go it alone

Could you?

When he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. -Paul, Galatians 1:15-17

There is a duality in Jesus’ calling. It is to us as a body, as a group, to follow him together as partners and “members” of one another. We remember what Paul said:

For the body does not consist of one member but of many… God arranged the members in the body, each of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 1 Corinthians 12:14, 18-20

Every Christian, therefore, must think of him- or herself as one small part of a larger collective; one citizen in God’s nation, one child in God’s family, one part of Christ’s body. We must pray to our Father in heaven, sharing him between us. No Christian is an island, and God forbids that we attempt it.

Jesus calls to us as a group, but as individuals as well. Paul said that when God first called him, he “did not immediately consult with anyone”–he heard the Lord’s voice speaking to him alone, finding himself terrifyingly alone with the Lord. When Jesus appeared to him in the vision that would define his life, although several friends accompanied him, only Paul could see Jesus clearly (Acts 9:7) and understand the words he spoke (Acts 22:9). He was alone.

“Are we alone with Him now, or are we taken up with little fussy notions, fussy comradeships in God’s service, fussy ideas about our bodies? Jesus can expound nothing until we get through all the noisy questions of the head and are alone with Him.” -Oswald Chambers, “My Utmost For His Highest”

Right now, I am in a stage of life in which many of my peers and closest friends are moving away from the apparently endless possibilities of affluent youth and into commitments which are marking out the territories of their futures. For me, it’s bittersweet. They are not following divinely inspired plans or timelines that God dropped out of heaven, but they are bravely following God’s leading as well as they can. That’s the sweet part. As I try to do the same thing, listening to Jesus calling me in my aloneness with him, I see him leading me away from them and the lives they are beginning to build. He forces me to ask myself if I am willing to go it alone with no one from my past, with only his voice calling out from a few paces ahead.

A romanticized sense of adventure is well and good for those few who can afford to pursue it. But it is not good enough to sustainably change the course of a life or separate an individual from the tribe. Only the all-constraining voice of Christ is good enough for that, when he speaks to you alone and you can’t mistake his intended audience as anyone but yourself.

When that happens, no one can help you. Don’t bother consulting with anyone else, at first, or going to those who heard that same voice before you. First you must go to Christ–not to the capital but to the desert, not to the congregation but to the prayer closet. Can you be alone with him? Find that out before you find out anything else. If you can, nothing can touch you. No change will destroy you and no loss will remove anything from you. You are invincible in Christ.

I think that’s at least part of what Jesus was getting at when he said:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26-27

From that utter solitude with himself, the Lord leads us back to the crowd, back to the interdependent Church as it should be. Now we are fully his; now we are fully open to his sending; now we are fully free from fear, because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

a higher calling

I am so sick of our self-absorbed culture – and of my own self-absorbed heart.

If you could identify one theme of contemporary Christian music, what would it be? My guess is that it would be something like this: “God loves you. You are beautiful and important to him. Don’t feel alone or dejected, just know that you are loved.”

Are these good, true words that Christians need to hear? Often? Absolutely. “Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you” (Psalm 63:3). Let’s revel in how much our Lord loves us, every day.

There is a subtle but significant difference between reveling in the love of God and constantly dwelling on our importance in his eyes, however. The love of God is comforting and encouraging, absolutely. It is also exacting, demanding, awe-inspiring, and shocking. If talking or singing about God’s love leaves us primarily feeling more important and more esteemed by God than we did before, we have missed the point. God’s love cuts us down before it builds us up, it shakes us out of our self-aggrandizing notions of ourselves before it soothes our souls.

“Self-esteem” has been a buzzword in American culture for decades. Lately, some have said that its preeminence in pop psychology will soon end, giving way to some other yet unknown trend. We know, though, that “nothing is new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Every revolutionary idea is simply another expression of the basics of human nature: we all want to be loved, and to feel significant and valuable, and we are all obsessed with ourselves.

The God of the Bible is a God who desires for the people he created to esteem him highly, not themselves. When their view of themselves is big and appreciative and devoted but their view of him is small and uninterested and neglected – understand the absurdity there – his jealousy for his own glory is aroused. God thunders in anger when we rob him of the glory that belongs only to him. Glory-stealing is the primeval sin, the root of evil, the explanation of all wickedness, and it is all too present in our churches, in our thoughts about God, and in my heart.

If our view of God is small, our view of sin will be small, too, as will our view of the love and grace demonstrated at Christ’s cross. These things go hand in hand. A person, church, or songwriter whose God is too small, and to whom sin seems unimportant or irrelevant, will never know “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18) and will never sincerely exclaim “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33) The Bible teaches of a divine love that is holy and avenging and tyrannical and more intensely beautiful than love found anywhere else. C. S. Lewis said this, in his “The Problem of Pain,” quoted in the CCEF book “How People Change”:

In awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of His love. You asked for a loving God; you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the “lord of terrible aspect,” is present; not senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, not the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes…It is certainly a burden of glory not only beyond our deserts but also, except in rare moments of grace, beyond our desiring.
Have you caught a glimpse of what it is to be obsessed with God’s glory, rather than obsessed with yourself? There is no higher calling. There is no greater joy, or more radical freedom. There is, in fact, no other option for anyone who desires to stop kidding themselves. Healing, restoration, recovery, and all the things we love to sing about do not come when we treat God like a cuddly therapist whose primary concern is our comfort, but when we treat him like the good, righteous, terrible, loving King of the universe that he is.
Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name goes all the glory for your unfailing love and faithfulness. Psalm 115:1
What do you think?