By Linda Rex
It’s very interesting to me the many ways in which God works in our lives in order to get our attention and help us to learn things about ourselves we would not otherwise see. Often, we go about our daily business, dealing with life as usual, never realizing there are significant issues with the way we handle certain things. We may not want to admit it, but we each have blind spots which are obvious to others, but which we cannot see.
One of the ways God brings light into these areas of blindness is by challenging our preconceived ideas regarding certain people, places, or things. By placing us through various circumstances in situations we would not have chosen for ourselves, or situations we did choose but they turned out differently than we expected, God exposes parts of our character which we are often able to hide under the glitz of performance.
Another way God pours his light into areas we are blind to is by placing people in our lives with whom we have to interact whether we like it or not. For example, an introvert such as myself may find herself forced to sit in a big circle of seventy people and have to tell how she feels about being present at that particular event at that particular moment whether she likes it or not.
Would I normally have chosen to tell such a personal feeling to that many people who are strangers to me? No. But the requirements of my situation have forced my hand—I will do it whether I want to or not. And I have to own that I would prefer to gloss over the way I really feel rather than expose myself to all those people and admit I’d just rather not be present in that situation. I’d rather be hiding somewhere else where I can just be me, away from the inspecting, critical examination of myself by people I don’t know and don’t believe are safe.
So, in just a few brief moments, I have gained insight into my own heart and mind, and into how I react in difficult and uncomfortable situations. I have learned something about my own character and my propensity to fudge the truth rather than to make other people feel bad or myself look bad. If I pay attention, then I will make note of this response and determine when faced with this situation again, I will act with boldness and integrity, and speak the truth in love.
If, however, I’m not paying attention when this happens, but ignore what is going on inside my head and my heart, I will react to the situation in a way which isn’t necessarily healthy or loving or honest. I might spend much of my life in this way, reacting to similar situations, and not realizing what is really going on. Blinded to this truth about my character, my behavior, and my responses to certain stimuli, I might go on oblivious, depriving myself and others of the opportunity to live in and experience God’s best.
But what if I took a different approach? What if I stopped in the midst of what is occurring and paused long enough to see things as they really are? What if I took the time to feel what is going on in my heart and to pay attention to what is going on in my mind, before reacting to the situation?
One of the things they told me in Christian counseling classes about bad habits is the need to place some significant distance between the stimulus or trigger and the behavior it leads into. The larger this gap is, the more distance there is between what triggers our response and the response itself, the more opportunity there is for the Holy Spirit to get in there and go to work.
I was listening to a young lady today, Kayleigh Vogel with Explore What Matters, talk about this very thing. The more they study the human brain and the psychological/physiological responses to stress stimuli, the more they realize there needs to be a proactive effort to create this distance and to enter into it in such a way we choose our response rather than just doing what comes naturally. She was saying the current studies in the neuroplasticity of the brain show over time our response can be changed as new pathways in the brain are formed and reinforced.
But there must be some effort to pay attention to what is going on inside of us. What drives our decisions? What drives our responses? Is it a gut-reaction, or is it a true expression of what we really value and believe is most important? This is worth reflecting on.
One of the things we do as we get to our adult years is to choose a career or find a job. More people are being intentional about what they choose to do for a living, while others grab what is available, just being thankful they have a job. But at some point, it would do each of us some good to consider this question: Does this job or career bring me joy? Does it really resonate with something deep inside me, with my values and what I care about most?
This is true also about what we do in our daily life, or how we respond to the stress we experience day by day. We all have choices we face. They teach us things, and we grow as we make those choices. We should not be afraid of them, but realize—these are opportunities to learn about ourselves and other people, and about this wonderful world we live in—opportunities to grow as human beings and open ourselves up to the refining, transforming work of the Holy Spirit.
As we make choices and other people make choices, and we experience the reality of life in an imperfect world, we can embrace all this as a wonderful opportunity to learn things about ourselves we would not know otherwise. And we can embrace it all as an opportunity for God to mature and refine us, and to transform us more perfectly into the nature of Jesus Christ.
And we can thank God we have new opportunities to see the blind areas of our character and lives as God’s light shines in those dark places, and opens them up to the redeeming power of God’s grace through Jesus our Lord by his Holy Spirit.
Abba, thank you for all the ways you bring us to see things about ourselves and our hearts we would not otherwise see, were it not for your love and grace. Thank you that by your Spirit, you continually shine your light in all our areas of blindness and bring us into a deeper understanding of who God are and who we are in you, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend [or overpower] it.” John 1:5 NASB
by Linda Rex
The other day I was talking with some ladies who were sharing stories of famous people they had met or interacted with. This is always fascinating to me because of the way we tend to get excited over someone who is just another human being like we are, but who has succeeded in their area of expertise to the place they are well-known and well-like by thousands and millions of people.
