“So, what do you suppose the ‘throne of grace’ looks like?” I asked. Some time ago my family and I were reading through Hebrews together after dinner. It’s not an every single dinner ritual; we do it about every other night. Rather than get up and move elsewhere, we stay at the table, and any one of us might do the reading.
Ever the imaginative one, Emma offered, “I picture a big, beautiful, golden throne with God on it, and this long, long line of people snaking along toward it. That’s what I imagine. Just because I imagine it, doesn’t mean that will make it happen, you know. It’s just the way I see it.” She was sure we needed to be clear on this whole imagination thing.
“Alright—I like that, Emma,” I said. “Now, how are people talking to God, what are they saying to Him who is seated on the throne of grace?” I asked. My wife, Sarah, gave me one of those, “I know what you’re getting at” kind of looks. Ellen and Emma pretty much defaulted to the television portrayal of Pharoah on the throne, and said, “Oh, please, God! Give me what I need! Answer ‘Yes’ to my requests. Please, God!” I loved their dramatics, but not their picture.
And I wondered how many of us default to that picture of God on the throne, too.
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s pretend that it’s me on the throne—your daddy. How would you approach me?” Emma instantly got out of her chair, cut to the front of the imaginary line (“Excuse me. Pardon me,” she said), crawled up on my lap and said, “I love you, daddy! I love you! Can I have a gerbil? Can I have my own computer? Can I? Can I?” Sarah and Ellen laughed, and Ellen said, “We don’t have to beg with you, and we don’t have to beg with God, either. That would be silly!” Sarah asked, “And why don’t we have to beg God? Why don’t we have to plead with Him who sits on the throne of grace?”
And together Ellen and Emma blurted, “Because it’s the throne of grace, not the throne of begging! We already have everything with God because of Jesus. We’re in Him, so God gives us everything because of that.” With grins bursting upon their faces, they asked, “Did you forget that, daddy?”
We all love this.
I asked, “Okay, so what do you suppose is most important and most honoring to God as we approach Him, seated on the throne of grace?” Still laughing, Ellen said, “That we believe we’re always welcome and always wanted and will always get what’s right from God because of His love and grace to us. Not because we beg just right, but because we’re His and we believe Him. That’s how it works, dad.”
And we were done. If I had had a football, I would have spiked it and done one of those silly, swivel-butt dances football players do in the end zone. (It’s probably good that I didn’t have a ball.) I loved what my daughters were understanding and that they were having fun with it. That’s very important to us.
That’s what I think the fourth chapter of Hebrews is about: believe God is who He says He is, believe we are who He says we are, believe our relationship is as excellent as He says it is because of Jesus, and, hanging onto that, hang out at the throne! It’s that good. Put your confidence in Him and in what He says is true of you and how He is toward you. He’s the one who made it happen, He’s the one who secured you, and He’s the one who has given you all things because of His goodness and love.
I know it often takes some work to hang onto faith in Him rather than faith in you, but you really will find rest when your faith comes to rest and satisfaction in Him, who made it all happen.
And that’s how it works. Or, as my daughters asked me, “Did you forget?”
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens,Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-16).
Perhaps you’ve seen the Christmas-time classic movie, “A Christmas Story.” It’s one of my family’s favorites. While there are lots of great moments in the story, one scene drew a particularly large crowd. Best friends Ralphie, Flick and Schwartz were walking to school one frigid and snowy morning when an old discussion resumed: Will a tongue pressed on a frozen metal pole stick or not? Schwartz said it would, and Flick said, “No way!” With a crowd drawing round the flagpole moments before school, Schwartz loudly dared Flick to “Go ahead and do it,” if he was so brave. Flick, not altogether sure of his tongue-stick theory, stalled as long as he could until Schwartz called him out with a sequence of powerful verbal motivators: “I double-dog dare you,” and the ultimate, “I triple-dog dare you!”
If you’ve seen the movie, you know what happened—Flick stuck. Seconds later the school bell rang, so everyone hurried away including a triumphant and beaming Schwartz. Everyone except Flick. I can’t imagine a more vivid bit of education than frozen-stuck Flick gave that day, arms waving and voice wailing. No one would forget it. In the end, foolish Flick helped them all grow wiser because he took the dare.
