Our Divine Purpose

Screen Shot 2017-01-31 at 11.17.18 AM

Photo by Allison Mitchell // Source: Instagram

This past semester in a literature class, I wrote an essay that focused on the theme of restoration in the gospel, similar to a previous entry. One line describing the new heaven and the new earth read, “Where there was once chaos, there will be purpose.” Where things used to seem meaningless, we will see meaning. Although our purpose in life was once obscured, it will be made clear. We won’t need to contemplate our meaning because we’ll live it out for eternity. It won’t take faith because it will be sight.

When we received feedback on our papers, another student told me that this idea of there being purpose in a perfect, sinless world sounded like a paradox. In this life, there is so much work to be done to correct and improve our conditions that we can hardly imagine what “purpose” is apart from trying to make things better. If there’s already peace and justice in heaven, how is it possible that we have any purpose left to serve? How is there a role left for us to fill?

Today’s Purpose

To understand what our future purpose in heaven could be, we first have to realize what our current purpose is on earth. We’re used to defining our meaning by what we do and how our actions affect others. But what if we actually have purpose apart from this? What if God has given us a meaning that transcends our circumstances — whether we’re unemployed, or broke, or failing in school? What if the way God works isn’t the way the world works? What if meaning isn’t what we thought it was?

The reality of our purpose conflicts with everything we’ve been taught in the west. Even after you hear it a few times, the answer still sounds like an oppressive, authoritarian purpose to be given. It can be hard to grasp whether you know Jesus as your personal savior or you don’t. For a long time, I was aware of the answer, but I didn’t understand it. Even though I grew up hearing it repeated, I didn’t get it.

The answer comes from the Westminster Shorter Catechism, a book of foundational Christian doctrine written by English and Scottish theologians in 1646, based on what the Bible already teaches. It opens with a question on life’s purpose.

Q. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

It’s a simple answer, and it’s an offensive answer. One of the verses cited is 1 Corinthians 10:31 which says, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

The word “glorify” means “to exalt,” “to praise,” “to attribute importance to.” It’s telling us we’re meant to live for God and not for ourselves.

Questioning Purpose

For a long time, C. S. Lewis struggled to understand how God could create us with this purpose of worship. Lewis considered it selfish that God would ask us to live entirely for him. It’s important that we raise this concern. We would all agree that a man who told us to bow down to him, and to sing for him, and to do everything in his honor, has a pride issue. But, we call him prideful because he’s wrongfully full of himself. He’s ultimately undeserving of our praise. No one has lived up to a standard worthy of us devoting our lives to him, except for Jesus. When God tells us to live for his glory, it isn’t equivalent to some guy telling us to do the same for him. God is different, because only God is worthy of our praise.

However, Lewis was onto something when he called God selfish. For us, selflessness is a virtue. When we live selflessly, we give up our rights for the good of others — but when we’re full of ourselves, we’re inconsiderate of anyone who isn’t us. When we’re selfish, we live independently of God. We make our own rules, and we’re prone to sin. When we’re selfless, we lay ourselves down for others as Jesus commands us. We resist the temptation of comfort and easiness, and we accept Christ as our authority. When we abandon ourselves, we become better as we grow into being more like our Savior.

But, if God were to be selfless and abandon his character, he wouldn’t be anything like how he is. He wouldn’t be good, or merciful, or gracious, or loving… In many ways, God is full of Himself — and that turns out to be a good thing. He isn’t like us, because he’s good on his own. He doesn’t need to grow into someone he’s not already. This is why he’s worth following, because he’s perfect as he is. While we’re sinful by our nature, God is holy by his nature. 

This is the purpose that Jesus invites us to partake in — to live for the One worth living for. To live for God’s glory instead of our own. To live for Christ and not for self-interest.

By intentionally creating us with this meaning, he loves us. He redirects our mindsets from living for “the now” to living for the eternal. Our purpose no longer has an expiration date, because it isn’t reliant on abilities we’ll eventually lose, or a name that will someday be forgotten. He shifts our motives from our good to his glory.

“God is the one being in the entire universe for whom self-centeredness, or the pursuit of his own glory, is the ultimately loving act. For him, self-exaltation is the highest virtue. When he does all things ‘for the praise of his glory,’ he preserves for us and offers to us, the only thing in the entire world, which can satisfy our longings. God is for us, and therefore has been, is now and always will be, first, for himself. I urge you not to resent the centrality of God in his own affections, but to experience it as the fountain of your everlasting joy.”

-John Piper, Is God For Us Or For Himself?

The parts of life where we’re often told to find our meaning and satisfaction (such as career, relationships, school, family, or any other passion) can’t compare to the real reason we’re here. None of them can truly satisfy our desire for meaning because God didn’t intend for any of them to. True, lasting purpose can’t come from the created. It can only from the Creator.

We might be content with our idols for a season, but our contentment never lasts because we weren’t made for the finite. We were made for the infinite.

“Anything you put in the place of God will fail you… No matter how good it is, it can’t handle the weight of your soul.”