It’s kind of like walking into a gathering at Converge and finding myself next to W. Paul Young, the author of “The Shack”. He’s a regular guy and would probably be the first to remind everyone that he’s nobody special. But he’s had tremendous success as an author and speaker, and has drawn the praise and support of millions of people. And so I felt myself privileged to share the same space with him for a few moments.
It’s not like being a successful person in this culture necessarily changes who we are fundamentally. It’s more like it changes our experience of our world and how we interact with those around us. It would be very difficult to live one’s life under the constant scrutiny of strangers and to always be open to criticism and the possibility of rejection by the same people who currently applaud us.
And yet, this is exactly what happened to Jesus Christ. He was an inspiring, charming person to be around. He was loving and compassionate, always doing good works and healing broken people. He drew crowds around himself just by being who he was.
And the Jewish leaders hated him for it. They were constantly picking at him, looking for faults and some justifiable reason to destroy him. They criticized even the good things he did, because they did not fit in with what these leaders understood to be the way the Messiah would do things.
In Jesus’ story, we see him one day entering Jerusalem to pomp and circumstance—heralded as a deliverer. But within just a few days, we see him being imprisoned, tortured and crucified. Being a “famous” person definitely has its drawbacks.
But when we look at Jesus’ life here on earth, we see someone who laid it all out there. He told people who he really was, and lived like who he really was, so no one could say that he was merely putting on an act. He was genuine and real, making himself vulnerable to the point he was crucified for just being who he was.
Too often we are like the movie or music stars who hide under the gloss of a certain persona, because it is much safer for them to do this than to let people see who they really are. They cannot leave the house without having their image in place because they don’t want people to think less of them and so to reject them. After all, this is their livelihood.
We often believe and act as though it is much safer for us to project an image of having it all together than it is to be vulnerable and allow people to see the truth of our being. And too often, we experience events in our lives which prove to us that this is what we have to do in order to be safe and loved. If we don’t look as if we have it all together we will experience rejection or persecution rather than acceptance and understanding.
Sadly, this is especially true within Christian circles. We seem to have expectations of one another which, when you really get down to it, are often unreasonable and unrealistic. If we were to really think our expectations of one another through, we would realize that no human being other than Jesus Christ himself could live in such a perfect manner. So why do we expect it of one another?
But this brings us back to this fundamental thing for which you and I have been created: to know and be known. In John 17:3, we read Jesus saying this: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Eternal life, life in the presence of the Father, Son and Spirit, involves being completely and fully known by God and one another.
This describes a way of being which is truly transparent, honest and real. This is what we were created for. And when we don’t live in this way, we suffer. We create pain, suffering, and angst. There is disunity, war, strife, and separation. There is death and destruction—of people, relationships, organizations, nations—you name it.
Looking around us today, we can see and we experience the consequences of not living in accordance with the truth of our being. We don’t think, act, interact and live in way which corresponds exactly with the truth of who we really are. The truth of our being is that we are meant to be fully known and fully loved and accepted by God and one another.
We were not created for isolation or separation. We were not created for hiding or facades. We were not created to live one way on the inside and another on the outside. When we do this, when we live in this way, we hurt ourselves and we hurt others.
Sometimes we hide our true selves because we’re afraid we will hurt the people we love. And we don’t realize that in hiding our true selves, we are hurting them, because we are not allowing them to see the real glory God created us to shine with. God made us in his image to shine with his glory—his true light. Hiding this within ourselves does not help others.
It would be good to accept and live in the reality we are both completely known to the core of our being and totally, deeply loved. God even knows our thoughts before we think them and our words before we say them, and he says to us, in spite of everything, “I love you. You are mine and I am yours.”
And so you and I can ask for the courage and faith to begin to live according to the truth of our being, of who we are in Jesus Christ. He lived the perfected humanity you and I long for. And in him and by his Spirit, we are able to be the people we were meant to be.
Yes, we are broken people with scars and messy lives. But we are also at the same time, the beloved adopted children of Abba. We have the ever-present Spirit in us and with us, working out our true humanity, and Christ our divine Brother, including us in his life.
In Christ, and by his Spirit, we can face up to the dark places within, bringing them to the light so that Abba can heal them. We can let people get close because God enables us to see them through his eyes, as our brothers and sisters, who are just as broken and faulty as we are. We can begin the process of being real, of being honest about who we really are, letting safe people help us go through the difficulties which come along the way as healing occurs.
