I doubt that many of us would be willing to wear the clothes seen on the fashion runway in exactly the way they are displayed, with all the accessories and interesting makeup. I look at the pictures and think it all looks ridiculous. But I remember thinking the same thing initially about ripped jeans, ankle boots and leopard print on the runway, yet all of these have eventually found their way into my closet.
We look at things in the extreme and laugh. We're no one's fool. We know where sensible ends and ridiculousness begins. Or do we? Is it possible that we are better at recognizing extreme fashion translating into items in our closets than we are at calling out extremely foolish definitions of what really matters in life and the way those views end up in our heads and hearts?
Why exactly do we feel so messed up? Why can we not answer the question, “Who am I?” Why don't we know our purpose in life? Why are we so unhappy?
Whether we realize it or not, we have been steeping in a false way of looking at life in the same way that a tea bag steeps in a pot. Bit by bit, it colors everything. Our culture has bought into a bunch of lies that are leading us on the road to nowhere. But perhaps most concerning is that many Christians are heading down that same road, and have no idea how inconsistent it all is when compared to how God sees things.
I think much of our trouble boils down to how we pursue happiness. To begin with, we need to start with the truth that God actually wants us to be happy, and knows just what will make that our reality. All too many of us have a faulty view of God- seeing Him as a cosmic killjoy, or as nothing but a disciplinarian who doesn't care how our heart is feeling as long as our behavior stays in line. Both of these ways of looking at God are wrong, and will keep us from knowing Him and finding true fulfillment.
God wants you to be happy. He knows exactly who you are meant to be, why you are here, the things that you need put inside you to work well, and the virtues that are going to keep you on the right path. But instead of asking Him for the answers to these questions, we turn to Instagram for a little inspiration. This is the sort of thing that we find:
“You are the author of your story.”
“Know this one great truth, you are in control of your life.”
“Live for you. Believe in yourself.”
“You are enough.”
“Trust in your own power.”
No matter how much it may make us feel good to stand in front of a mirror and recite these quotes to ourselves, it doesn't make a single one of them true.
Do you see who is at the center of all of these quotes? The almighty you. The empowered you. The tended to, self-care focused you. This means your focus turns inward which means things can get very dark very quickly.
If we want to find our way out of the mess, our starting point must be our ending point. Everything in your life is bringing you one step closer to the end, the day when you stand before God. That's the one sure thing; the appointment that can't be cancelled or delayed. When that day comes, we're going to want to be sure that we've spent our lives preparing well.
In contrast to the messages of the world, God says:
“I am the author of your story.”
“Know this one great truth, I am in control of your life.”
“Live for me. Believe in me.”
“I am enough.”
“Trust in my power. It is made perfect in your weakness.”
We are the most depressed, anxious, lost and empty people because we have moved our collective focus from God and placed it on ourselves. And we are collapsing under the weight of what was meant only for Him. But there is a way out from under that pile of garbage. It starts by shifting your focus away from you and placing it on God. It means stopping the pursuit of glory for yourself, and instead living every moment of every day for God's glory. In the words of Peter Kreeft:
Offer up everything to Him, everything you do and everything you see and everything you think and everything you love. For everything you do is to be done for Him, and everything you see is a preparation for seeing Him, and everything you think is a tiny truth that is part of His whole Truth, and everything you love is loved only because it resembles Him in some way Who is the Only Totally Lovable One. He left some of His perfume in the things He made, and as He passed by; and you can't help falling in love as you smell it.¹
There is a way out of the mess. God will give us everything we need for a fresh start, but His freely given gifts must be freely received. What do you need to let go of in order to lift your empty hands to the Only One who can fill them?
¹ Peter Kreeft, Practical Theology (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2014), 58.
We had a wonderful time at our 2013 WWP Leadership Conference! For those of you who weren't able to attend, and for those who want a little recap, here is an excerpt from the keynote talk, Beholding His Glory. The excerpt will be delivered in two parts- part I in August, part II in September.
“Whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.”
2 Corinthians 3:16-18
When we behold God's glory with an unveiled face, something amazing happens. The Holy Spirit works on us on the soul level, and transforms us so that we become more like Christ. Glory is God's holiness on display. When we become more like Christ, we bring God glory (which is our highest purpose in life) because His glory is displayed through us.
It cost Jesus everything for us to experience gazing with an unveiled face on the glory of God. He wants nothing more than to see each one of us being transformed. But is this what we are experiencing?
Are you experiencing the freedom that comes from the veil being lifted?
Are you experiencing transformation?
Are you Beholding God's Glory in this life-changing way?
In order to behold His glory, we have to let go of our own.
And this, my friend, is hard to do. This is radical living. This involves abandoning all sorts of behaviors with which we are quite comfortable.
We're comfortable with them, in part, because we are encouraged to live the American Dream. We're commended for achievement, self-sufficiency, accumulation of possessions, productivity, and success in the here and now. And as we pursue these things, and feel emptier and emptier, what we fail to realize is that we have fooled ourselves, pulling a veil over our faces that clouds our ability to Behold God's glory.
If I want to behold God's glory and there's no room- no sacred space for Him- if I'm keeping Him small in my life, then there's just one solution.
Less of me, and more of God.
What this means- Less of me and more of God- will look different for each one of us. But I want to share this morning what it means in my life today. Because I want to Behold God's Glory. I want it more than anything. And there are things in my life that are getting in the way of that. I am on a journey. I'm talking to you in the middle of it. I'm not sharing what has worked at the end of it. I'm saying, this is where I am today. And maybe this will resonate with you. But what I want you to do is to go before God, and ask Him, “What does Less of me and more of You mean in my life?”
1) Less relying on myself
For years, one area that God has been focusing on with me is my self-sufficiency. We are commended for believing in ourselves, trusting in and developing our own abilities, pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps, and making things happen. Of course, hard work and diligence are good traits. But we get into trouble when we start to believe the lie that it's all up to us. Jesus calls us to be like Him, and to rely utterly on God's power. St. Paul echoes that teaching in 2 Corinthians 12:9 when he says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
I used to pray that God would lighten my load- that it wouldn't be so hard all the time to get done the things that I believe he has called me to do. On a daily basis, there is far more on my plate than seems possible to accomplish, and I'm talking about the things that matter in the long run, not making the showiest birthday treat for my child to bring to school. Just when I think I might be able to get it all done (I've figured it out), something happens that throws my plans into disarray.
Because my self-sufficiency is so hard wired into me, it seems that the busyness of my schedule, the demands on my time, is the thorn in my side that God is allowing so that I rely utterly on Him. I'm not saying that we shouldn't pursue balance and that there's no place for rest. I'm just saying that in my life, God allows things to feel impossible, so that I rely on His power instead of my own ability.
2) Less craving for approval
Writing my book was a scary thing for me to do. There's so much of my heart splashed all over those pages. It's one thing to share it in the form of a talk, which I give among friends at Walking with Purpose. It's another thing to put it out there, knowing that for every person who loves it, someone might hate it and write something awful about it on Amazon.com. And I need to let this go. I need to get rid of my craving for approval, and my people pleasing behaviors. I need to live in such a way that I'm more concerned with my character than I am with my reputation. My character is who I really am. My reputation is who others think I am. God's got His eye on my character, and it's my character that should reflect Him to a world that is watching. People want to see a faith that makes a difference. People are asking, “does it work?” and then are looking at us to find the answer. They may not ask overtly, but they are observing. Character counts more than reputation. In an “image is everything world,” living like that is truly radical.