-Dave Lomas, a sermon titled On Christian Living

Only a life lived for the Kingdom is sustainable because only the Kingdom is without end. It goes on because God goes on.

To Enjoy Him Forever

The Catechism’s answer about the “chief end of man” doesn’t stop at glorifying God. It also tells us that we’re meant to “enjoy him forever.” To some extent, this is the easier part. But, to worship God actually goes hand-in-hand with enjoying him.

“I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise…. The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game…. I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: ‘Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?’

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.”

-C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms

Our enjoyment of him is praise to him.

“Adoring God for being what he is, is the very essence of Christian worship and of Christian praise.”

-Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Living Our Purpose

We tend to complicate the practical application of how this purpose God intends for us affects the way we live, but it’s easier than we realize.

We ask questions that bring up the mundane parts of the everyday like, “How am I supposed to glorify God when I’m listening to music?” or “How can I serve God when I’m stuck in traffic?” Scripture is straightforward in telling us to do everything for God’s glory, but when we’re actually in the moment it describes, glorifying God seems like a distant concept. How are we supposed to apply it practically?

Some might say it’s through obedience. It’s true that we can glorify God through obedience in our actions. When we’re on the 405 going 20 miles an hour, we can practice patience. In everyday situations, we can always ask ourselves “what would Jesus do?” and then respond with the answer.

But I don’t think that’s all the verse from earlier in 1 Corinthians is saying. It doesn’t just mean that we should glorify God through the things we do. That’s part of it, but that isn’t all of it.

Going back to the example given: how can we glorify God when we eat and drink? How was Jesus glorifying God when he was having dinner?

I think it’s simpler than we make it out to be. When we’re eating, we should attribute our enjoyment of our meal to the One who provided it. We should also recognize that it’s God who gave us the people we’re at a table with. We live to the glory of God when we accept what he gives us. We recognize it all as grace, so we give thanks to him. It’s then that we forget ourselves and embrace who he is.

We can only really live well in our purpose if we live in remembrance of the cross that Jesus was crucified on and his resurrection that came three days later. This is the necessary response to such a sacrifice. For God to not only show us mercy by dying in our place, but to show us grace by giving us new life, we have a love that demands our attention. This is why we have more reason to live for his glory than we have a reason to live for anything else. No one other than Jesus is capable of this kind of abundant love and grace he has for us. He deserves our devotion in a way nothing else ever could.

The alternative to acknowledging God is ignoring him. In the moments we write God off, we’re really saying that he isn’t worth our consideration. Whether it feels like we’re abandoning him or not, this is our default setting. It isn’t always a conscious decision to push him aside, and that’s what makes it so dangerous. To neglect God is to forfeit our purpose.

This is what the Enemy wants us to do. Satan wants to strip us of the divine intention for which we were created. But, he’s rarely the one who takes it away from us. Instead, he persuades us to take our purpose away from ourselves. Often, his method succeeds.

“Subtlety is key. The whispered suggestions of the Enemy will rarely tell us to look away from God; he is much more effective when he simply suggests we look to ourselves.”

-Tim Chaddick, The Truth About Lies (an awesome book on temptation that’s only $2 at Barnes & Noble)

To live in response to yourself instead of in response to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is to live in sin. By making up our own purpose and taking matters into our own hands, we’re saying that his death and resurrection doesn’t matter. By sinning, we’re also saying that God isn’t the authority he says he is. Instead of living to his glory, we attempt to live to our own. By choosing sin over holiness, we violate the reason we’re here.

But this is why he went to the cross. We sin daily, abusing life so that it can go along with our desires instead of his design. By dying for our debt and returning on the third day, Jesus invites us to walk in his glory. He paid the price of death and rose again so that we could have something worth living in light of. Now, we have something to celebrate. We have something worth proclaiming. This is how Jesus restructures our routines to fit his will instead of our agenda.

Our Future Purpose

As we live out our purpose to bring glory to God, things will change. Gradually, without noticing it, we become the person that God intends us to be through the sanctifying power of the Spirit. This process is brought to completion in Jesus, whose presence will restore us fully in heaven.

In one sense, that’s when our purpose is finished. That’s when God is finally glorified in the way only he deserves. It already happens through us in moments, but someday it will be a constant. In this sense, our purpose continues. The meaning we serve in heaven turns out to be much of the same as the meaning we serve on earth.

The difference is in how our purpose plays out. I don’t think anyone can give a definite answer for what it’ll look like in heaven. I wouldn’t trust anyone who says they know. It’s not far fetched to say there’ll be singing, but beyond that, there’s not much we can assume. All we truly know is this — that we’ll have perfect, full communion with God, and that our reconciliation to him will be to his glory.

This divine purpose we have is one that doesn’t have an end. It isn’t like a seasonal job with a final day of employment. Our purpose doesn’t stop once we gain a feeling of success from getting to a point in life we’ve always wanted to get to.

Our purpose doesn’t end in satisfaction, and it also doesn’t end in disappointment. It doesn’t end in quitting, or failing, or breaking up. Our purpose doesn’t even end in death.