Abba, thank you for loving us just the way we are. Thank you for not leaving us in our brokenness and unbelief, but through your Son and by your Spirit, working to heal, restore and renew us. Grant us the grace and courage to be genuine and real, while at the same time putting on Christ as we ought to, in place of the false self which we so easily yield to. We praise you for your faithful love and grace through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you understand my thought from afar. you scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O LORD, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” Psalm 139:1–7 NASB
By Linda Rex
In this discussion about truth and the truth of our being, it occurs to me that just having truth or being people who value truth is insufficient. God, who is truth, has sent the Spirit of truth through Jesus who is “the way, the truth, and the life” to us to dwell in human hearts. So we have the Spirit of truth available to us at all times.
But the reality is that even though we have the truth at our disposal, we also need a huge helping of God’s grace to go with it. Truth without grace and love is dangerous and destructive. Being truly open about one’s self or being authentic about who we are can bring about deeply painful and horrific consequences when it is told to the wrong person, and/or at the wrong time, and/or in the wrong way. Anyone who has been the victim of malicious gossip or Internet bullying is well aware of this fact.
Living out the truth of our being does not automatically ensure that the people in our lives are going to accept or embrace this reality when it appears. Jesus lived authentically his whole life and look how he ended up!
Sincerity, integrity, authenticity were a part of his nature, but the people around him often did not appreciate this, especially when it exposed their own hypocrisy, insincerity and deceitfulness, and their own prejudices. In fact, whenever we find Jesus pointing out the truth of who he was and the truth that the listeners were not living in agreement with their truth of being as God’s children, we also see them plotting his death and destruction. In these situations we see the huge contrast between, as Paul puts it, the expression of fleshly wisdom and the administration of the grace of God through holiness and godly sincerity.
Fleshly wisdom in this area is the natural human response of self-preservation and self-protection through image-management, manipulation of others, pretense and hypocrisy. Soon we become like the white-washed tombs which Jesus talked about—they look great on the outside, but on the inside is only death and dead men’s bones. We may think we’re fooling everyone else, but we’re really only fooling ourselves.
Because all the pretense, image-management and spinning of the truth in the world cannot remove the reality that we are completely and thoroughly known and loved by a God who knows us down to the very depths of our soul. The Spirit of truth doesn’t just dwell in heaven, but in human hearts—and he knows the truth of who we really are. In fact, the Spirit of truth is the very Breath of God who breathes life into our human bodies so we live and breathe every moment of every day.
The reality is, if he decided to do so, the Holy Spirit could just stop breathing life into you or me and we would simply die. When Peter pointed out the truth to Ananias and Sapphira they both had conspired to lie to the Spirit of truth, they died on the spot—their breath left them. They had been trying to be something they were not by impressing the early church with how generous and good they were when in reality they were hedging their bets because they didn’t truly trust God to care for them and provide for them if they donated all they had to help others.
I don’t know about you, but I know that I have on occasion been equally guilty of image-management and being generous under false pretenses. It has only been due to the love and grace of God that I am still breathing and doing ministry today. I’m reminded by all this to treat the Spirit of truth with a great deal of respect—honoring him by being sincere and truthful—but I am also reminded that in the end, it’s all of grace.
So in receiving God’s grace to be sincere, authentic and a person of integrity, I also receive the grace to love and forgive others who are insincere, inauthentic and lacking in integrity. In receiving God’s love in the midst of my mess, which is who I really am, I am able to offer to others the freedom to be the beautiful mess they truly are.
God is always at work to bring the truth to light, because it is in his nature of truth. He is the Spirit of truth, and Jesus is the truth of our being. God will not stop working to bring us all to the place where we are people of integrity, honesty and authenticity, because he is conforming each one of us to the image of Christ, who is truth. This is why we put our faith in Jesus Christ, in the Truth, and not in ourselves or in any one or anything else. May God complete his work in each of us to bring us into all truth, and may he grant us the grace to love and forgive others as well.
Thank you, God, that you are our God of truth, our Spirit of truth, our Messiah who is the way the truth and the life. Thank you that you are gracious and loving at the core of your Being, for we are fully dependent upon your grace and love. Thank you, Spirit of truth, that you overlook our shortcomings, for without you we would not live and breathe. Finish, Lord, all your work of transformation so that we may reflect you as you really are, in truth. In your name, Father, Son and Spirit, we pray. Amen.
“For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you.” 2 Cor. 1:12