We are frequently told that before we can love others, we must love ourselves. The implication here is that we cannot assist anyone one unless we are personally in optimal conditions; the circumstances we are in, then, dictate how we live this life. Now, the passage we are considering today tells us something different. Our well being is not in function of our personal assessment of the circumstances we find ourselves in, but in how much our life – empowered by God the Holy Spirit and including life’s pains and joys – reflects the character of the Triune God of Scripture. And, as we discussed at our gathering After The Worship Service on Sunday, we can conclude that this desire for others to see His Beauty is fueled by compassion, mercy, grace. The very things we have received from our God.
The pursuit of identity and purpose
It has always fascinated me to consider the great differences that exist between human cultures. I guess I’ve got that from my mom: in an non-freaking way, she enjoyed watching people, specially when she had the opportunity to visit us in the States. But now, because of what He has shown me in Scripture, the more I get to see our different cultural preferences, the more I can see our similarities. Deep down in our heart, we all have the same needs and desires. One of those desires we all share, independent from our cultural background and preferences, is the pursuit of identity and purpose. We all want to know who we are and what we are in this life for. Here and now we have basically two options to find out the way to conduct this pursuit. These two ways are mutually exclusive. One of them comes more naturally to us than the other. The other requires a miracle for us to even consider it. But this pursuit is so important, so significant that it’s a wise attitude to invest time in considering which one of these two options is the one we are actually using to live this life in the way we do.
Worthlessness – the destination of our sin
One option is presented, constantly, by our own sin. And even when it is a lie, our sin can make a very clever, logic, appealing case for this way of life. Sometimes our sin would go to the extreme of basing its case on half truths; those are the most challenging lies to identity. Our sin will try to convince us that living in function of others is dangerous, a big risk if we are interested in happiness and fulfillment. People always have issues, after all. You cannot really trust them. And, then, you have all this theory that in order to help others, you yourself must be at a good place. How could you love others if you do not love yourself, first? How could you assist anyone in their needs if you have needs of your own to take care of? You must first think about your own needs, take care of them, be happy and then you can think about helping others. After all, isn’t that what the Bible says?
When we listen to our sin we are committing the same mistake the people of Israel did long ago. When we turn our back to God, saying “Thanks for all the help, but I can take it from here,” we are – for all practical purposes – exchanging the glory that God has given own for a cheap imitation our sin has convinced us it can deliver. A shortcut. A better way. An easier way. The prophet Jeremiah put it this way, in chapter two of his book:
12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the Lord,
13 for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Previously he said,
5 Thus says the Lord:
“What wrong did your fathers find in me
that they went far from me,
and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?
6 They did not say, ‘Where is the Lord
who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
in a land that none passes through,
where no man dwells?’
Do you see it? Our sin will have us consulting anything and anyone except the LORD. Zechariah has a word to describe a life lived in that way: worthless.
“Woe to my worthless shepherd,
who deserts the flock!
May the sword strike his arm
and his right eye!
Let his arm be wholly withered,
his right eye utterly blinded!”
Being the shepherd – living in function of others
But there is another option. God’s revelation of His Person and Work in our behalf – what we call His Beauty – not only has the purpose of restoring us back to full communion with Him, but it is also the way He displays the Story of Redemption He is writing; it is a description of His mission, of what He is doing even now. And through the revelation of this Story, He is calling us to find our story in it. There is a specific part, a specific role each of us is called to play within His Story. That part cannot be played by anyone else. That part is a benefit, a blessing, a gift to be enjoyed in a very personal way by each of us. Understanding this call means that we look at life asking how our particular pains and joys can be used to proclaim His Story. When we look at life in that way, as the backdrop against which His Story is being presented, then we can make sense of this life. When He allows us to understand all this, that is when life makes sense. Each of us – His redeemed – is called to live life in a way that is in sync with His Story, in a way that would make it easier for others to see His Beauty. In a way, we all are called to be shepherds to someone else, to find our identity in the finished work of Jesus Christ, God the Son, and to live here and now in function – with the purpose – of being a blessing for others. Identity. Purpose. Worthiness.
Time for self-analysis
The way we live, then, indicates which of the two options we are taking. The danger here is that, without close and persistent attention, we will gravitate toward the lie our sin is telling us. And our sin is very cleaver, coming the time to give us very good excuses to pursue our life according to its lies. Time for self-analysis is necessary, if we want to experience a healthy and relevant spiritual transformation. It makes sense that something as important as the path we are using to follow Jesus Christ in humility demands some heavy investments – time, in this case. After all, we already know, based on our human experience, that anything worth pursuing, worth fighting for requires a conscious decision on how to invest our most valuable possession, i.e. our treasures.
- How are you investing what God has given you?
- How are you living your life?
- Is it in a way that clearly proclaims His character, for others to see?
- Do you find identity and purpose in living in such a way?
- What are the offers your sin is presenting to you, in its attempt to take you in the path of worthlessness?
Remember His grace.