That’s why the only real purpose is lasting purpose. It’s purpose that overflows into every part of life. It isn’t confined to work hours, a classroom, or a community. It’s relevant in our moments alone, and it’s relevant in our moments in public. It matters regardless of circumstances. It even matters when we feel like it doesn’t.

Glory be to God for making us with a purpose that can hold the weight of our soul.

A Good Editor (an essay)

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 5.06.38 PM

Photo by Titus Haug // Source: Instagram

Not every story is equal. Not every story holds truth, and some stories tell truths truer than those told by other stories. You can claim it’s subjective, but it isn’t really. Not every story can make people weep. Not every story can give people a new name. Not every story can change minds. If more people are offended by one story than by another, it doesn’t take much to deduce that “subjective” is actually an admission of apathy, or perhaps laziness, or perhaps both.

It’s like how tolerance at its core is just carelessness — distant, dishonest, impersonal… But love isn’t passive. It’s invasive. Love doesn’t tolerate. It corrects. Love stirs up conviction. It leads to confrontation. Love isn’t a critic with poor taste and bad judgement. It marks papers in red ink — not to curse, but to build up. Love is an Editor.

I bet that’s why most books aren’t even mediocre at best. Good editors are hard to come by. At least, editors willing to completely restructure the fifth draft are hard to come by. Good editors sacrifice. They might not be paid much, but they care more about the craft anyway. Good editors aren’t discouraged by their price. They’re patient, humble, honest…

It’s not an opinion that writing must be followed by revision. There might be some disappointment. There might be some anger. But it passes. Eventually, there’s an understanding on behalf of the person whose work was butchered that they needed the butchering…

Because it turns out — they’re better now. They’re recovering from their former self. They’re growing in a different direction. They’ve been repurposed. They’ve been cared for enough to have the facts told to them. They’ve experienced the relief that their suspicions had been right all along… They were much farther from the final draft than they anticipated. It would now require a complete shift in thought. They would have to see things from a new perspective, abandoning the one they’ve grown comfortable in. They would have to forget what makes sense to them, and instead consider what makes sense to their Editor. They would have to surrender control for something more substantial: trust.

Too often, editors aren’t worth this risk of full dependence. More often than not, creatives are justified in their decision to work alone. Most people in the editing field take advantage of original thinkers, obscuring their vision and stunting their creativity. Editors have a reputation of bringing them to a breaking point, until they can’t handle any more “narrow-mindedness” as it tends to be called.

But, the fact remains: to be your own editor is a hopeless task. It is full of blind spots and wishful thinking. It is a seemingly smooth path, but where it leads is a cheap confidence. It is uninformed, yet boastful. It is too proud to consider another’s opinion, cautious of what a collaboration might entail… A loss of authenticity, a loss of voice…

It is self-deception at the expense of self. Growth can’t happen by staying in the same mindset forever. After rereading the same few paragraphs all day, an author is forced to admit their perspective isn’t everything they thought it was. At some point, a writer has to come to terms with their limitations. They must face this inability to be better than themselves by going to someone else.

By giving into this justified temptation, they’ll face criticism from the pretentious who would never allow themselves to receive criticism from anyone. They’ll face judgement by those who would never allow their own work to be judged. They probably didn’t realize that the task of an Editor was so controversial. They probably didn’t consider that accepting an editor’s revisions was counter-cultural. They looked to an editor to get better, but neglected the thought that for many, having an editor means they’ve compromised their full potential… Ironically, it’s the opposite that’s true.

Isn’t it the writer’s fantasy that their most recent draft would be returned to them with little to no revisions? This desire lives alongside their original motivation for story-telling, their hidden hope to be known and in being known, to be loved. But how can anyone truly be known without being critiqued? How can anyone genuinely be loved without being corrected?

Evidently, an Editor-less writer is a cowardly writer. He only knows the indoor world of his surroundings. He’s taken “write what you know” to an unhealthy extreme. He’s contemplated everything, except everything he didn’t realize he could contemplate. His will ends with his unwillingness to risk being wrong. He’s too good for anyone to look down on.

_____

It might be asked: “How does one go about choosing an editor?” The answer is long and much like most writing advice, doesn’t seem to work for everyone.

First — settle on a budget, financially… But more importantly, creatively. What are you willing to pay? What are you willing to give up? How much of your old self are you going to take off? How much of a new self are you going to put on? Some would call it “selling out,” but in reality, it is giving up… And on certain days, that can be the right thing.

Second, consider your time. Is there a deadline? If so, look for someone who doesn’t skim lines just to get back to you fast. Look for someone who’s thorough, but who also has so much time that he practically lives outside of it. He’ll reply within a few days. If it takes longer than a few days, you can rest assured it’ll be worth it.

Lastly, find someone who knows what they’re doing. This might sound obvious, but many creatives resort to editors who will tell them only what they want to hear. They would rather fail with praise than strive with critique. The relationship between them is a shameless counterfeit. It’s only the checks they care about. These are the same “editors” that discourage many from looking for one. As long as the client’s clueless, it’s smooth sailing for both of them.