Challenges have a way of motivating some of us, especially if it’s toward a good result. I would like to triple-dog dare you into what might seem to be foolishness at first, but it’s the unforgettable, apostle Paul type of foolishness.
Many of us are frustrated amongst a church that does not recognize itself. Most would agree that the percentage of Christians who believe they have truly become actual new creations, holy, blameless, faultless and righteous is very low. And that’s tragic. How can anyone truly enjoy the perfect intimacy God has achieved for us with Himself when we’ve got a serious disagreement going on about our union? Further, how can we benefit from trusting friendships within the church when we are unrecognizable to each other? The devil and this world have effectively disguised the sons and daughters of God, even to themselves. The cover-up, which cannot prevent our longing for the benefit of true fellowship, nevertheless frustrates the possibility of it. Sadly, we’ve been trained to settle for the outward appearance, even though we’ve been commanded against it.
“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” 2 Corinthians 5:16-19.
Surrendering to worldly identities terribly injures us all. It’s not normal. It doesn’t work for us. We are obscured and reduced to life by masquerade—of pretending we are not what we in fact are. Imagine a day in which you throw off your astounding Christian identity and masquerade as a pig in a pen because the slaughterhouse is after cattle. Actually, you’re neither one, but that’s what it’s like when a noble Christian accepts the lowly images of this world—pork or beef. It’s a never-ending game that disguises us and keeps us playing dress up. It’s demonic and it’s hurting us.
A better fit for us, a Spirit-led, normal, life producing fit, is to boast in the Lord. He has made us to be just like Himself in righteousness—pure. Just like Himself in holiness—perfect. In redemption—complete. (See 1 Corinthians 1:30-31.) Wherever you are, you are at all times recognized in the heavens as having become magnificent—very much like your Father. Those in the heavens see what we must know. Otherwise, we walk covered-over and crippled.
Here’s my New Year’s challenge, my triple-dog dare you: Identify yourself to those who do not see you.
If you were to say, “I am a righteous man,” in the hearing of a few friends, would you be accurate? You would. Would they be surprised? Probably. Would you be arrogant? Not at all, since you had nothing to do with what God has done for you through Christ. Your boast is accurate and we need it. It’s healthy to say it, and it’s healthy to hear it. Or how about saying when with some friends, “It’s amazing that I am a holy daughter of God.” Oh, you’ll get “looks”, for sure, but you will be drawing back the worldly disguise that keeps you and your friends in a lie. Get out of that lie! Or what would happen if you asked a similar group, “Which of us here is the most redeemed and forgiven?” That ought to bring about some eye-opening conversation, don’t you think?
And don’t we need it?
It may be uncomfortable at times because we are not used to identifying each other as we are in Christ, but rather, as we appear in this world. We’ve accepted and grown accustomed to this world’s disguise . . . and to this world’s torture. Living in agreement with God sometimes means being out of step with the world, I know. While that has always been daring, it is also invigorating, especially on the inside, where God lives happily with you. You will be assisting yourself and others to the truth that makes free, and that is enormously powerful and unforgettable.
Begin telling people, at least occasionally, who you are. This may well cause something of a revolution amongst your friends, and they will likely ask how you got that way. Would that be so bad? You’ll have to tell them the gospel, and that’s when the Spirit has a field day—with you and with those all around. What a great thing that is.
There is a lot of time when, frankly, I don’t know what’s going on. And I have something of a pattern of “just keeping-going” anyway. Sometimes I have to—maybe you know what that’s like—but there has to be an interruption in the “I don’t know what I’m doing!” For me, that’s prayer.
Prayer is not first to get stuff done, but to find out what’s been done already—and hopefully with my mind cleared, what’s going on right now.
That’s important to me because waking up can be a stumbling, barging-into-the-day kind of thing. Sometimes I feel as though I’ve wakened in the percussion section of a large, all-dressed-up orchestra, with unfamiliar sticks in my hands. “What are those for?” I think, groggily. With everyone looking at me, I know I have to play what’s required for the piece, but I don’t recognize the tune. “Quick, man! Play something!” I don’t feel right about anything I play.
