From ego to awe

Developmentally, we are designed to move from ego to awe.

In our most immature state, our task is to figure out who we are as separate beings from our mothers. Our mental time is spent understanding our autonomy, which makes us highly self-conscious. As we develop, we move from self-consciousness to simple self-awareness — understanding our place within the context around us. From there we move to awareness, thinking less of self and more of our surroundings. At our most mature, we are self-forgetful as we practice the gift of awe — seeing the holy in and around every situation. From this place of awe — of worship — we have the most to offer the world.*

This is a map of spiritual maturity. This process of moving from self-consciousness to awareness of the world around us to a holy awareness of God’s presence is what Methodists might call sanctification. It is the process of “holy-fying” our thoughts and of becoming more intimately connected to God as we see him exposed in the world. He becomes our focus.

Of course, we don’t move in clean lines from immaturity to maturity. We all know adults who still relate to the world from a very self-conscious place — constantly self-referencing in conversations and tagging every moment with an internal question: “What’s in it for me?” This is the consumer’s question. “Where is God?” is the question of a giver — one who is other-focused. To advance from self-consciousness to worship requires to us to move from “What’s in it for me?” to “Where is God?” And this is a move many of us desperately need to make.

Our culture has trained us to be consumers. We tend to look at everything, even worship, as a “what’s in it for me?” proposition. The lie of this world is that we can consume our way to significance, but the truth is that material consumption only creates more emptiness. That question, “What’s in it for me?” only makes us want more.

Meanwhile, worship (or holy awe) leads to fulfillment. When we go vertical, we find life, even abundant life, according to Jesus (John 10:10). Tish Warren references the “abundant economy of worship.” It is the idea that worship is the one thing that never runs out. Start with everything else, and worship will get our leftovers. Start with worship and it will overflow and fill everything else with meaning and significance.

Worship asks one thing of us: It asks us to move from ego to awe. The pay-off for that shift is a life of abundance, a life overflowing in fullness and fruitfulness. When I make this shift from ego to awe — and only when I make this shift — I am rightly postured for the work of witnessing. David paints this poetically in Psalm 96. He begins this majestic hymn with worship: “Sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, praise his name! Proclaim his salvation from day to day!”

David begins with worship before calling the reader in verse three to declare God’s glory — the same glory we’ve just personally experienced — to the nations. David teaches us that if we want to find God’s heart for the lost, we must begin by developing our own holy awe. We must see the glory for ourselves first. He calls us upward, inviting us to become so overwhelmed by the things of God that we can’t help but want to proclaim them among the nations.

When we cultivate a holy awe, our witness will flow out of our worship.

Steven Cole quotes John Piper, who begins one of his books on missions by saying, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man … The goal of missions is the gladness of the people in the greatness of God.”

Cole says worship is not just the goal of missions, but the basis for it. He says, “If we are not fervent worshipers of God, we have nothing to tell the nations. If we do not exude joy in God and His wonderful salvation, why should lost people be interested in what we have to say? So worship is both the goal of missions and the foundation for missions. If we’re not worshipers, we will be lousy witnesses.”

The rhythm of Psalm 96 moves us between worship and witness. Our worship propels us out “to the nations,” to places hungering to worship the one, true God. When we get there, we proclaim His glory and our witness inspires others to worship our God. And the rhythm continues. Worship leads to witness leads to worship. Holy rhythm.

All this is to say: Missions and evangelism are not a function of self-fulfillment or empathy. They don’t exist to satisfy our own deep longings (“What’s in it for me?”) or because we have connected with the suffering of others (“What is around me?”).

Missions and evangelism exist as the overflow of hearts engaged in the holy awe of a glorious God who is worthy to be praised.

What if you spent today practicing holy awe, forgetful of self and searching in every situation for the glory of God?

 

*I learned this from Dr. Marilyn Elliott, Vice-President of Community Formation at Asbury Theological Seminary.