The only reliable editor turns out to be one who doubles as a writer. Find someone who’s been published. Find someone whose work you wouldn’t mind taking credit for. Find someone who will give you good ideas to steal. Find someone who will offend you, but will make up for it in how they’ll change you. Find someone who takes you seriously, and wants to see you succeed. Find someone who convicts and confronts. Find someone who’s invasive and not passive. Find someone who loves instead of tolerates.

There’s much more to look for than what can be included in a three step process, or what can be described in a brief few sentences. The most important decisions always happen over time, through seasons of doubt and days of distress. A part of it happens through careful analysis, by comparing one editor’s resume with another, asking yourself what it is that separates them… Why does he have so many clients? Is it because he tells people what they want to hear, or is it because he tells them what they hate to hear? Is it because he doesn’t charge much, or is it because he’s the best so he charges more than anyone can afford?

The answers to these questions will lead to a decision that will change the course of your writing career. They’ll either tell you that you’re lost or they’ll confirm you’re exactly where you want to be. They’ll either tell you the truth or they’ll tell you a lie. You have to be precise about this sort of thing. It’s what everything comes down to. We aren’t the ones who make the rules, after all. We’re just the ones who inherit them.

_____

 Keep in mind that a good editor gives himself a variety of roles in the life of a writer. This isn’t because the Editor has nothing better to do, but because it is the best thing he can do. It’s his job to aid the writer who believes he isn’t capable of working alone. His self-inflicted task is this: to recreate the created, to bring order to the disordered, to sustain the unsustainable… And there is nothing more unsustainable than the career of a writer who doesn’t accept creative critique.

Before a good editor is anything else, he is a Messenger. He relays reality to the writer, telling him truths so he can know something better than cliches. When he comes across paragraphs of filler, he’s upfront with his client, regardless of how uncomfortable the conversation might be. A decent editor would never say something is fine the way it is. There’s always either something that could be expanded, or something that should be subtracted… But he doesn’t simply point out where the piece has gone wrong so he can move onto his next criticism. When he says something should be cut, he suggests something else should go in its place. If a plot isn’t going anywhere, he doesn’t just say “this plot isn’t going anywhere,” but instead completely restructures the story so it can have a satisfying third act.

His advice might not be gentle, but it’s always wise. If there’s ever a feeling of offense, never assume you should ignore it like you would with anyone else. Assume there’s a point to his message. Assume he’s worth listening to, because he is, and then wrestle with what he has to say. Since it’s his duty to challenge you, never immediately resort to challenging him. There’s reason for his credibility. After all, a good editor is willing to give his life for the rough draft. He spends his days marking papers in red ink to turn subpar writing into something else entirely — despite the offense it might cause the author or the clients it might turn away. Every time an editor returns a draft, he puts his career on the line. His sanctifying work comes with a price, and it is at his expense.

The Messenger’s way of editing leaves no room for a writer’s contrasting convictions. He only stands for the truth he possesses. For instance, a popular belief today seems to be that there’s no such thing as a truly finished piece. By following this philosophy, a writer can take as much time as he likes on a project and even continue to write post-publication. He returns to his work endlessly, making sure everything is as exactly it should be. He thinks that if one sentence were out of place, his entire piece would collapse. Even though there might be some truth to this, a writer should never neglect the importance of his deadline. A good editor knows there comes a time when it is finished. Editing infers there’s an eventual end, however far down the road that might be.

When a writer disagrees with such a thought, his editor reminds him of something he’s not taken seriously enough — editorial jurisdiction. He reminds the writer that since he’s an editor, he’s also a Judge. He enforces the “limitations” of literature, knowing guidelines don’t only set restrictions, but also provide the freedom a writer needs to get through to an audience. As the legal authority, he knows there’s a certain way of story-telling that’s right, and another that’s wrong. He knows there’s one way of writing that debts a reader in time wasted, and another that exempts a reader in life gained. Although his verdicts are often called harsh, it’s more accurate to call them fair. Would you ever want to read a story that didn’t keep any of the promises it made? He’s the one to thank.

Bottomline, a good editor is a Doctor. He enters the worst conditions to make them the best conditions. He diagnoses the illness to deliver the cure. He only asks that a patient discloses their symptoms before they proceed to anything else. Although he knows writers tend to be unaware of every effect of their ailment, he wants to hear firsthand what a client believes the problem with their writing is. However limited their perspective, it’s through this honest self-evaluation that his work begins.

Not long after, the Doctor prescribes an often ridiculed method in the creative field: the abandonment of self. This is the most essential part of the editing process. It’s only when a writer gives up the control he thinks he should have that an editor treats him for weaknesses he’s unaware that he has. It’s by letting go of his work that he’s finally able to experience change. Soon enough, the remedy will kick in, and his aching will fade away. The previously mediocre writer will be healed of his former ideas, and his health will be restored.

At the end of it all, a Good Editor redeems. He redeems both the piece that definitely wouldn’t have sold without revisions, as well as the one that didn’t seem so bad in its original state. Both tend to be improved far beyond the author’s expectations, whether he actually thought his work was fine the way it was, or he mistakingly believed nothing could be done to save what he had created.