But the kingdom where God happens most and where I recognize Him best is within. That’s where I find The Conductor, who knows my perfectly designed, small place in the symphony. He knows the piece. He knows the tune. Prayer is meeting with Him, and discovering again that I fit. From there, I can tap a drum. It isn’t much, but it’s my part.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians and, after explaining to them his busy involvement with this world’s kingdom, he wrote in chapter 1:15-16: “But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me (What for?) so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, . . .” Oh! There it is, Paul’s fit! Preaching to the Gentiles was his part in The Conductor’s Symphony. And, having had God revealed to him on the inside, Paul’s immediate response “was not to consult any human being.” Why not? Because people have a way of confusing God-given simplicity—“Tap your drum, Ralph”—by adding the human complexity of opinion. In other words, we make up our own symphony and try to conduct the whole thing. We soon lose our simple part and fit, and the music is way off.
Fortunately, God convinced Paul about design and what had been done for that already, and Paul learned in solitude to keep himself to it. For the same reason, I treasure solitude prayer, if even in my office or in my car. God has much to give me! And much to give you. Our parts in the symphony are really quite simple and the notes required are easy. For me, finding my fit with The Conductor—over and over again—is the first and primary benefit of prayer.
One of my favorite things to do is to pause in my mind and to ask the question, “Holy Spirit, what do you think? What are you feeling?” Often I get an answer to my question, or at least a fruit, an evidence of the Holy Spirit in me—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control—which is, in fact, an answer. I love that! And I follow through on what I receive, even if it’s simply to enjoy what God is doing with me. That’s enough, isn’t it? He knows what He’s doing. He’s been God for a long time now, so I don’t think we need to worry about His ability(!).
I love the Spirit’s work of making Christ in me obvious, if even just to me. That’s a big deal. I’ll let Him take care of working outside what He’s working inside.
This is what the apostle Paul wanted for the wavering Galatians—that Christ would be formed in them. And this is one of the best ways by which I know that’s happening for me. I love it. I’ve not found anything better than knowing that God is actually in me.
If my life is indeed found in Christ—with Him—then I look for it there. Otherwise, I’m just fumbling in the darkness of this world like everyone else. But that doesn’t fit me, and maybe not you, either. I simply and deeply enjoy being attracted to what I cannot see, rather than confused by what I can. One look, one little turning in my mind keeps me free and knowing God, while the other look binds and frustrates me. You know how that feels? Yeah, you do.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
We are eternal beings of great glory and are found in the unseen, in the invisible arena. “Finding ourselves” and our fit with Him is what makes “momentary troubles” lighter and more navigable. I sure like that.
Pause toward the Holy Spirit today; He’s all about life—yours and His.
If I’m going to be authentic with people—who I am with nothing added—I will likely feel a fleshly urge to add some pizzazz or extra personality or something really good to say in order to enhance the result. Refraining from that urge can seem like I’m ignoring an opportunity that really ought to be filled. I was once very good at filling voids with jokes, sarcasm, nervous laughter or witticisms. But choosing now to be authentic means I’m resting and trusting in Christ and choosing life by the Spirit. And that’s different.
When we’re born again, we are no longer of the flesh nor are we in the flesh, and life is by the Spirit. It’s all new. That means our primary awareness becomes God—with us and in us—and not our previous fascination with how to be or what to do in our days. The pressure is off. Life navigation used to be outward oriented; now it is inward. Our greatest prize and joy becomes knowing God—even when we’re with people—and trusting Him to produce in us and through us what He wants and would be to the people and situations that we find ourselves in. That’s fun. It’s invigorating, and allows for Christianity—life in Christ—to be the life it’s supposed to be. You know—out of this world.
I think most of us are used to dressing up our behaviors and interactions with people. Do you know what I mean? The flesh sends us the message that we should enhance everything—you know, turn on the charm or turn on the gloom—whichever will give us better odds of getting what we want. And it might, actually, so that can become our goal in life. Right? Control yourself = Get what you want. In fact, if you do not enhance your interactions with people in the ways that others do and expect, they might view you as different or odd.“She’s not with the program”. But you’ll know better because you’ll be knowing Jesus. You’ll be led by the Spirit, and that’s where the excitement is, that’s where life is.
