Today’s devotional is noticeably longer—and for that matter, noticeably ornerier—than usual. If you disagree with my opening views, or at least feel I could be a bit kinder, fine. But bear with me, and try to hear the point behind the point, because the more important issue will be bringing up the rear:
There’s a huge preoccupation in the American church right now with cultural relevance—which, in many cases, could just as easily be read as “being indistinguishable from the rest of the world” and/or “becoming as inoffensive to non-Christians as possible.” To be sure, there are plenty of actions the church needs to repent of, and opinions formed in the light of previous cultural norms that need to be rethought in the light of eternity. But let’s be honest: Much of the incessant handwringing about how Christianity is perceived by those outside it has far more to do with how non-Christians perceive us than how they see Jesus. Thomas Merton said it much better than I could, and more than fifty years earlier:
One of the symptoms of this is precisely the anguished concern to keep up with an ever-changing, complex, and fictitious orthodoxy in taste, in politics, in cult, in belief, in theology and what not, cultivation of the ability to redefine one’s identity day by day in concert with the self-definition of society. “Worldliness” in my mind is typified by this kind of servitude to care and to illusion, this agitation about thinking the right thoughts and wearing the right hats, this crude and shameful concern not with truth but only with vogue. To my mind, the concern of Christians to be in fashion lest they “lose the world” is only another pitiable admission that they have lost it. (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, emphasis mine)
Certainly we’re called to love others regardless how deeply we disagree with their lifestyle or opinions, and just as certainly we’re not called to live in a Christian bubble, sheltered from the rest of the world. However, we’re not called to be relevant or hip or tolerant—we’re called to follow Jesus. That’s it. We only need to be relevant to Jesus. If we’re doing that, Jesus will send us out into his world in the ways he wants us to go. That’s what he does. Any cultural relevance we need will take care of itself, because Jesus will care of it for us—and because we’ve loved those other people enough to see what they really need in their current circumstances.
So, what does my seemingly off-topic rant above have to do with today’s topic of self-consciousness? A lot, actually. If we’ve learned nothing else this week, we’ve learned that a lot of things can trip us up in our walk with Jesus, even when we’re “on our best behavior.” Our insufficiency can overwhelm us. Thus, we often feel as if we have no business talking about Jesus, and that we’re just going to tick people off when we do.
But reflect one more time on the words of 1 Corinthians 1:26–31. Despite all our issues—and arguably because of them—God chose us to be witnesses who would reveal his glory to the world through our weakness. We’re the ones who think we have to be perfect or relevant or inoffensive in order for the gospel to be heard through us. God disagrees—and thankfully he disagreed when he chose you, too. In the words of the late C. Jack Miller, “Cheer up—you’re a lot worse than you think!”
What’s more, the gospel of Jesus Christ is offensive. It declares that we’re all sinners, separated from God, and in need of a Savior. We can’t just skip to “God so loved the world” and ignore our ongoing need to repent—both inside and outside the church. Jesus is faithful to forgive every one of us who are willing to receive his yoke of obedience to him, and his love expressed for us on the cross.
Still, we must also be faithful to Jesus—and because he sends us into the world to be light to it, our faith is going to offend people. Sure, our humanness will sometimes get in the way of the gospel. But if we’re truly sharing in humility, and out of love for both Jesus and the other person, more often than not any offense we cause will come from getting the message right. Many people don’t want to hear the good news, at least initially—and it’s that initial reaction we’re so afraid of. We get so self-conscious about how badly we might screw up—how badly we’re screwed up—that we don’t share our life in Jesus at all. But as we become more conscious of Christ in our lives, we become less conscious of ourselves.
Paul said in Romans 1:16–17: “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Live by faith, then. Trust that when God wants you to speak, the power of the gospel will be there. You are weak. And guess what? In God’s eyes, that makes you uniquely qualified to do his work.
In closing this week, let’s briefly examine Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17 (or better yet, go read the whole thing now and come back when you’re done). Look at what Jesus prays, and what he prays for:
• God has been manifested to us through him (v.6).
• We have been given the truth (v.7–8, 14).
• We belong to Jesus, no matter what, and Jesus is glorified by us (v.9–10).
• We will be hated for belonging to Jesus (v.14).
• We have been sent into the world, and are not to be removed from it (v.15–18).
• Jesus’ prayer is for all who will believe in him through his word (v.20).
• We are to manifest God’s glory, so that the world will know the one who sent us (v.22–23).
• Jesus knows the Father, and because he does, so do we. Not only that, but Jesus will continue to make the Father known to us (v.25–26).
All these things are non-negotiable. Jesus has told us everything we need to know at this moment in our lives, and given us everything we need to carry out his will in this moment. Do you believe that?
We know when God has spoken to us, yet we often lack confidence that this Word of God is truly enough for others. Here’s a test: When placed in a situation when it’s time to share what God’s given you, share that word and only that word. Then—and I say this as respectfully as possible—shut up. Allow God’s Word to work, and get out of the way.
God does not expect us to be perfect. He expects us to listen, and obey. That is enough, and it always has been enough. God has always been in the business of making something out of nothing. So lay down your self-consciousness, give God the opportunity to do what only he can do, and enjoy the front-row seat he’s given you to watch him work.
Lay It Down Today
Actually, you have two assignments today. And yes, both involve opening your mouth:
1) Let’s pick up from our Day 1 assignment. You’ve begun identifying weaknesses you face, and you may well have resonated with this issue of self-consciousness. Who can you trust to share with about this weakness? He or she doesn’t have to be more spiritually mature than you, but if not, the two of you should at least be at a comparable level of spiritual growth. Seek that person out, and commit to meeting on a weekly basis. Pray specifically for one another’s weaknesses, and invite God to reveal his power in the midst of them.
2) OK, so that assignment’s a little scary. This one’s probably scarier: Who needs to hear about what Jesus has done in your life (and can do in theirs)? Push past your self-consciousness. Meet for coffee or lunch and share your story. Don’t anticipate that person’s reaction; trust God to do His work and to give you his peace as you share. If the other person will allow it, close your time in prayer, asking God to meet this person wherever he or she’s at. Keep yourself open to whatever God wants to do with this relationship.