Any writer willing to accept his inability to improve himself knows there isn’t any such thing as a piece that’s worth publishing without an editor’s hand. Although he often goes uncredited, he’s responsible for much of the finished product that the author puts his name on. It’s an editor who has the final say on the characters, the climax, the conclusion… Every plot ultimately relies on him.

This is the kind of rest that every weary writer searches for but doesn’t often find. This is the kind of dependence that every independent writer needs but doesn’t want to sacrifice… Regardless, clients know their Editor is trustworthy because they’ve seen his portfolio. They know he’s caring because he cares for those who admit their need to be cared for. If he was indifferent, there wouldn’t be any lines crossed out or themes rewritten — but since the Editor has compassion, the story shifts. Since the Editor chooses redemption instead of condemnation, the writer receives a new creation in exchange for a broken one. Since the Editor decides love is better than apathy, there’s always something for his clients to look forward to… A story rewritten, a writer refined, a reality revived…

A Secular Psalm

For an assignment in creative nonfiction I had to piece phrases together from separate works to create a somewhat cohesive narrative. I thought I’d try combining a few lines from hymns with modern lyrics that allude to faith.

secular-pslam

Continue reading

A Story of Restoration

screen-shot-2017-01-26-at-2-47-12-pm

Photo by Titus Haug // Source: Instagram

When I started writing a story a few years ago, I didn’t know everything I would be writing about. As the characters evolved, I realized I shared the hope of my protagonist. Subliminally, a personal desire became the main theme — a longing for restoration.

I had been writing about the thing I wanted to happen to me. Ultimately, this is a desire we all share. Everyone wishes that things could go back to the way they used to be, whether it be in relation to our childhood, a friendship, or a show that jumped the shark after a few seasons. Our wish isn’t simply for things to be good again, but for them to be whole again, for them to be as they were supposed to be. Often, it’s nostalgia that triggers in us a longing for things to return to their former glory. Whether it be a momentary desire or a long-term fantasy, everybody wants restoration of some kind.

In a sermon I recently heard by Jon Tyson from Trinity Grace Church in New York, he talked about a Bon Iver concert he attended not too long ago. In the middle of the show, Justin Vernon gave a short talk on how he believed a lot of the world’s problems can be traced back to the church’s focus on heaven instead of on earth. He was saying that the church shouldn’t put so much energy into the future if they don’t put any care into the day-to-day, and that it’s a major reason our society isn’t well.

While many criticize religion for focusing too heavily on what is ahead and not what is ongoing, Tyson pointed out that Vernon’s desire for earth’s renewal is a Biblical desire. It isn’t an idea that was originally proposed by humanitarian movements, but a promise declared in scripture. As Tyson stated, the Bible begins on earth in Genesis when sin first came into the world, and ends on earth in Revelation when sin is finally cast out of the world. The renewal of creation is at the core of the gospel. It’s why Christ came to die on the cross and it’s why He will come again.

Clearly, this desire for the world’s restoration isn’t just a Christian desire, but a human one. We all know this life isn’t the way it should be. Instead of peace, there’s conflict. Instead of justice, there’s corruption. Instead of joy, there’s unrest.

“The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.”

-C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I don’t quote Lewis to excuse being kind or charitable, but to give reason to why we ought to be. As believers, the heavenward mindset we have shouldn’t be used as justification for us to sit back and wait for the Lord’s will to be done. Instead, it should lead us to partake in His will. Since we’ve experienced the presence of Christ and know that one day we’ll experience His full presence, we have an endless joy and peace worth expressing in everyday interactions.

Around this time last January, I started to consider going to a different church than the one I grew up in. As I thought about the kind of church I saw a future with, I noticed that many younger churches emphasize something that older churches seem to more or less disregard. Plenty of contemporary churches apply a phrase from the Lord’s prayer, “on earth as it is in heaven” as a tagline of sorts. Some replace “earth” with where they’re located like, “in Los Angeles as it is in heaven.” The verse is Matthew 6:10, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

By using it as a mission statement, churches put emphasis on God’s plan of renewal while also directing focus on the church body. The Lord has given us the purpose of living out His will so that Christ’s name would be glorified through our actions. His will is to be done through us.

“We are best employed when we are actually doing something for this fallen world, and for the glory of our Lord. ‘Thy will be done’: we must come to actual works of faith and labors of love. Too often we are satisfied with having approved of that will, or with having spoken of it in words of commendation. But we must not stay in thought, resolve, or word; the prayer is practical and business-like, ‘Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven’… Many might wish that to think and to speak were to do the will of God; for them they would have effected it very thoroughly.”

-Charles Spurgeon, a sermon titled “A Heavenly Pattern For Our Earthly Life” (April 30, 1884)

It’s easy to forget that it’s by acting according to His will that we can begin to grasp His will to come. Although we’ve known a spiritual renewal through faith and repentance, it’s often difficult living in a culture that tends to be bent against God to imagine the future reality of a new heaven and a new earth in which God is at the center. In times when things are increasingly regressing instead of progressing, I return to this passage to remember what lies ahead:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”

Revelation 21:1-5

When a story introduces a conflict, it tends to be an indicator that there’ll eventually be a resolution. In the story I referenced writing at the beginning of this entry, my main character longed for renewal and likewise, his desire was fulfilled by the end.