In addition, Christian authenticity does not simply mean honesty, which can be brutal and harsh. Christian authenticity is living in and trusting in our union with Christ, while the Spirit manifests whatever fruit He wants for a given situation. Life by the Spirit for us means love from God and love for others, which comes forth from us as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. If we’re “just being honest,” that’s not necessarily Spirit-led; that could be fleshly. Plus, we miss out on knowing God in us.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t just be yourself. On the contrary, this is how your authentic self is found on the inside with God and in union with Him. This is one way that you find both — through authenticity.
I’m a playful man. I am at times a bit loony, a little teasy, and some would say, a tad sarcastic. I don’t like that word. I don’t want anything to do with it, actually. “Sarcasm” is a Greek word from two words joined together: “Sarx”, which means “flesh”, (a clue to the name of the town in my new book, Life According to Perfect), and “chasm”, which means, well, you know what it means. Combined, “sarcasm” means “the tearing of flesh”. It’s a word that means deep pain—a torn apart, chasm of pain. I know how that feels. I know how long it lasts. I don’t want anything to do with causing that in you. I prefer the word, “witty”, which means clever, with a touch of humorous.
But I’m not playful only. I’m playful with a cause. We’re missing something—most of us—and I want it back.
Thinking back to my childhood, everybody played with everybody on the playgrounds of my elementary school. Recess meant games and frolicking galore. It was magnificent—the best image of humanity I can think of. None of us cared about anything except playing together. We laughed, shrieked, burped, giggled, kid-style flirted, and got along beautifully because we were playing together. The most common, least threatening, most effective introductory way to relationship and friendship was, “You wanna play?” We talked about everything and anything because we liked each other because we played together.
Fast-forward through middle school, high school and college, and the expansive fields of my friends are terribly diminished. We stopped recess. We stopped playing together. The demands of education confined to the classroom played the largest part in the winds that winnowed us apart. Most of us now do the winnowing ourselves by figuring out who we agree with before we’ll be friends and play together. Education did that to us—education absent play, and the grace and love that came from it.
So I’ve returned to the playgrounds.
I know scads of people in my city through the grace of play. There’s the beer maestro at the big box, local liquor store, who recently moved away, but not before I hugged him and told him how much I admired and enjoyed him through the banter and blather of discussing beer over several years. He applauded my self-appraised beer tastes when we first met and I answered his dignified “What kind of beer do you like?” with, “I am a beer snob, with loads of arrogance to go along with it.” “Well”, he answered, “shouldn’t you be by now, at your age?” We were friends immediately, and we talked about a lot more than beer because of beer.
There’s the tatted-up, shaved and colored hair gal at the gym who, along with the diminutive Hispanic gal, has playfully sparred with me for 2.5 years. I once entered the gym with my arms outstretched and exclaimed, “My people!” And now that’s the nickname I have because she insisted. The staff yells it whenever I walk in. She once pinned my arm to the counter and, eyes piercing all the way to my heart, demanded to know if I was a pastor—“Yes or no?” When I answered, “Pretty much. Um, yeah, although I’m not at a building”, she poured out hot and ancient rejection from others like me, who had rejected her for her exterior. Probing my heart through my eyes, she said, “You’ve been fascinated with my tats and piercings—never once did you reject me. Always you have made me feel alive and normal. You’re the first ‘man of God’ to ever do that. Thank you. Thank you, Ralph.”
I cried right there in front of her and the staff and the workout world. We’ve had incredible and meaningful conversations since then because we first played. We still do. And now there are many more at the gym who know that I’m a funny, but safe “man of God.” We talk because we play. Just yesterday the staff got me to take a loonie picture with them. I pretended to resist them, but they knew I loved them and would do it.
