Tonight, during Woodside Student Ministries, we did something a little different. Instead of me teaching for a half hour, I invited four of our leaders to the stage and had the students write down a few meaningful questions they would love to have answered by our team. It was a great night- and many of the questions were fantastic.
But one question in particular brought about an interesting response. The question that was posed was this: “what was the most significant event in your life.” The responses ranged from everything like “put my faith in Jesus as my savior” to “had a lunch with my relative where the conversation changed my whole perspective on life.”
After everyone had shared, one leader made a particularly astute observation. She noted that each of the events that had most significantly changed their lives were moments that changed their perspective from being on themselves to being on God or others around them.
That insight really floored me. It was not only true, it was a great, concrete, way to help everyone realize a crucial ingredient in really leaning into a life of godliness. We need to change our perspective from focusing on ourselves, to focusing on God and then others. But I had to ask a follow-up question to the panel: how do we do that? How could these students, how could we manufacture a change in our perspective?
That is no easy question to answer. Especially because, in my experience as a human being (and particularly as a selfish, misplaced-identity, slave to the opinions of others kinda human being), focusing on ourselves means placing too great a value on how others view us and therefore needing to prove ourselves. It’s an ugly game that I played very well for much of my life and still battle today. In my life it meant being guarded, cynical, fake, sarcastic, and (at least attempted) suave instead of being open, encouraging, authentic, genuine, and-ultimately- myself. It showed a misplaced identity- but even more dangerous- an incomplete gospel.
It’s the difference between a welcoming wave and warm smile compared to a stylish nod with a “wanna find out about how interesting I am?” conversation starter. It’s the difference between laughing off your corny mistakes and flaws verses fighting for everyone to acknowledge how legitimate you are. And it’s the difference between focusing your perspective in life on YOU verses focusing on who God is + what He has done.
This is a life changing difference. This is a “most influential moment in my life” kinda deal.
I was reading a blog on pastoral ministry this weekend and two of the points on “liberating truths for those who pastor” spoke specifically to this area. Let me share them with you- just change the intended audience from those who are working as pastors to fit whatever sphere of life you are- student, father, employee, friend…
GOD IS GLORIOUS, SO WE DO NOT HAVE TO FEAR OTHERS.
Effects of a faithless response. If we fear people more than we fear God, then we might be reluctant to speak the truth. We will not confront people because we are worried they might dislike us or reject us. We might avoid difficult decisions to prevent upsetting people. Or we might second guess what people are thinking, because we are trying to anticipate what will please them. In discussions a fearful person will often glance at others to gauge their reaction.
Or we might treat sin not in relation to a holy God but in terms of what others think of it. In other words, respectability will matter more than holiness. We will treat public sins more seriously than other sins because we are driven by people’s opinions.
Only when the glory of God sets us free from the fear of man can we serve others in love.
Another potential symptom is that we gravitate toward activities that are up front. If our goal in ministry is to be admired, people’s opinions will matter more than God’s opinion. We become a slave to praise. Or there is a gap between our public and private persona. The holiness that matters to us is public holiness.
Effects of faithful response. If we believe God is glorious and that he is to be feared, then we will not be controlled by other people. Only then, in fact, are we truly free to serve them in love. When we are controlled by the opinions of others, we do for them so we can win their good opinion. Our actions are self-serving. Our aim is a good reputation. Only when the glory of God sets us free from the fear of man can we serve others in love. Then we are free to speak the truth people need to hear, not what they want to hear, and we ourselves can be vulnerable before others, rejoicing in God’s vindication or justification.
GOD IS GRACIOUS, SO WE DO NOT HAVE TO PROVE OURSELVES.
Effects of a faithless response. We might find our identity in ministry rather than in Christ and so overwork or make others guilty through our high expectations. Or we might envy others whose ministry is more successful or take pride in our success. We ourselves will take criticism badly, being defensive or defeated, because our identity is tied up in our achievements and not in Christ’s achievements on our behalf. There is a danger that our lives can become so busy and stressed because we are trying to prove ourselves that we do not model good news to people.
If our goal in ministry is to be admired, people’s opinions will matter more than God’s opinion.
We will be functional legalists who think behavior matters more than motives, who want to avoid mess in favor of respectability, or who condemn those who do not measure up. We will impose a set of expectations on other people that wear them down under the weight of joyless duty. If we do not believe God is gracious, then we will not want our sins to be exposed, so we may not ask people hard questions about their spiritual life for fear of being asked in return.
Effects of a faithful response. If we rest on the grace of God and find our identity in Christ, then our lives and ministry will be characterized by peace and rest, joy and freedom, confidence and humility, compassion and kindness. We will not rejoice when others fail. Our concern will be to bless rather than to impress. We will not need the affirmation of other people, and we will be free from the need to defend ourselves. There will be a transparency and vulnerability about our lives because we do not feel the need to hide our sin. We will create a context in which other people feel able to share their struggles.
I love the style that this was written with- including the effects of a life lived in belief in the truth juxtaposed with one that does not wholeheartedly believe… it just brings to light the power behind these core principles: God IS glorious- and we must live in fear and honor of HIM- not others! God IS gracious- the gospel changes the very heart of how we live. That last paragraph is just so poignant. If we rest, focus, on the gospel’s truth in our life we can be people with freedom, confidence, humility, compassion, and complete kindness. Gone is the need to impress, look good, prove we are competent. We don’t need others to affirm us or respect us.
I believe that if I would live in the grasping of these two concepts- my focus would be forever changed.
What about you? Where is your focus- yourself? In what ways does your failure to believe God is ultimately glorious and gracious end up surfacing? What will you do the next time you start to feel the grip of that?
If you’re interested in reading all of the article I quoted by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, you can find it here: http://theresurgence.com/2012/11/07/4-liberating-truths-for-those-who-pastor?