I stuff my fingers in my ears so I won't have to hear His voice, I dishonor Him. When I stubbornly sit in my rut under the guise of humility, I dishonor Him. I am acting as if God will set me up for failure. If the Lord calls, He equips! No, the results might not look how I envision, but they will definitely be good.

{the one and only Van Gogh}
Tricky to talk about this topic without sounding like a teenage magazine--"Follow your dreams, and you can reach the stars!" That's not even remotely what I mean, though. The point is not that we will all become Martin Luther or Joan of Arc if we just tap into our hidden potential. This is not about searching inside ourselves for an self-serving ambition, or seeking our own fame.

This is about His fame. This is about asking the Lord, What would you have me do? And would you give me faith to do it in confidence, knowing that you can produce fruit in your time?


I guess some concrete illustrations would be helpful. For me, the first way this came up was in fellowship with other Christians. I'd been feeling as if I had nothing to contribute to others, and that when friends opened up about their difficulties--whether in small group or any other context--I should just shut up, because I am not experienced or wise enough to offer anything useful. At times I'd feel a desire to minister to them, but I would hold back in fear. Well, Jared and I are currently taking a course centered on Paul David Tripp's Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands. In this (incredible) book, Tripp states:
God never intended us to simply be the objects of his love. We are also called to be instruments of that love in the lives of others.

When you think of personal growth and change, what comes to your mind? Are you . . . immediately assuming that you need the help of your pastor, an elder, or a professional counselor? This is what our culture assumes is required to bring about change. Clearly, God raises up particular people for formal ministry roles, but the Bible's circle of helpers includes all of God's people. What's more, the Bible's view of personal change is radically different from our culture's. Scripture declares that personal transformation takes place as our hearts are changed by God's grace and our minds are renewed by the Holy Spirit. We don't change anyone; it is the work of the Redeemer. We are simply his instruments.

The problem is that most of us think that God is carrying around a very small toolbox! A successful carpenter uses many tools, each one designed for a particular job. God has a huge toolbox, and his principal tools are his children. Sadly, many people in the church do not see themselves this way. They think of ministry as something for the paid professional . . . Yet their adoption into the family of God was also a call to ministry, a call to ministry, a call to be part of the good work of the kingdom.
That was me exactly. I assumed that God had left me out of His toolbox, but by discounting myself, I was actually discounting the Holy Spirit's ability to work through me. I wasn't being humble. I lacked faith!

The next time I was going into this type of situation, I asked God to give me something to say. I want to help, Lord. Keep me quiet until you give me something to say . . . but oh, would you please use me? And He has. As I have petitioned Him for guidance, I've finally been able to share Scriptures and give counsel. It's an incredible joy. (Please understand that this is in no way a boastful statement--believe me, I can take zero credit for any wise words that exit my mouth. Sometimes I don't even know where they are coming from. Then I remember. "This comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." Wow. Why did I wait so long to ask Him?)

The second example is in this, actually. Writing. Me as a writer, sitting at a keyboard with the ability to produce something worth reading. I've just got to point out what an encouragement my husband has been to me here. He's the dreamer-in-residence, the one with big plans and the guts to follow through, while I'm the nitpicking worrywort. So when I say "Writing is fun," Jared says, "Have you ever thought about a book?" People leave comments on my blog. Jared says, "What about that book?" I feel a pull to use my talents to serve the Lord, but am unsure of where to go. Jared says, "Ahem. Book?"

I scoff, but he keeps suggesting it, and eventually I realize that he's right. Not a book, not right now, but . . . hey. I can put words together! And I have a blog! Perhaps I should view this little website differently. Perhaps I should sit down and write more often. I could even take this gift before the Lord and ask Him to use it!

(Yeah. I'm slow.)

The result of this has been astonishing, to me anyway. As I have tried to write for the Lord, with confidence taken from His promises instead of my own, I have seen Him work. Every time somebody comes up to me and thanks me for writing, it's tempting to be vain about it, but in the end I can only praise God.

I used to think that my blog, and the other ways I exercise the gift of the written word, were self-indulgent hobbies with little impact, so I wouldn't spend a lot of time on them. Now I have faith that writing here (even though it's really small) is a worthwhile ambition, an opportunity for ministry, so I spend real time crafting posts. Basically, my view of myself has changed, and so has my view of the things I do. If I am indeed one of the Lord's own children, with the Holy Spirit dwelling within, why not have ambitions for His glory? William Carey advised others to "Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God." Blogging isn't exactly great, but for me it is a first step of faith. I'm excited to see how God leads me.


In The Westing Game three young people come to the realization that they have been downplaying their own giftings and, indeed, their personhood. Angela Wexler by trying to squeeze herself into her mother's mold, Theo Theodorakis by refusing to make ambitious plans, and Chris Theodorakis through sheer discouragement at his physical handicap. They are all holding back on who they were created to be. Things change, though. When Angela stands up for herself, Theo takes a chance, and Chris receives some rare encouragement, their perspectives alter.  

Maybe things could be different. Maybe I could accomplish something.

Raskin doesn't write from a Biblical perspective, so after these three characters gain new confidence in their giftings, they still end up pursuing human-centric goals. No mention of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever. All the same, their revelations illustrate our tendency to get stuck in the rut of life.

Do you ever feel stuck?

Maybe you are already running full tilt toward His call, and adding another dream would be more self-serving than anything. If so, awesome. Keep running your race! Maybe, though, you are like me. You've got some things on the edge of your mind, wondering if they come from God but too scared to follow up. Let me ask you: are you looking to your own weak self for strength? Or are you looking to the God of all glory, who will complete every good work He begins? He has adopted you and given you a full inheritance in the Kingdom, with a share in His Holy Spirit even now.

You are His cherished child.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, "He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. (2 Corinthians 9:9-10)
 Holy, Holy by Tim Hughes on Grooveshark

P.S. This post on Practical Theology for Women offers more thoughts: "False Humility, Worm Theology, and Self-Esteem." Regarding godly ambition, I've had several people recommend Dave Harvey's book Rescuing Ambition. And if you fall into my camp, you have got to read Jessi Connolly's new e-book, Be Quiet and Say Something. It gave me renewed faith that the Lord positions us to have influence, and that we need to be stewards of our gifts instead of casually tossing them aside.

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