Then there are the two gals who work at the post office annex in a local Ace Hardware store, who mess with me every time I ship copies of my books. That’s a lot, as you might suspect. I’ve been successfully playing with them for years with helpful comments when in line, like, “Gosh, service is sooooo slooooooow around here.” They’ve left their positions after quickly putting up “Sorry. We’re closed” signs, only to return after letting their joke age a bit with others in line. They’ve threatened to call the cops. Our play is famous, especially during the holiday crush. But they’ve come to know all about my daughters—“Have any of them come home yet to dry your eyes, daddy?”—they know about wife, Sarah—“She must be amazing, but maybe a little dumb to have married you”—and about the content of my books—“How are sales? Are people getting the message?” Yes, actually. They are.
Okay, enough. But do you see? I’m not gifted or talented in this—I like people on the playground! Some of my most enduring friendships began there, and some of my playground friends even made it into my book. Names only, but still. Some of my playground friends grew up and became loonie liberals and uncaring conservatives; got married and divorced and married again . . . and again. Some of them claim to actually enjoy cigars and burn-your-mouth-out, single malt scotch. Some of them don’t know Jesus at all, but will talk with me because they know I don’t demand anything from them. We met on the playground. Sarah and I have several people we’ve just met joining us for Thanksgiving day. They don’t even know how much fun they’re going to have, but we do. We’re going to play.
If this seems shallow and silly, I suppose it is. Or at least it began there, because it isn’t now. I want people to know Jesus more than anything—I haven’t found anything better to give ‘em! Hang around me for very long, and you’ll figure that out. Jesus thinks that He is the cure for what ails people, and I agree. That outta be good and fun. He is. They’ve got no reason to fear Him—I know that—but they’re not yet convinced. I think they can better discover that out on the playground.
I want to encourage you to go back to the playground and have fun with people. Enjoy them. Some will be “flash-in-the-panners” and not last more than a meeting or two, but so what? You’re not trying to hold on to them and make something happen. You’re not The Grand Orchestrator. You’re simply playing. A lot can come from there.
For those of us who struggle with our own brand of Pharisee, I hope this helps.
Citizenship is a crazy thing. And lately, it’s a double whammy of crazy.
If you’re an American and feeling stressed-out lately, it’s probably because of dual citizenship—you’re a citizen of God’s heavenly Kingdom, and a citizen of the United States of America on the earth. That’s going to be messy and probably make a mess of you, since on the one hand you’re learning to relax with God and His perfect judgments, but feeling forced to make judgments about people all around you on the other. That’s not going to go well. It’s not supposed to, either. I’ll try to explain.
God took care of your election to heaven by taking care of all of the judgments necessary for your victory. All of your judgment and condemnation was finished at the cross, and the resurrection was God’s invitation for you to vote “Yes.” Now that you’ve voted, you’re a citizen of God’s condemnation-free country. You belong, and there’s no place better. However, in this world—right now—YOU have to make all of the judgments and condemnations necessary for your success and victory. What a burden that is. I hope you’re feeling it. That’s important.
A citizen of heaven estimates no one by the judgments of this world and after the flesh, after appearances, and approaches everyone with the knowledge that Jesus is their perfect hope and future for life. The apostle Paul tells us this in 2 Corinthians 5. Jesus is it, and there is no other judgment.
A citizen of earth, on the other hand, estimates everyone by the judgments of this world and after the flesh and appearances, and approaches everyone as though judging or making the “right choices” is their perfect hope and future for life. It’s all about judgment. The citizen of heaven, the “member of God’s household” is growing confident of the Holy Spirit within him, who is right now leading and building him into a dwelling where God is obvious (See Ephesians 2:11-24). However, the citizen of earth accepts the mantle of a Pharisee, an earthly judge, in order to instruct himself and others in the building of something better than the other Pharisee might—in this case, Democrat Pharisees versus Republican Pharisees.
However, the struggle of a Pharisee has always been “what to do about failure,” since not one of them has ever led a successful life. Not one has ever been anything other than a failure. But in order to “keep on Pharisee-ing,” they choose the life-navigation style and pathway of pretended success and pretended righteousness. This explains why there are people who appear to be thrilled with their candidates for office. They are pretending. By ignoring glaring failure, they Pharisee-forward, championing their candidate while judging and condemning the other. This “Battle of the Pharisees” has never been more evident to me than over the last few years. The hypocritical and judgmental gymnastics is wearing us out. Have you been caught up in it?