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Grow Up, People.

” … speaking the truth in love,
we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ …” – Ephesians 4:15

This line in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus should come with sound effects, like a siren or an alarm. Something to warn you it’s coming so you can duck. This line is a revolution in twenty-one words. A trumpet blast announcing the charge on my immaturity and yours.

Speak truth in love, Paul says, like anyone even knows what that means any more. We’ve become so used to spin, which is incredibly detrimental to real community. We’ve learned to couch everything for personal gain, so that the norm for public discourse is much more argument than advocacy. More about my own provision and protection than the common good.

So much public discourse in this season is flatly immature and appeals to the most childish side of us. It appeals to our fears and encourages emotional reaction. It goads us into personal attacks and stifles the prophetic voice. Meanwhile, real truth wrapped in real love requires real trust and real maturity. Does Paul not get that?

Do I?

Grow up in every way, he presses. Every way. Not just the convenient ways — the places where it is more fun to be of age than not — but in every way. In speech and silence, in public and private, in submission and responsibility. In love, power and self-discipline. Maybe especially self-discipline.

In other words, Paul counsels, act like adults. Which flies in the face of so much that comes at us from every other direction. We’re encouraged to pander to our inner child, to coddle his or her pain beyond good sense, to keep putting Spiderman band-aids on gaping childhood wounds so we never actually have to heal. We are encouraged to a state of arrested development, spending far more time accommodating the child we used to be than encouraging the adult we can become.

It is time to grow up, Paul says. Heal. Move on. We will never get to the richness that is the good life if we never challenge ourselves to maturity.

In Peter Scazzero’s book, The Emotionally Healthy Church, he talks about how common it is to find immaturity in leadership, so that we’ve learned to accept that:

  • You can be a dynamic gifted speaker for God in public and be an unloving spouse and parent at home.
  • You can function as a church council member or pastor and be unreachable, insecure, and defensive.
  • You can memorize entire books of the New Testament and still be unaware of your depression and anger, even displacing it on other people.
  • You can fast and pray a half-day each week, for years as a spiritual discipline and constantly be critical of others, justifying it as a discernment.
  • You can lead hundreds of people in a Christian ministry while driven by a deep personal need to compensate for a nagging sense of failure.
  • You can be outwardly cooperative at church but unconsciously try to undercut or defeat your supervisor by coming habitually late, constantly forgetting meetings, withdrawing and becoming apathetic, or ignoring the real issue behind why you are hurt and angry.

Scazzero says we’ve come to expect these things in the community of Jesus. We’ve normalized the unhealthy. In fact, in his rants about spiritual leadership in the first century, Jesus himself called these very behaviors roadblocks to God’s Kingdom (see Matthew 23:13).

That’s quite a charge. A roadblock that stops my growth is bad enough, but roadblocks are not discerning. What I’ve done to block my own growth may end up blocking the spiritual maturing of others. My refusal to grow up in every way into Him, who is my Head, can actually stunt or stop the growth of the people around me. Which is no small matter. How selfish would I have to be in order to allow that?

Don’t glide too quickly past this truth: When I refuse growth in myself, I deny growth in others. This may well be a key not only to unlocking your own way forward, but also to finding more wholesome, productive place within the community of faith.

Who knew that growing up could be such a revolutionary act?

What evidence do the people closest to you have that there is actually an adult living in your adult-sized body? What evidence do your Facebook friends have that you’re a mature follower of Jesus? What would you have to relinquish in order to grow up in every way into Him, who is your Head?

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Curing pride (or, what makes us real)

Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real. — Thomas Merton

Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. — Ephesians 2:8-10 (The Message)

Humility is the antidote to pride. It is the primary character trait of Jesus’ own personality.

Humility manifests as self acceptance, which is the opposite of self centeredness. At its highest and best, self acceptance is a kind of personal forgetfulness that is more focused on others than self. It is not the same as humiliation and doesn’t look like self-deprecation, both of which are still focused negatively on self.

