Tag Archives: Jesus

Am I Loving Something Else More than Jesus?

We know that Christ’s proximity to us never changes, so if I’m walking through a moment, a week, or a season where He feels distant, there’s a chance there’s something going on in my heart. I question my heart when I’m feeling anxious, apathetic, or overwhelmed. If I’m wondering where Jesus is or having trouble hearing Him, I compel my heart to evaluate: Am I loving something else more than Jesus?

 

That’s not to say that His silence or my emotions are always tied to some prioritization, sin-issue. Sometimes we walk through desert seasons, unprompted by our actions, where He is actively silent. Sometimes our emotions just don’t make logical sense. Yet, in asking these questions, I’m able to better identify if something emotional or spiritual is going on that’s causing whatever disconnect my body and soul are feeling, or if it’s something that I’ve consciously or unconsciously stepped myself into.

 

Over the years, I’ve found a couple of good indicators that help me answer this question honestly. If any one of these things is true of my recent habits or thought patterns, it’s often an indication that something has stolen or is in the process of stealing away my first Love.

 

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1.) If I’m not tithing. . .
This is often the first place I can go when it comes to checking the priorities in my heart. Since I was little, giving generously hasn’t been a strong suit of mine. While the Lord has been gracious, patient, and convicting, it’s still one of the first things to go when I’m keeping a tight grip on my life or am needing some semblance of control. If I’m not tithing or have pulled back on the 2 Corinthians 8:2 and Mark 12:44 kind of generosity I so long for, it’s a good indication that I’m loving something else more than Jesus.

 

2.) If I’m planning my future with lots of pragmatism, worry, and details. . .
There’s a tension here, because on one level, I need to be planning my future. I’m graduating undergrad college in less than three months, and in just over a year I’ll be done with my masters program. I’m actively taking steps towards what the Lord has my future and I’d be remiss and unfaithful if I wasn’t. In and of itself, the planning for my future or moving towards open doors isn’t a bad thing. However, there’s a difference between trusting the Lord, walking into the things He’s doing and living in a place of control, surety, and self-assurance that often leads to worry. Oftentimes, the more details I’m including or searching for, the better the indicator of my own desire for control. When the focus of my planning is myself, my ability to manipulate the details, and my sense of ability, there’s a good chance I’m loving something else more than Jesus.

 

3.) If I’m spending lots of time watching TV (especially in leu of other restful things). . .
Another tension one, because there are times when things like watching Netflix or napping are the most restful, spiritual things that I can be doing. There are times where I’ve tried to spend deep time with Jesus and He told me to watch a movie with Him instead – not because studying Scripture, processing what He’s doing, and interceding in prayer aren’t imperatively important but because sometimes I can get so wrapped up in them that I forget to rest. To just be. I’m convinced that anything can be done as an act of worship in the right moments. However, these things of rest can also be a form of escapism if I’m not careful – things to draw me away from dealing with my life, emotions, or relationships. Ways of shutting down because I’m avoiding myself, others, or the Lord. If I’m actively avoiding other things that are restful, such as walks, drawing, working out, writing, or reading, because they might require more introspection and difficulty, there’s a good chance something has taken the Lord’s place in my heart.

 

4.) If I find myself doubting or questioning things that the Lord has said in the past. . .
There’s a place for questioning and testing the work of the Lord in our lives, especially as ongoing maturity lead us to new levels of illumination of who He is. We should approach everything with a level of humility in how capable we are of getting it wrong (that’s the whole point of the Gospel). Yet, when I find myself wondering if things the Lord has done or spoken in the past are trustworthy, it’s usually an indication that something else has slipped into my soul. Because for as capable as I am of missing it, I also know that He is near and who He is can be trusted. Changing views should be a progression of growth and grace, not a sense that the Lord can’t be trusted, and if that’s what it feels like when I think back to His work in my life, then there’s a good chance something else has snuck it’s way in.

 

5.) If it’s becoming easier to justify things that I know are wrong. . .
 Like number 4, there’s a level of growing into maturity and new understandings of what is and isn’t sin, however there are certain things that I’ve established as either universally or personally wrong. Things that I’ve committed to or things that Scripture has previously called me out on are usually a pretty good baseline for what I should and should not be doing. This is less about my ability to slip up or to make mistakes and more about my conviction in justifying things. If I’ve found myself in a place where I’m rationalizing things that I’ve previously committed to not engage with, there’s a pretty good chance I’m avoiding the Lord and something else is competing for His love.