Since the Bible is a story of restoration, we can also say it is about God’s promise of restoration, and He is a God who keeps His promises. Reconciliation to our Creator has been foretold since the fall of man in Genesis. The one who has tried to condemn us will eventually be condemned, and those enslaved by sin will be liberated from it.

“‘Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.’ It was so once. Perfect obedience to the heavenly upon this earth will only be a return to the good old times which ended at the gate of Eden. There was a day when no gulf was digged between earth and heaven; there was scarce a boundary line, for the God of heaven walked in Paradise with Adam. All things on earth were then pure, and true, and happy. It was the garden of the Lord. Alas, that the trail of the serpent has now defiled everything… Those who desire to set up the kingdom of God are not instituting a new order of things; they are restoring, not inventing. Earth will drop into the old groove again. The Lord is king: and he has never left the throne. As it was in the beginning so shall it be yet again. History shall, in the divinest sense, repeat itself. The temple of the Lord shall be among men, and the Lord God shall dwell among them.”

-Charles Spurgeon, A Heavenly Pattern For Our Earthly Life

When Christ was crucified, people wept because they thought God’s mission to redeem them from their sin had failed. Many even assumed their messiah had been proven a fraud. But it was through what seemed to be the ending of all hope that He gave us everlasting hope. This is how our Lord works. When Christ rose from the grave, God’s will for us was revealed in a way it had never been before. The cross is no longer recognized as an ancient death sentence, but a reminder of eternal joy.

As matters in our world get worse, we can take comfort in knowing that we aren’t approaching an end, but a new beginning. What was previously a sign of death is now a sign of life. Where there was once reason to dread, we now have reason to anticipate.

Everything that has been lost is being called back to Him. 

Christmas: The Hope of Easter

instanorthwest-mount-rainier-national-p

Photo by Alesha Brown // Source: Instagram

“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m just not happy.”

-Charlie Brown

For the past few years, the festivity of my holiday season has been replaced with the melancholy of winter. Christmas hasn’t felt the way it used to when I was younger. At some point I lost the joy that comes with waking up early to unwrap presents on Christmas day. Like Charlie Brown, I appreciated the holiday but I didn’t anticipate it. The traditions I had grown up with became just that — traditions.

This year, I’ve found myself looking forward to Christmas again, and it’s for the same reason I originally lost my excitement for it: I started seeing Christmas for what it really is, or at least, what it’s supposed to be.

Growing up in church, I was always told about the nativity story, but I never knew the point of the nativity story. If Christmas was about the birth of Christ, then what was the birth of Christ about?

I think a lot of people are in the same place I once was. While our culture acknowledges the birth in the manger through TV specials and front yard decorations, there isn’t much clarity on why it’s relevant to begin with.

To understand why Jesus came, we have to understand his birth as a response. He wasn’t born randomly, but as a solution to the world’s greatest need. Ever since the Garden of Eden, we’ve all chosen to live our lives on our own terms instead of the way God intended. Rather than embracing dependence on our Creator, we’ve chosen independence from him. We’ve chosen sin over holiness, death over life, the temporary over the eternal.

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

1 Timothy 1:15

God sent His Son so that we would have reconciliation with him. By living according to God’s will and dying in our place, Jesus has brought redemption to those who put their trust in him instead of themselves. Because the Son has come to us, we have a way to come to God.

“Jesus came because we needed him. The purpose of Jesus’ birth was twofold: to bring glory to God and to make peace between God and those who trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection.”

-The Gospel Project curriculum from the children’s ministry I serve in

When I used to think of Christmas, I thought of the newborn Savior without reflecting on how he saved. I thought of Christmas without Easter, but the reason his birth is worth celebrating is because of the hope that Easter brought. The events these two holidays represent are inseparable from each other.

A lot of us, believers and non-believers alike, separate Christ’s birth from the rest of his life, but it’s important that in celebrating the newborn King, we put our minds on more than only the manger.

“Remember, young believers, that from the first moment when Christ did lie in the cradle until the time when he ascended up on high, he was at work for his people; and from the moment when he was seen in Mary’s arms, till the instant when in the arms of death he bowed his head and gave up the ghost, he was at work for your salvation and mine.”

-Charles Spurgeon, A Treasury of Spurgeon on the Life and Work of Our Lord

The reason we can sing “Joy to the world, the Lord has come,” is because of what he came to do through dying on the cross and returning on the third day. He came to deliver us from the sin we’ve grown comfortable in so that he could show us something better. Christ was born to show us a life worth pursuing, one lived for him and not for ourselves.

Simply by being born with the purpose to fix the very thing we had broken, God showed us his grace. Not only that, but by being born into a lower class, we know that he is a God who identifies with everyone. He came humbly, and we can rejoice in that, knowing he didn’t just come for one type of person, but for all of us. We are the ones who need a Savior. We are the people he came to restore.

