In the previous post, I spoke of the Bible’s audacious claim that human beings are created in the image of God. Whatever progress I make in understanding that statement comes to a screeching halt the moment I take a good look at myself. When I consider God’s others-centered love, the contrast with my deep-rooted self-centeredness hits me like a brick wall. At the suggestion I be like Jesus, I become a small boy on a hike whose path leads straight to the foot of a 300 foot vertical cliff that somehow I must scale.
The first step in beginning the climb is understanding that this sense of utter helplessness comes about precisely because I am created in God’s image! I’m speaking of our ability to step back and think about our circumstances, in this instance to reflect on how far I am from God’s nature. Animals, whose instincts drive them on, can’t do this. We humans, on the other hand, have an amazing power to stop, consider our situation and decide on our course of action. Many men on the Titanic, for example, chose to reject the powerful instinct of self-preservation and allowed women and children to get into the lifeboats while they faced certain death.
The principle of being able to step back from reality and choose our destiny under-girds the entire Bible. Old Testament leaders such as Elijah and Joshua exhort the Israelites to “choose this day” whether they will serve God or not (1Kings 18:21;Jos. 24:15). The prophet, Joel, saw, “multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:14). Billy Graham understood this truth with crystal clarity. Decision became the watchword of his ministry. He had a radio program called Hour of Decision, his magazine was simply called Decision Magazine and, of course, virtually every message he preached climaxed with a call for men and women to decide for Christ.
This incredible power of reflection, however, only reaches its full potential when we combine it with the reality of God’s presence. That is, we can step back from the current situation and reflect, but we can do it in two ways. We can think by ourselves or we can invite God to join us in our deliberations. We can go into abstraction or we can come into relationship. The difference is monumental. Alone, in the hollow halls of my own head, I eventually suffer an anguished emptiness. Reflecting with an upward glance to Jesus, I have better, higher quality ideas which lead to a sense of contented fullness.
The Bible specifically teaches us this principle when, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, God says, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. (Jer 6:16). The crossroads, of course, is the place where we step back and choose which way we will go. The verse gives us two profound insights. Firstly, when we are faced with a decision, rather than merely think about it by ourselves, stop and pray. Ask God what we should do. Think about what he might want us do.
Secondly, ask for the good way. This is the secret for so many who feel they never hear from God. “The Lord’s goodness and mercy endure forever.” To hear God speak, we must understand his language and, simply put, it is love. “God is love.” So ask God, ask yourself, “Where do I see God’s goodness most clearly? What’s the most loving thing I can do in this terrible work situation? How can I show graciousness to this troublesome individual? What career will give me the best opportunity to do good?” It’s surprising then how often we’re inspired by better thoughts than our own.
So every time you’re discouraged by the wall of your own self-centeredness, realize that you’re at a divine place–the crossroads. You have the power to choose! Because you’re like God, you have an opportunity to mold your own destiny. It doesn’t matter how often you seemed to have come up short, “it’s never too late to make a right decision!” You can step back; you can give an upward glance; you can look for the good way and see what God will do!
Back in the late 60s you would often hear people speaking about the need to “find yourself.” An incident involving a friend of mine and a university professor highlighted my desperate need to do just exactly that. We were in the office of my friend’s former professor visiting. After they chatted for a few minutes, the professor turned to me and said, “And so Andrew, who are you?” The question threw me off. In a flippant manner I started to recount my biography, “I attended Riverside Public School in London. . . ,” but after only a few seconds I found a lump of fear in my stomach and I couldn’t speak. My friend and the professor stared at me wondering what was going on. The professor asked, “Do you not like me?” He was befuddled. We all were. “Who are you?” a simple question, but an obvious and painful revelation that I didn’t know.
You may not have an experience as dramatic (or fearful) as me, but have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and wondered who am I? “Where did I come from?” is a natural question for the simple reason that we didn’t make ourselves. More to the point, as a Christian, who do you conceive yourself to be? What do you feel yourself to be? Are you a glorious being created in the image of God or a sinner saved by grace?
The question is of the utmost practical importance for we will never grow beyond the vision we have of ourselves. Let me illustrate with a story. A Wisconsin farmer walking early in the season in his pumpkin patch sees a bottle lying on the ground. He carefully inserts one of the tiny, young pumpkins into the bottle so as to not damage the vine and puts it back on the ground. In the fall when he returns he finds the pumpkin is no bigger than the bottle which it has perfectly filled.
If all we conceive ourselves to be is a “sinner saved by grace,” that’s all we’ll ever be. Too often we focus on the negative side of our beings because we’re all too aware of our shortcomings, “the carnal self.” However, there is an older, original self that pulsates with the heartbeat of God. We were born in sin, that is, in some mysterious sense we were “in Adam” when he sinned. However, the whole truth is that we were also “in him” when he was created a glorious being! Your true self, at the core, is full of wonder, the very reflection of the divine!
The Gospel message proclaims that because of what Jesus has done, we can now consider the old self yesterday’s news (Rom. 6:11). The only thing that matters anymore is the new glorious self (Gal. 6:15) which is in fact God’s original!
May we keep in mind these powerful and beautiful words from Max Lucado, “Your life emerged from the greatest mind and kindest heart in the history of the universe.”