 

6.) If I’m overly critical or praiseworthy of others, in a way that stems from comparison. . .
This is not a sense of encouragement or noticing the work of the Lord in others – this is noticing beauty in them for the sake of putting myself down. Or conversely, this is not a sense of being aware of other’s shortcomings for the sake of growth and care, but rather a sense of hypercritical frustration with who they are. If I’m being judgmental and altogether hateful in my thoughts, actions, or interactions with others, particularly those who’ve seemed to rub against specific insecurities, it’s a pretty good indication that the issue is with me, not them. If it’s proving harder and harder to love others, there’s a good chance the Lord is not #1 in my heart.

 

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They aren’t end-all-be-all markers of my relationship with the Lord. Sometimes these things come up when I’m walking closely with Jesus. This isn’t to say that all six have to be present for me to acknowledge that I’m avoiding the Lord, nor that if only one is present I’m in a good place spirituality. They manifest with different reasons and different intensities at different times. But in general, they are pretty incongruent when my heart is focused solely on Jesus. Which is what makes them a great, practical, often painful, indicators of my true heart condition.

 

The Old, Old Story

In the beginning, God created . . .

. . . and He created everything.

Every star, every blade of grass, every rock that has eroded into the sea. Night and day, every animal, every insect, every wave, He created. It was all beautiful and very good. Then, He created man and woman. He loved them and He was in relationship with them. God walked with them, talked with them. He loved them so very, very much.

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But, then sin is introduced to the story, as the Enemy of God, this former fallen angel, distracts man and woman away from their First Love. God, in his perfection, can’t tolerate this sin. Yet He loves His people, so thousands of years pass as He constantly draws His people back to Himself. It makes Him sad and angry, but He loves these people so much. Sin keeps getting in the way, but story after story God faithfully and relentlessly draws near to the ones that He created, sustains, and loves.

Then we reach the climax of that love – God the Father, in His mysterious, triune, relational nature, sends His Son, and extension of Himself, to walk among us. To be like us. To serve us. To be tempted in every way. To model the heart of God for us. Ultimately this Son gives up His own life and perfection to die a humiliating, horrific death, as the blameless sacrifice, as we could never atone, to repair the relationship. He brings us into the fullness of God’s infinite love for us. Jesus took the punishment we deserved, because of His great love for us.

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Yet it wasn’t merely His death that is significant, for three days later He rose from the dead, defeating both death and sin, repairing the breech, and drawing us into communion with God. He left His very Spirit, His Holy Spirit, to indwell us, that we might know and remain in fellowship with God, even on earth. The perfection of this fellowship that we will ultimately come into, as we step across eternity and live in eternal relationship with God in Heaven (or when Jesus returns to completely heal the earth).

It is the grandest story of love – of a God who created everything in love, who drew an unfaithful people to Himself in love, who chose to walk as one of us in love, who paid the price for the sin that we deserved, in love.

Love who rose again, defeating death and sin, who sent His Spirit to testify to our souls of that love.

This is our God, who daily, minute by minute, is displaying, speaking, and proclaiming His great love for us.

We confess that we are sinners in need of a Savior. We repent of the ways in which we reject Him and His love. We believe in who He says He is and all that He’s done for us. We go out and continue to tell people of this great love of our great God!

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meeting Jesus in the quiet

I’ve become hesitant to talk so frequently about having “quiet time,” “devo time,” or “time with the Lord.” Not because I don’t think it’s one of the most important ways we can spend our time, but because it’s not the most important. In our individualistic, western view of Christianity, it’s easy to adapt a solely personal and isolated view of our faith and relationship with Jesus. We can lose a value for cooperate worship, fellowship, prayer, giving, and service when it becomes, albeit subconsciously, a me-centered emphasis. There’s a fine line, which isn’t to say that spending time alone with God isn’t imperative or universally commanded (Jesus Himself makes it clear that He needs time in solitude and seclusion with just the Father).

After all, my time alone with Jesus leads to some of the most necessary, precious, and life-giving moments of my day.

However, sometimes I believe a lie about my time alone with the Lord. I’ve been fed this idea, through a variety of often hidden means, that every time I sit down before Jesus and force myself to be aware of His Spirit, usually with Scripture open, that I should expect something profound. I’m sitting before the God of the universe and I’m told to approach with a sense of expectation. If I don’t walk away with some incredible spiritual revelation about my life or someone else, what was the point? What am I supposed to tell people about my “quiet time” when they ask?

The point of our time with the Lord isn’t anything more than our being. Stop. Period. It begins and ends with our willingness to simply show up and be. To still our hearts and minds, as best we can, and listen to Him, as best we can, because we not only affirm that He’s worth it but we prove it by our actions. We genuinely and wholeheartedly believe that He is worth our time, our attention, our hearts, our minds, and our response.

