Monday, February 1, 2016

Sacrifice & Gain: How Faith and Life Mature

"Being transformed into having a life that abandons self-sovereignty and embraces God-sovereignty means the word 'sacrifice' is gradually transformed from a sour whine of resentment to a robust embrace of affirmation. A sacrificial life is the means, and the only means, by which a life of faith matures. It takes years to get an idea of all that is involved." 
-Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way

So I'm in Colorado now: if you know me, you know that. But what I continue to see while I'm out here is that this journey, the journey to get here, really began years ago: with the decision (and I will explain below what this actually, practically means) to follow God and not myself, to allow myself to be internally worked on and transformed into someone capable of dream-chasing and life-living and authentically-existing via character and a firm foundation in something eternal, something stronger than myself.

I remember reading an article a while back on the Top Five Regrets of the Dying- the number one regret being "I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, and not the life others expected of me." It's the most common human regret of all, and I decided a long time ago that I didn't want to get to the end of my life before I thought about the way I should have lived it.

There had to be, there has to be, a way to truly live. There has to be a way to actually do this: to actually live this life- not just the good or dreamy or perfect or 'spiritually practiced' parts, but the whole thing- in a way that exemplifies, through our choices, character, and demeanor, that we know why we exist, what our purpose is, and who we are here to glorify- what we are here to stand for- other than just ourselves. 

In a world where spiritual self-mastery is popular, it's more common that we point people to ourselves, to our own knowledge, as the source of answers and guidance- but it's more humble (and I think more authentic and effective) if we assume there is a truly spiritual character- a Savior- who has already done that work, and we point others to Him.
We all feel it, this idea that life should have purpose, depth, meaning; that there is a way to come alive and truly live. And I don't mean 'truly live' as in go out and have adventures every day, or follow your dreams every day, or do what you say you're going to do and dream of doing- although that could certainly be part of it. 

I mean something deeper, something inner; choosing something more, making a choice to live this life primarily for something that outlasts it. Self-sovereignty, self-mastery, self-governance: these are all ideas that appealed to me before I realized what faith meant, and what faith could do, how faith could bring me beyond myself- and why it should.

It really does take years to get an idea of all that is involved.

If I look at my life before I made the decision to follow the Lord- which is to say, to discern a voice within me that is bolder than my fear of rejection or failure; to orient myself in this life where I- my own small human conception- am not the dictator of the inner compass; to believe I actually have a purpose (such a simple thing that we like to tell ourselves but often don't want to take ownership over)- I realize there are a lot of things fear would never have allowed me to accomplish: honesty and boldness of living being one of them.

And our culture subtly loves and promotes this idea: programs and promises and ways and religions and spiritual philosophies and meditations to get us to where we want in life. But there is something different in the truly Christian, Christ-centered, Christ-loving way: an awareness that our object of love, our object of want, cannot be the same selves that set off on the spiritual journey knowing that we alone are not enough.

Identity precedes action: it is not fully true that our thinking, our thoughts, determine our life. There is something a little higher than that: it is who we fundamentally believe we are that determines what we do with this life. 

What we think about our ultimate worth, and what we think about God, is the most important thing about us.
If we get our idea of who we believe we are from how we were raised, or what roles we play in a family, or what we have or have not been (culturally, socially, academically, or otherwise) told about ourselves; or our jobs, or how other people see us, or even how we see ourselves, we miss the eternal assignment we are looking for- which we also feel within us- that suggests that this life means anything or has bigger consequences than we can yet see.

And so the question- which is not even spiritual or theological or religious- not 'what do I think' or 'what do I know' or 'how much knowledge can I gain,' but who am I? turns out to be what we are really seeking to know- and so if we even have to ask it of ourselves, we have to conclude that our most ultimate identity lies outside of ourselves. 

It is not that we come to Jesus right away: it is that every other identity eventually self-destructs or dead-ends, and we have to go looking all over again for the 'answer,' for 'meaning,' for our true north, for our foundness and our wholeness.

We come to truth, to meaning, and to God the way He came to us: sacrifice. The laying down and giving up of every inclination that our mental, academic, philosophical, personal understanding of life is enough to master it or get us wisely and peacefully through it. We choose to give all that up for that something more

It does seem silly to non-believers (myself, for most of my life) to hear the words, 'Jesus is the answer,' but it turns out to be as the great Charles Spurgeon said: 'we will never know the fullness of Christ until we know the emptiness of everything but Christ.'
I know it would work well enough for me to master a few principles, articulate a few ideas, live according to the interpretations of my own self-awareness in this life, but the thing about faith is this: I don't want to. Because when I do, there's still something missing. There's still no narrative that takes me beyond my fear, beyond my need for approval, beyond my self, into a truly Holy Spirit-driven life; into full aliveness, not 'a body of spiritual knowledge' but a 'guided, intimate, relational way of living all of life, every day, with an awareness of- and closeness to- my Maker.'

My ego- my self-understanding, self-narrated story of my own life, self-awareness, self-mastery; however strong and insightful and well-formed they all may be, aren't enough. That's humbling. Faith matures when I realize that if I don't know the price which was paid for who I am, then I don't know the price of who I am- which is to say, my worth.

And when we don't know our worth, we sell ourselves (and others) short. And if we sell ourselves (and others) short, we (and they) can't come alive. The belief that we're made for comfort, to be happy, is at odds with the belief that we're made for more brilliant things than we currently know or can tell or have seen about ourselves. Faith is what brings us not only higher, but further.

It has taken and will take many years- until the very end, I'm sure- for me to comprehend what God is really turning me into; if I were to try to understand it myself, without Him, there wouldn't be much of a story, or that story wouldn't really go anywhere- not to Colorado, not to being an artist, not to writing, not to loving others well, not to a higher understanding of what I'm meant to do or who I'm meant to be.

And that has to do with what becomes of us in this life: how well we understand who are we really meant to be. And if we acknowledge that we don't know since we even have to ask the question, will we follow: will we lay down our will, our self, our self-perceived perfection, righteousness, morality, and spiritual brilliance and bring our lives back to trust, to wholeness, to knowing really in our hearts that to live fully alive, it will never be enough to gain unless we first lose those perspectives that solidify who we are in a non-evolving identity, that prevent us from growing, that are truly too heavy for us to run free while holding.


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