“There is hardly a better way to sum up what God was about when he came to re-claim the world in Jesus Christ — his glory, our peace. His greatness, our joy. His beauty, our pleasure. The point of redemption is that God is glorious and means to be known and praised for his glory by a peace-filled new humanity.”

-John Piper, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy

We can look forward to Christmas because of the hope we have in Easter. Since he rose again, we have a reason to celebrate. Our Savior has overcome death, our sin has been covered, and we have been made new. Hallelujah!

The Purpose of Self-Awareness

14686403_796589817150217_1677314336_n

Photo by Maci Elise // Source: Instagram

It’s commonly said that for personal growth, we simply need to be aware of our flaws and the things we struggle with. However, just as “with great power comes great responsibility,” there are a few ways in which we’re called to respond to our self-awareness.

If we’re in the mindset that just acknowledging our sin is enough, we’ll use our awareness as a justification for complacency. We’ll address our flaws while excusing them by saying things like, “I know it’s bad, but I didn’t hurt anybody,” or “I know it’s wrong, but I’ve been forgiven so it’s not a big deal.”

Being knowledgable of why we do the things we do is also not a valid reason to continue to do them. It doesn’t make our sin less wrong and more acceptable before God when we attribute our behavior to how we were raised or an internal struggle we’re going through.

Eventually, we believe our excuses and become disabled by them. In trying to escape ourselves and the awareness we have, we become trapped to ourselves and lost in denial.

It might be an absence of spiritual self-awareness that causes us to underestimate the seriousness of sin and our need for change. In my last entry, I wrote on how the secular idea of what it means to know oneself can only be fruitful when informed by a spiritual self-awareness in which we see ourselves through the lens of scripture.

“A vision of God secures humility. Seeing God for who He is enables us to see ourselves for what we are.”

-Dallas Willard, Living in the Vision of God

When we’re spiritually self-aware, we recognize that we can’t truly change on our own, nor can we be fully aware of ourselves. It’s only by looking to God and relying on the work of the Holy Spirit that we can be transformed and made new in Christ.

It’s important to keep in mind that God’s purpose for self-awareness is the same as His purpose for everything else. We are made self-aware so that we can pursue holiness, and that in our pursuit, Christ would be glorified. When we deny our awareness or the call that comes with it, we deny Him and what He wants for us.

Called to Face Ourselves

When we’re aware that we’ve sinned against God, we’re called to confront ourselves with truth and look to the example we have in Jesus. If we try to justify something we’ve done to get out of a situation or to relieve guilt, we lie to God and decide to believe that lie ourselves.

He wants us to see our sinfulness. Not just through the eyes of someone we’ve wronged, but through the eyes of the One we are ultimately sinning against.

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.”

Psalm 51:4

Called to Repentance

Although it’s important to be aware of the wrongs we commit, it can’t end there or our knowledge is in vain. Self-awareness isn’t a destination, but the beginning on a path to repentance.

Genuine repentance involves regretting what we’ve done against God, asking Him for forgiveness, and diligently pursuing holiness. By admitting wrong and asking the Spirit to work in us, we give up any notion of self-reliance and become Christ-dependent.

Called to Empathy

If we know our need for God’s grace and recognize that everyone else needs it just as much as we do, then we have a responsibility to empathize with others rather than judge them.

“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.”

1 Corinthians 4:3

Humbled by the realization that we don’t have the authority to be judgmental, we need to practice the opposite behavior and care for those around us. This call to empathy is not simply to feel for someone, but to feel with someone. If a friend is depressed, we can use the awareness we have of ourselves to discern what might help us if we felt how they feel. That’s not necessarily going to be accurate, but self-awareness also contributes to what we view as appropriate.

As cliche as it is, the best example of someone who was responsibly self-aware and knew which ways were wisest to respond to others is found in our Savior.

“The gospels describe Jesus as exceptionally self-aware. He knew his role. He knew his purpose. He knew when it was time to keep his identity secret and when it was time to share it.”

-Michael Johnson, Theology of Self-Awareness

Praying for Awareness

For a long time, I thought I was more self-aware than anyone else and I took pride in it. However, I didn’t see my faults. I couldn’t tell what sins I struggled with. I knew the small offenses, like swearing on occasion or being inconsiderate of someone, but I couldn’t see the bigger picture. Since I didn’t think I had anything major that needed to change, I started to believe in a false perception of myself. I became prideful, and this pride blinded me. It prevented me from seeing the things I needed to see.

The first small group I was a part of had a time for prayer requests where we would pray for one another. Requests typically related to different sins we were dealing with, and when it came to me, I had no idea what to say. I was going through an apathetic season so there wasn’t a specific area I felt tempted in that would cause me to sin against God. The sin I was aware of in my life didn’t seem as bad as everyone else’s. My request ended up being to see the areas that needed change, even though I wasn’t convinced there were any.