It’s less about what I walk away with and more about who I’m slowly becoming.

Ten minutes of alone time with Jesus doesn’t necessarily guarantee my spiritual rejuvenation.

What it does is remind my soul, whether I feel it or not, that I’m the Beloved. It reminds my spirit what His voice sounds like, whether or not I feel like I’m hearing it in the moment. It sensitizes my soul to His nearness. So that when His whispers and nudges come in the midst of the noise of my daily life, I’m more able to recognize it.

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my dual identity.

It’s one thing to say that my identity is in the Lord. It’s another to actually walk in that. It’s yet another thing to begin fully grasping at what that exactly means. Jesus has been clear in these past few weeks that there are two pieces to who I am in Him. What’s more, I so easily confuse the two; it’s humbling and convicting to realize how much of what I perceive as my identity is actually deeply rooted and a little backwards

On one hand, I am (or strive to be) the good and faithful servant. It’s the Matthew 25 or Luke 19 principle, the master’s praise to the hard-working, mindful, selfless servant. There are countless verses and stories that detail our call to obedience: to love the hurting, feed the hungry, share the Gospel, shelter the homeless, fight against injustice. To do for the least of these and imitate Christ. After all Luke 12:48 makes it clear that if we’ve been given much, much will be expected. We are called to obedience, to follow the Lord into hard things, to love our neighbors and lay down our lives. My prayer becomes “Lord, let me be faithful in all that you’ve given me” – whether big or small (which, in and of itself is really just my hierarchical perception of what “big” and “small” even mean). I want to be found faithful in my commitment to the Lord and to loving His people, regardless of the cost. And that’s a good, biblical, God-glorifying thing.

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However, when I start or end with my identity as a good and faithful servant, while partially true, I err in terms of living into who God actually and fully says that I am.

Because first and last, I am the beloved. I am only able to love because He first loved me, irrespective of anything I’ve done or deserved. I’m called beautiful and whole by the one who’s very body was broken for my redemption. It’s the childhood truth of Jesus’ love for us that comes not by anything we preempted or for anything other than the fact that He simply loves us. Except it’s not simple, because this love is deeper and stronger than we will ever comprehend; no human love even comes close to measuring the love through which God sees us. The only reason I can even think about leaning into my identity as a faithful servant is because I’m doing it out of a place of being unequivocally loved by Faithfulness Himself.

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I don’t know that the church has always done a good job at explaining the relationship between justification and sanctification, or our place as both faithful servant (sanctification) and child of God (justification). Believing that I’m simply the beloved seems to negate the command for obedience, for love of neighbor, and for service. It trivializes or minimizes everything I’ve ever done, sacrificed, or stepped into on account of the Lord. And if it doesn’t mean anything, I’m not super compelled to continue walking into costly obedience.

That’s the tension we are asked to navigate everyday – because being good and faithful servant does matter. It matters a whole lot. We please the heart of God when we walk in tandem with His Spirit. We are called to follow Him, to die to self, and care for others. However, the tension comes when we realize that we can never start with that. That can never be the whole foundation of our identity. Because if base who we are in being a good and faithful servant, we inevitably come back to a view of God’s love that makes sense, something that we control. “I know God loves me . . . after all, how could He not when I’m so clearly following Him?” It no longer becomes the whole, pervasive, inexplicable love of the Father but the kind of love we can earn, maintain, and understand. The kind of love that feels comfortable and makes us feel worthy.

I feel like the mental shift should be easy: I am beloved first, faithful servant second. Both necessitate one another. However, I think that this tension will likely take a lifetime to master. Because being beloved, for as beautiful and amazing as it is, carries with it some fearful connotations.

We know that perfect love casts out fear, but the fact of the matter is that my only concept for love is human love. For as much amazing human love as I’ve experienced, it has not been without failures, heartbreaks, and conditions. If I lean fully into the eternal, incomprehensible love of God for me, I inherently strip myself of any control. It becomes this wholehearted trust in the heart of God for me, that it will never fail or diminish. That none of how He sees me is contingent on what I do or don’t do. And even though my theology tells me that nothing can separate me from His love, the questions still seem to arise in my heart from my flawed, fleshly concept of love. Because what if I’m too messy? What if I lean into being beloved and then He gets disappointed in me? What if I’m not good enough for the Lord or He decides He doesn’t want me anymore? What does it mean if my obedience isn’t changing His view of me, isn’t earning me more favor in His sight?

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He’s pleased with me as His faithful servant, but He loves me as simply His daughter.

I think that’s a dichotomy worth wresting with, since it has everything to do with who we are, how we approach life, ministry, and the posture with which we go before God. I’ll probably be wrestling with it for the rest of my life.