I hope you’re tired. I hope you’re bothered. I sure am.
I know that there are very real differences and futures envisioned by Democrats and Republicans, and this election was important. I voted. Please know that I am not condemning you for your involvement in this world’s particular party of Pharisees. I am not hoping that you’ll repent and quit national interests altogether so you can be a REAL Christian. I AM CALLING YOU HOME. I am hoping that fatigue and frustration complete their work upon you so that your homeland, where you really live, will re-capture your interest and you will once again enjoy the full benefits of heavenly citizenship today . . . or tomorrow . . . or the day after. Soon.
My prayer is that, over the next few days, the judgmental torture devices that are strapped upon us—“Democrat” and “Republican”—will be lifted from the heavenly citizen sons and daughters. We’ll stop identifying each other that way! How does that happen? A Pharisee does not simply choose to drop pretended success and pretended righteousness. “De-Pharisee-ing” a deluded Pharisee is the great work of the Holy Spirit through the good news of God’s gift of a better homeland, where true success and perfect righteousness are free, fantastic, and fully given. In other words, God’s election work for victory is this: Jesus for you, and a new and true citizenship are yours right now, forever. It’s way better. It’s supposed to be.
Come on. Enjoy.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
It is very easy to turn to and get fouled up by self-scrutiny in our approach to God. “Is my motive pure? Am I seeking Him for what He does or for who He is? Why am I reading my Bible or praying? Am I trying to get favor with God? Am I doing it right? What if I’m doing it wrong? Oh, I’m such a puzzle!” Frankly, these kinds of questions often tangle me up in the sometimes hidden pursuit of self-righteousness with God. That never goes well—my history shows it. Maybe yours does, too.
Here’s the thing: I am often a mess when beginning to talk with God or to read the Bible, and one of my greatest delights is how He restores me to my right mind and brings forth the new creation Ralph. Oh, how I like that Ralph! Fear is gone. Rest is restored. And love, God’s love, fills and moves me again. I think that’s a pleasure for Him, too. “Ralph! Look what I’ve found—it’s you!”
I have found Him to be perfect with me, so I now care less about why I’m approaching Him and what my motive might be in the deep and dark recesses of my mind than I once did. I care far more about knowing and enjoying Him in any condition I might encounter.
While I sometimes discover that rickety Ralph has been tripped up by fleshly demands that God be more obvious, more helpful, more useful, or more like Santa Claus than He evidently is to me, He fixes all of that craziness in me. He cleans up the mess! He is good with me (and with you), and I find all over again that He is the solution—The Solver—of all that confuses and harasses me, Mr. Puzzle; pure motives or bad, honorable intentions or not, doing it right or doing it wrong.
While it is a powerful temptation, the flesh that plagues me cannot be solved by me. That fact makes room for my sometimes reckless and rickety approaches to God, who then emerges in me as The Righteous One, The Rescuer, The Victor and The Solver of the lifelong puzzle that is Ralph Harris. Maybe you’re that puzzle for God to solve, too. He doesn’t mind. He’s The Puzzle Master, and He’s good with bringing you together—especially when you know you cannot. Right then.
During those times when your puzzle pieces are scattered all over the place, and the picture, the puzzle box top of how you should look and how you should be is condemning and eluding you, those times actually keep you to the free and fabulous effort of God in you—the Spirit of grace. Those crazy times keep you from believing the lie that you’re supposed to have this all figured out: “Move your own pieces into place, for God’s sake!” That’s just not true.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians about the danger of trying to do everything right and of not needing Jesus:
Galatians 5:4 You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.
I know that I eagerly wait sometimes, don’t you? Well, that’s a good thing!
If just now you’re a puzzle box of craziness, don’t worry about how to do anything properly with God. Simply tell Him what you’re thinking and feeling, however reckless, rickety and ugly it might sound. He’ll put you together because He knows the fit. He’s great at it because He’s your Puzzle Master.
Do you know any control freaks? I do. And I don’t know about you, but I am sometimes visited by the powerful suggestion that if I would just get everything under control—get myself, get you, and get what I want to have happen all organized and directed by me—then everything would go well. Finally. Do you know that suggestion?