At some point, I read the Book of James and this verse convicted me:

“Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

James 4:17

I had heard something like this before. It reminded me of how people say that not speaking up when you know something that should be said is selfish. My struggle was similar. The apathy I felt might have kept me from temptation, but it also kept me from serving God.

As self-aware as I was, I didn’t use my awareness for the good of anyone. I wasn’t actively empathetic, and I wasn’t allowing myself to be humbled by the things I knew. This is because I wasn’t innocently self-aware, but self-focused. Like I mentioned in my previous entry, I wanted self-awareness for myself. I didn’t want it as a way to bring glory to God, but to be my own god. I disregarded His purpose for it and used it for my own means. By knowing who I was, I felt control over my life.

His Glory, Our Good

Even though I misused the self-awareness I had, there was an aspect of its purpose I recognized: it was supposed to help me.

It’s true that when we act on the things we know, our lives as well as others’ lives can improve.

“The Holy Spirit uses growing self-awareness in His sanctifying work in our lives. Self-awareness causes a husband to know why certain actions that may not hurt others, hurt his wife and children, and thus be able to avoid those behaviors.”

-Michael Johnson, Theology of Self-Awareness

Our awareness is for His glory at the same time as our good.

When we accept our place before God, we’re humbled. When we understand ourselves in a more honest and sincere way, we have deeper intimacy in our relationships. When we see who we are to who He is, we grow in our reliance on Him.

Self-awareness matures us into faithful disciples of Jesus.

Spiritual Self-Awareness

I’ve been working on this entry for a while because I had trouble putting what I was thinking into words. I’m going to post a follow-up entry too, about the responsibilities that come with being self-aware. If there is something I could write a book on, it would be this. I think we should all strive for self-awareness, but not just the secular idea of what it means for someone to know who they are. There is also a Biblical self-awareness that is essential to a life lived for Christ.

Thank you for reading!


14658306_796589500483582_740822878_n

Photo by Maci Elise // Source: Instagram

“Self-awareness” has become a common term in our culture over the past few years. It is usually associated with methods of self-help, saying that the better we know ourselves, the more we can improve and be content with who we are. Lately, I’ve been learning of another kind of self-awareness that is Christ-led instead of self-led.

The concept of self-awareness that we’re used to depends largely on self-reflection, leaving the majority of work up to the person trying to understand themselves better. However, it’s easy to become blindsided when you’re your own guide. We are all unaware of some key aspect of ourselves, whether that be how we appear to others or how we think about things subconsciously. We aren’t able to grow alone. This realization that we can’t be our own leader is humbling.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Jeremiah 17:9

Attempting to figure out any of our hidden or misplaced motivations is often a hopeless task. Thankfully, scripture tells us that it’s impossible to know our own heart fully, which means it must not be essential for growth to be self-aware.

When I was younger, I realized that the older I got, the more aware of myself I was. I started thinking that eventually I would gain enough perspective on myself so I could turn into someone who I wouldn’t need to change. I began to idolize and rely on my self-awareness along with the sense of control I felt from it.

Despite how well I knew myself, I didn’t grow very much, and in looking back I can see why. My first mistake was thinking I could understand myself in a way only God does, and my second mistake was thinking I could change myself in a way only God can. Instead of trusting Him to make me new in Christ, I trusted myself to become someone who fit my own standards. By focusing on who I was, I neglected who He is and what He wanted for me. I learned it wasn’t through knowing myself that I could be free and experience change  it was through knowing God.

I still believe it’s important to be aware of who you are as well as how you are seen by others, but this process of self-reflection requires discernment. It is crucial that we rely on something that isn’t biased or constrained to a limited perspective. This is the beginning of growth: to come to terms with the fact that we can’t just depend on ourselves. Even if it feels like it, we aren’t always able to see the things we need to.

“Any teaching which urges a man to trust in himself is merely a deception.”

-John Calvin

In order for us to know ourselves, we have to know more than ourselves. The Bible shows us Jesus, offering a clear perspective on who we are in light of the Gospel. Instead of focusing so heavily on how we see ourselves, or how others view us, we need to shift our focus to Him and how He thinks of us.

This view of looking at yourself through the lens of scripture is humbling. It removes any proudness, because it lives on the fact that He chose to die for us when we were unable to pay the debt we owed. With perspective, we see how we were sinners in need of saving. We didn’t know how in need we were before He showed us by dying on the cross. Despite knowing us perfectly, He redeemed us.

Through this new relationship we have with God, we can learn more about who He is, and in turn, who we are. When we come to terms with how little control we have over our lives, we become grounded in how reliant we are on Him. The sense of control we’ve had isn’t as relevant as it once seemed, and we can finally let go.

You don’t know yourself unless you know yourself in relationship to God.”

-Tim Keller

While spiritual self-awareness is Christ-centered and Christ-led, the world’s idea of self-awareness is self-centered and self-led. This is dangerous. Without proper guidance, we will lead ourselves astray. The broken can’t look only to the broken to be fixed.

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord.”

Jeremiah 17:5

To understand the things below, we must first look to that which is above. To know the lower, we must seek the higher. We cannot be genuinely aware of who we are unless we know who He is.