A person practicing humility has no need for self-protection because the preservation of self is not the dire need. When I am at peace with who I am — when I accept myself as I am — I no longer fear losing my identity (I won’t, in fact, because my identity is safe in Christ), nor am I obsessed with constructing my own identity. I accept that it is what it is and I am not ashamed of it nor protective of it.

Self-acceptance creates a posture that points toward God. Because I am not my focus, I have the time, luxury and room to focus on God. What a glorious release! What a sweet posture!

Do you remember what we said early on in the post about pride? We said that we tend to feel threatened when our sense of self is weak. No wonder Jesus calls us to find our identity in him! Knowing who and whose we are and being confident in that fact becomes a critical piece linking us to humility.

Jesus’ antidote for pride or self hatred comes as a three-part formula:

Deny your SELF. The key word here is not denial so much as self. This is about focus. One of our team members says that in her studies, she has learned that “to deny myself means to deny my own lordship.  My focus moves from me to Jesus. It doesn’t mean to deny my feelings, happiness, or sense of worth.  And to be honest, if I don’t find happiness, worth, and joy in following Jesus, then I’m doing it wrong.”

To deny self is to deny its survival the power to control my responses to life. But don’t I want my “self” to survive? Of course, but I’m not the one who can make that happen. Ultimately, that is God’s job. “Saving is all his idea, and all his work.” My worst responses will be at the point of my believing that I am the one responsible for my own salvation and identity.

Take up your cross. This means taking responsibility for this life as it is. This invitation to take up my cross and die to self is actually a lavish and attractive invitation. It is an invitation to learn how to “adult,” which flies in the face of so much that comes at us from every other direction. Our culture encourages us to pander to our inner child, to coddle his or her pain beyond good sense, to keep putting Spiderman band-aids on gaping childhood wounds so we never actually have to heal.  We are encouraged to spend far more time accommodating (protecting, hiding) the child we used to be than encouraging the adult we can become.

This is an invitation not to meaningless suffering but to take on the challenge of growing into everything we are created to be. We will never get to the richness that is the good life if we never challenge ourselves to maturity.

Taking up a cross is a call to the good life.

“Follow me.” Not focusing on self is only half the equation. In his sentence (“follow me”), both words matter but the first is dependent on the second. I can’t follow Jesus if I’m not focused on Jesus. However, when I focus on Jesus, he gives me my sense of identity. It is rooted in him and he is goodness and light and truth and life. When his identity becomes mine, I will naturally accept myself. This isn’t self-glorification; this is Christ-glorification. Christ in me is my hope of glory (Colossians 1:27)! Hallelujah!

Where do I begin if I want to move forward in my sense of self identity and acceptance?

Allow these questions to jump-start a conversation with the Holy Spirit about where the gaps are in your spiritual maturity and where you might begin if you are ready to move forward:

  1. Listen for how often you talk about yourself and the language you use. Do you tend to be defensive or self-promoting?
  2. Listen for how you defend yourself, and how often. What are your triggers?
  3. Listen to the internal conversations you have. Around whom are they centered?
  4. Observe how you listen to others. How much of the time is spent waiting for them to stop talking so you can begin? How focused are you on the other person, and how focused are you on yourself?
  5. Listen for that interior voice of judgment. How much of your thought life is spent exercising the habit of externalization of blame?
  6. Listen to your prayer life. How much time is spent complaining? How truthful are you with God? How much time is spent listening?
  7. Have you learned how to repent without humiliating yourself? Does your habit of repentance reveal a healthy understanding of the character of a loving God?
  8. How much of your prayer life is spent listening for God’s voice? How much time is spent journaling what you hear? Are you honestly interested in learning and growing in grace?
  9. When is the last time you allowed others to honestly share with you what they see in you, for the sake of your own spiritual, emotional and vocational improvement? How do you approach evaluation — as a threat, or as a tool for renewal?
  10. How much time to you spend gazing on the face of Christ?