CONTROL. What do you do about it?
Many of us who recognize the inner struggle we have concerning “control”, tell you something like this: “YOU must give up control so that God can be in control.” Is that true? I don’t think so. That statement indicates that YOU are the problem when I don’t think YOU are. It suggests that you have a problem with control, but I don’t think you do.
Since you were born all over again through faith in Jesus’ cross and resurrection, YOU are not the problem; you have already lost everything that was the problem. There WAS a problematic former YOU, an old you, but in the same way that there was a former covenant, an old covenant, which has now been replaced by a new covenant through the death of Christ, so YOU have been replaced by a new YOU. As there is nothing you have to do in order to earn or become anything in the new covenant—the change has been made, it’s all secured, it’s all good—so there is nothing you have to earn or become as a new you—the change has been made. Yours is only to grow in believing the change has happened for YOU.
If you don’t know or don’t believe the change has occurred, then you will be in error, which hurts you, of course. Because you don’t know the cure of Christ, you will misdiagnose yourself and treat yourself as though you are sick. This will become a twisted and sickly caricature of Christianity; while perfectly cured, you will deny your health. You will frustrate yourself by looking for health—freedom from a former YOU—based upon what you do, rather than upon what Jesus did. That won’t work—of course not, because He has already done it. What He did is your cure and health, not what you do. Jesus was in the eradication and re-construction business with you, but you’re not.
The old covenant has nothing to do with the new covenant. In the same way, the old you has nothing to do with the new you. YOU ARE NEW. So stop deriding yourself as though Christ’s death and resurrection made no change for you. It did!
Romans 6 tells you that you were crucified with Christ, and a new you was raised with and in Him. How good is that new you? Did Jesus get you right? Did His cross and resurrection work for you? I think so. What do you think? And that’s the issue.
You are well with God—“the old has gone, the new is here” (2 Corinthians 5:17). So you are not a “control freak”, neither are you your own worst problem, nor are you God’s problem. You are a new you, and you’ve been given a new way to live.
Ephesians 4:22-24 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life (the way you used to do things when you were a control freak, when you were a problem) to put off your old man, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds (think about what happened!); and to put on the new man, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Italics mine.)
Whoa. You’re good.
So instead of telling you that you must give up, you must surrender or lose control so that God can be in control, I would say it this way: You used to have a control problem when you were the problem, but now you don’t because you’re not. You used to be deluded by a belief that restraint and domination was the navigational way forward—but not anymore. Don’t get confused about the problem; it’s not you. Instead, stay in step with the truth and with the Holy Spirit, who is living in you right now, because control is not the problem now that you’re alive and you’ve got Him and His life. Believe—and life is with Him.
If, as Jesus said in Matthew 5:14, “you are the light of the world”, then it seems obvious that Satan’s work is to craft a sort of covering for you, an acceptable covering, and then to induce you to pull it over yourself. To hide. It’s terribly devious.
Jesus has made you salt and light, and that will never be altered. You don’t have to become salty, you don’t have to become lighty—He did that to you already. Satan’s game is to point out your failures and weaknesses, as though they could ever change the change Jesus made for you, and then, if you’ll accept them as identifying who you are, to induce you to hide yourself.
But still. You are a light.
The good news is that Jesus didn’t make you the light of the world “IF”. There is no if. The light that you have emanates from you but does not originate with you. You’re a lamp—a very nice lamp, the lamp He intended—but a lamp! And you will always be plugged in. You will always be on. Anything and everything that might imply you’re not a very good lamp does not change your lampness. It’s who you are.
So throw off the devil’s offered covering. It doesn’t fit you. It doesn’t belong. It doesn’t help. Weaknesses and failures simply make it evident that the light you have is the Son of God, who lives in you and provides the light. You are the vessel, He is the content. Sometimes that’s going to be obvious. I might think, “I’m such an odd lamp lately, but I’m a lamp! A lamp is what I am.” And then I am revived because I am believing that Jesus’ work through the cross and resurrection worked. I’m living by faith.
So shine on, my lamp friends. It’s who you are, so it’s what you do.
Matthew 5:14-15 You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.