You become profoundly different as you come to the growing realization, 'It's not all about me.'" David Powlinson
"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." (1 Peter 3-4)
Dave and Jessica just passed their 21st wedding anniversary. They attend church every week, and are very involved in the lives of their kids. Jessica is all smiles, you can tell she loves life and brings the happy wherever she goes. Her friendships are incredibly important to her, and her weekly Bible study group takes their study seriously enough that Jessica feels spiritually nourished. Dave is a little more stoic and is incredibly knowledgeable of the Bible. His responsibilities as the primary breadwinner of their family weigh heavily on his shoulders, and he knows his job is to make sure his kids pull their own weight in the world.
Dave and Jessica, though, have a deepening problem. Their daily conversations consist of family schedules, light discussions about their day, and the day's news. Dave is easily irritated with sibling squabbles and has no patience for lengthy problem-solving conversations when a solution to an issue is obvious to him. Jessica spends her time smoothing over Dave's rough edges, she has stopped trying to have the tough talk about his defensiveness because he gets, well, defensive.
Their three teenagers take all of Jessica's attention because it's easier than dealing with her marriage. Dave's toughness and strength were appealing at the beginning of their relationship, but now those traits feel more like control and pride. What Dave sees as leadership, Jessica takes as demands for compliance. Neither give the other the benefit of the doubt, because at this point the motivations on both sides are just so obvious.
Both Dave and Jessica are believers with great knowledge of the Bible, but have lost sight of the every day power of the gospel. Dave does not care about introspection and Jessica has lost hope in any kind of movement forward. They are both lonely but outwardly calm, both inwardly cold but outwardly joyful, both feel like failures yet behave as success stories. No one knows about their struggles, they haven't even voiced them to each other. "This is just how we are" plays in both their minds repeatedly. And so now, they are stuck.
This is one story of many. Switch the names, change the people, fine tune the stories, the people walking around feeling empty are innumerable.
There is a big yawning gap in the middle of Dave and Jessica's marriage and they walk around it every day pretending it does not exist. In the absence of filling this hole with God, Dave and Jessica do what humans do and fill it with something else. It's inevitable. The gap becomes full of knowledge, dynamic experiences, church activities, sports, work, family, friendships, alcohol, addictions, control, the list is never ending.
Paul says in 1 Peter 5-9; "For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins."
A productive life, according to Paul, is not only about what the gospel saves us from, nor only about how the gospel gives us a hope for our future. While both our past and our future are claimed by God, so our present is also captured but the one who owns our hearts. To keep from a life-ineffective we must understand where the gospel leads us in the present. Our current life is about the gospel we participate in daily - how Jesus saves us from living a life absent of peace, kindness, goodness, self-control and grace.
A Christian looks forward to eternity, but also keeps their heart focused on the motivations currently ruling their mind and emotions. Are we adding godliness, perseverance, brotherly kindness and love to our knowledge? Without this type of introspection we are brought to a place where life here begins to feel as if we are merely place holders before a new earth is created. Selfish desires and a need for others to see us as important become goals in and of themselves. Without a clear reflection of how amazing we are staring back at us from the eyes of other people we begin to feel as if our life here does not matter. But God says we need only look to HIM to see our value. Now and always. (Genesis 1:21; John 3:16; Isaiah 41:10; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:19; Proverbs 3:5-6)
But? What does this mean practically? It's one thing to write the words, or to read the scripture references. What does it mean to live totally free of the fear and anxiety driving me to control the ones I love or to manipulate circumstances to my benefit? If I know the Bible well, why should I not share that knowledge with others and expect them to follow it? My good intentions are genuine. I only want the best for my friends and family, for the ones I care about above all others. What is so wrong with that?
Significant knowledge of Biblical truth is not the same as understanding what it means to grow in Christian maturity. Participating in Bible studies and church activities can mask sin struggles slowly tearing someone apart. KNOWING Jesus is my identity is different than LIVING like Jesus is my identity, because my belief in my own self-righteousness is incredibly durable and hard to beat. We tend to reduce the real gospel to something easier to digest than the all-in, loving, patient, gracious, persevering, kind and utterly self-sacrificing life it is.
When we lack clear understanding of who we are, of our identity in Christ, we find our worth in our knowledge, our success, or our outward beauty and accomplishments. Galatians 2:20 states clearly, "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." While there is nothing wrong with personal outward beauty (God created us after all) or personal success (we are made to work hard and produce amazing things) or obedient children (God desires children to obey their parents) - there is everything wrong with wanting those things at the expense of all else. Or at the expense of loving God above all else. How much does how I treat people each day demonstrate my understanding of the fact Jesus loves not just me, but others? What am I like to live with? To love?
Giving my life to God must also mean handing over my need to control the circumstances of the people I am emotionally tied to. It means conducting enough self-reflection to realize when I am pushing a loved one to make decisions according to what I think is the best for them, it is often to my benefit and not necessarily theirs. Because it means I feel better, even if the person I am "helping" would rather go in a different direction. And yes, this includes our children. Gasp.
God created you, me and everyone else in his image. The smallest cell in the womb, the oldest cell in the human body, all belong to Him. From beginning to end. He knows what each soul holds, including the ones who have learned to "act right" on the outside and feel utter despair, hatred, bitterness or anger on the inside. There is nothing hidden from God.
So why then do we hide? Easy - unless we look at ourselves hard we often don't know we are hiding and living with a gaping hole. It's much easier to fill up with humanly-acceptable things I feel sustain me while here on earth than it is to look hard at how those earthly things are killing my desire to mature in my walk with my Savior. Why fix what ain't broke? I look good, people think I feel good, I achieve and my kids achieve - life is grand.
The Gospel Gap is the place in our hearts where the gospel lives but we chose to fill the gap with something else. There is a hole where the Holy Spirit ought to reside. We may fill it with pretty clothes, beautiful hair, a fit body, an amazing work ethic, athleticism, straight A's, degrees from prestigious schools, or significant church involvement - but there is no hiding that gap from our Creator. If we give our life over to God, there comes a time when those external things will no longer fill the chasm. Eventually the gospel will shine too brightly and our circumstances will demand we address the hole we have patched for too long. The desire for the repair work is part of a maturing walk of a believer.
Luckily our Savior is a carpenter, and His skills are beyond compare. Maybe sit and spend time with your Savior today? Ask him to lovingly point to where you are neglecting your spiritual maturity and growth in favor of a more earthly and palatable outlet. If you are really brave, you will ask someone you live with. If you are REALLY brave, you will ask them what it is like to actually live with you. It is the best of blessings to have people who love you enough to be honest. Really.
Today on our Noisy Narrative Podcast we are talking to Cindy Peek, mom of five and maturing Christian. She is asking the hard questions and finding herself learning from and leaning on her Savior in ways she never imagined. Her conversation is a blessing, but also convicting. Hope you join us - we'd love to have you!
"Without an awareness of Christ's presence, we tend to live anxiously. We avoid hard things and are easily overwhelmed. But a clear sense of identity and provision gives us hope and courage to face the struggles and temptation that come our way." Timothy Lane & Paul David Tripp from their book How People Change.
"Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight." Jeremiah 9:23-24