Remember: there is no shame in Christ. The more transparent we are with ourselves and Christ, the more likely we are to find healing in his wings.

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Grow up.

” … speaking the truth in love,
we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head,
into Christ …” – Ephesians 4:15

This line in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus should come with sound effects, like a siren or an alarm. Something to warn you it’s coming, so you can duck. This line is a revolution in twenty-one words. A trumpet blast announcing the charge on my immaturity and yours.

Speak truth in love, Paul says, like anyone even knows what that means any more. We’ve become so used to spin, which is incredibly detrimental to real community. We’ve learned to couch everything for personal gain, so that the norm for public discourse is much more argument than advocacy. More about my own provision and protection than the common good. Meanwhile, real truth wrapped in real love requires real trust. Does Paul not get that?

Do I?

Grow up in every way, he presses. Every way. Not just the convenient ways — the places where it is more fun to be of age than not — but in every way. In speech and silence, in public and private, in submission and responsibility. In love, power and self-discipline. Maybe especially self-discipline.

In other words, Paul counsels, act like adults. Which flies in the face of so much that comes at us from every other direction. We’re encouraged to pander to our inner child, to coddle his or her pain beyond good sense, to keep putting Spiderman band-aids on gaping childhood wounds so we never actually have to heal. We are encouraged to a state of arrested development, spending far more time accommodating the child we used to be than encouraging the adult we can become.merry-go-round

It is time to grow up, Paul says. Heal. Move on. We will never get to the richness that is the good life if we never challenge ourselves to maturity.

In Peter Scazzero’s book, The Emotionally Healthy Church, he talks about how common it is to find immaturity in leadership, so that we’ve learned to accept that:

  • You can be a dynamic gifted speaker for God in public and be an unloving spouse and parent at home.
  • You can function as a church council member or pastor and be unreachable, insecure, and defensive.
  • You can memorize entire books of the New Testament and still be unaware of your depression and anger, even displacing it on other people.
  • You can fast and pray a half-day each week for years as a spiritual discipline and constantly be critical of others, justifying it as discernment.
  • You can lead hundreds of people in a Christian ministry while driven by a deep personal need to compensate for a nagging sense of failure.
  • You can pray for deliverance from the demonic realm when in reality you are simply avoiding conflict, repeating an unhealthy pattern of behavior traced back to the home in which you grew up.
  • You can be outwardly cooperative at church but unconsciously try to undercut or defeat your supervisor by coming in habitually late, constantly forgetting meetings, withdrawing and becoming apathetic, or ignoring the real issue behind why you are hurt and angry.

Scazzero says we’ve come to expect these things in the community of Jesus. We’ve normalized the unhealthy. In fact, in his rants about spiritual leadership in the first century, Jesus himself called these very behaviors roadblocks to God’s Kingdom (see Matthew 23:13, The Message).

That’s quite a charge. A roadblock that stops my growth is bad enough, but roadblocks are not discerning. What I’ve done to block my own growth may end up blocking the spiritual maturing of others. My refusal to grow up in every way into Him, who is my Head, can actually stunt or stop the growth of the people around me. Which is no small matter. How selfish would I have to be in order to allow that?

Don’t glide too quickly past this truth: When I refuse growth in myself, I deny growth in others. This may well be a key not only to unlocking your own way forward, but also to finding a more wholesome, productive place within the community of faith.

Who knew that growing up could be such a revolutionary act?

What evidence do the people closest to you have that there is actually an adult living in your adult-sized body? What would you have to relinquish in order to grow up in every way into Him, who is your Head?

 

(This post first appeared in August, 2014. I’m inspired to publish it again today after a beautiful time of worship in which we prayed for all our mission partners.  I am inspired today to stretch toward God’s highest and best version of myself.  May you be inspired likewise.)

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