My daughter called last night –she was in a quandary due to a recent redirection in her life. She had been on a planned path for a degree and eventual employment in a field related to her dreams –interior design and architecture (with emphasis on the design). Art has been her passion since she was a toddler.
University expenses (qualifying for, and the eventual repayment of loans) were the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. Now she sees insecurities in every aspect of life. For work opportunities –it seems every hiring manager wants a person with a degree, or at least someone who’s working on one. For income –she hoped to get beyond living paycheck-to-paycheck.
For a sense of self-worth –people look down on those who haven’t completed college. For a way to afford her art endeavors –she wanted time for painting. Now it’s all changed. No days filled with school, homework and trying to squeeze in enough work hours to pay the bills. No esteemed title to someday hang on her office door. No regular income. It’s gone. The thrust of her situation was that she’s been feeling lost lately –without direction –not knowing what God’s plan for her was.
We talked about a familiar topic: identity. Until now, it’s been a “that’s nice” subject that she’s nodded in agreement with. But she hasn’t had a real need to grapple with it. Well, here’s the way it went last night…
You know there are two “yous” (two beings) –right? –an outer one and an inner, spiritual one. The outer one is what we are most familiar with. It’s the sensual you. It deals with the senses that are influenced by our environment. When we walk into a dark room –as sensed by our eyes– we wonder if there’s a boogeyman, or something to trip and fall on. When we hear a sudden, loud noise –obviously our ears are at work and we’re startled. When we touch a hot pan we quickly withdraw from it.
Senses are useful. But there’s a part of us that can’t be separated from our sense-driven being –our outer self. (I’ll call it that because it sounds less worldly –and more Christian-like.) It’s our emotions. They can change from one extreme to the other in a moment.
Over our lifetimes, we’ve experienced –with our sense-driven being– many circumstances and their accompanied emotions. Now, today, all it takes is a thought about one of those past events –or a future one that might possibly happen– and those emotions take over our minds. The emotions that affect us most are connected with fear: worry, anxiety, frustration, anger, depression… It doesn’t take long for us to dwell on these before they control what we do and who we are.
I asked my daughter to describe her outer self. (She knows me and asked what I meant –obviously I had something in mind.) Coached, she agreed that she was an aspiring artist; a former student, a room-mate, someone who lives paycheck-to-paycheck… She also agreed that these things –these attributes of hers– change over time. As they change, we are left with insecurities –trying to replace them with something else. In the mean-time, we go through an identity crisis. I’ve gone through my share too –we talked about some of them.
“Do you know what kinds of things shape a guy’s (his outer being’s) identity?” I asked. She had no idea –we’re like aliens to her. I gave her my opinion of the stereotypical guy. We’re proud of our strength, our athletic ability, our smarts, our good looks (be what they may), our cars, our hobbies, our accomplishments in work. We’re a competitive lot. The bottom line is we want to be respected. But life –age– has a way of taking these qualities away. The result? Sure –we go through an identity crisis. I added “Women have their set too. But the ones we already talked about are good for this discussion.” The bottom line for women is that they need security –Ephesians five refers to it as being cherished.
“Up to this point we’ve been talking about that outer being –the sense-driven one. The one that’s affected by insecurities. Now let’s talk about the inner you. Can you describe that part of you? –And don’t use the simple Sunday school answers.” She laughed. My daughter is so, so wonderful to be with. She listed some church words: holy, able to be looked upon by God, special in His eyes…
There are three parts of us: a physical body, a mind that does our thinking and our spirit. The functions of the first two are common knowledge. But that last one –our spirit– has a particular function too. It’s our communicator to the spiritual realm –much like a telephone. We have one and God has one. On His end is His Holy Spirit. That’s how we communicate with Him. And to make sure nothing gets garbled in the conversation, He put His Spirit in us. That way there’s no interference that can come between us. I’m not saying that we always listen, but He is always there.
As usual, I continued. It’s true that you’re holy. It’s synonymous with “sanctified” and “set apart.” Holy doesn’t mean sinless perfection. It’s intended to convey the concept of a special purpose which is different from the normal surroundings. As Christians, we were set apart for conveying the gospel through our lives –not just our words. You’re a friend of God. He adopted you and now you’re a brother (or sister) of Jesus. You’re an heir along with Jesus of the kingdom of God. You’re forgiven. You’re justified –declared innocent of all wrong-doing. Your unrighteousness has been washed away. You’re loved by God. You’re indwelled by the Holy Spirit.
That Ephesians five passage says that men and women are like Christ and His church. The man –like God– is to be respected. The woman –like mankind– needs security. The fact of the matter is that for respect to come from the woman, she first has to be secure in her relationship with him. For us to truly respect God, we have to be absolutely sure that we are secure in His heart. Before going further I must clarify that respect has no hint of fear. Take a look at–it says that we can’t be fearful of God else we can’t be perfected in His love because fear has to do with punishment and Jesus took all of that on Himself.
So how does God show us that we are secure? By what He has done for us and describes over and over in the Bible. These are not things we need to do –or become. We are already: re-born, holy, sanctified, forgiven, washed, justified, adopted, befriended, indwelled –cherished. These are factual whether we choose to believe it or not –whether we want to make up theology to agree with our fears, disregarding His love, or not.
Simply put, we are a new creation in Christ. The old you –the one with doubts, the sense-driven you– cannot inherit the kingdom of God. But the new, inner you has already become an inhabitant of the kingdom. You have a new identity and its attributes don’t fluctuate with circumstances. Now you have a choice to make. When those difficulties arise –and they will– and your emotions grab you –and they will– you can put your thoughts on worrisome (fearful) things related to what might come next. Or you can put your mind on the security that God has provided. The reason we have emotions is to return our minds to Him –so we can have peace that surpasses logic –so we can be content when turbulence surrounds us –so we can be joyful when troubles are at the door. Jesus is our stronghold, our peace.
You can hear this and nod in agreement –and make no changes in your life. Or, you can change your life by trusting God that all this is true. The story of the exodus and entrance into the Promised Land fully demonstrated this. They left Egypt under God’s leadership. They saw His miracles. They participated in His provisions –food, water, protection. They were given all the symbols to visualize the relationship He wanted with them –for them to be His wife.
I’ll put this in our modern terms.
They had the church building, the choir, the praise-teams, the prayer warriors, the preachers, the sermons, the fellowship, the Bible reading, the baptisms, the meals shared in small groups, the statements of faith, the dedication ceremonies… They had everything we have in churches today. They outwardly acknowledge Him through all of these things. But they didn’t trust Him deep down in their hearts. They didn’t enter the security He offered. It took the death of that generation and birth of the next before the Hebrews could enter the Promised Land. That’s what happened when you became a Christian –you were born-again.
So what’s it going to be? Where are you going to put your thoughts? Who do you trust for every breath, for every circumstance’s outcome?
Trust in the Lord with ALL of your heart. Do not lean on your own understanding. In all that goes on in your life, acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
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