The gospel is a paradox in many a sense, and here is but one dramatic example. There is a strength we rely on that is a key disadvantage. This is the bad news that runs cross grain to the good news. But we are to be assured, the good news is always good news. The good news is God doesn’t need us strong.
Here is a key question our lives-by-our-choices answer every moment:
Where do we place our reliance?
This is our greatest problem. We place our reliance on anything but God. It’s our human undertaking, our default, driven by our sinful nature.
Christians are past masters at trusting in every little Christian thing — including the church — in favour of trusting God. Traditional forms of reliance other than God are popularity, status, reputation, assets, money, personality, eloquence in prayer, the influence we have, our Christianese, how wise we are, the ‘goals’ we have kicked for Jesus, and the friends we have in high or strategic places. The list is inexhaustible. Reliance on any of these is futility.
For pastors, it’s the churches we have pastored, our skills in communications/preaching/pastoral care, the Christian personalities we know, our networks, our biblical and theological prowess (knowledge puffs up!), the converts and baptisms and members we have notched into our belt, the books we own, have read or have written, the weddings and funerals we have performed. Again, the list is inexhaustible. Reliance on any of these is futility.
The salvation of Jesus is no good to us if we don’t trust Him. And we must trust Him continually. Sure, we may be saved, but Jesus also saves us from our idols of reliance on things other than Him. We need Jesus all the time.
What is the character of this strength that bears itself as spiritual disadvantage? Exclusivity and exclusion is weakness whilst being excluded while being inclusive is real spiritual strength; i.e. being disadvantaged is an advantage in the Kingdom of God. Set yourself apart as elite and it thwarts you. Claim anything as your prize and the prize in heaven vanishes. Prove you know this or that and you claim your worthless vice as a prize. It is a poor choice indeed to select what humanity values, which is temporary, over what God values, which is eternal.
But we do this kind of spiritual posturing all the time.
Now, about loss…
We should never besmirch the reality of loss that casts us deep into God-reliance.
But we do. It is understandable. We rail against it. Until we are broken enough.
Indeed, loss heaves us into the blustering waves of grief so frequently, day after harrowing day I mean, we have many opportunities to learn the same thing, the same lesson. That is the purpose of loss; it teaches us what we cannot learn otherwise — that God is great and awesome, that life is beyond our control, and these two facts in unison are a banquet of truth for our hearts to absorb. It’s going to take time. It must. These are horrendous truths to absorb for any human being.
Loss is designed to break the chains of our reliance on everything that does not work. We soon realise these appendages don’t work. So we reach higher, recognising that it is God alone who can and does help. Still it takes time to realise this and practice it.
What we must realise in loss is that we must lose everything we value first before we can truly value God. Is this any black-n-white reality? No, there are shades of grey. I mean, who loses everything? But we can feel as if we’re losing it all.
What we cannot understand here on earth is a rich possession sown up in heaven. This is what we must believe to work out our faith. Experience earth-shattering loss, endure that cavernously awkward space, and our reward will not be taken from us.
Heaven help us when we are so well equipped to rely on others or anything apart from God.
As soon as we do recover from loss, and that is usually a process of years, we end up retreating into the same disadvantage as long ago — our strength lying, again, in the things of the world.
Lord, be merciful enough to take away every scaffold of dependence on any other thing than You!
Do I live this, myself personally? Not enough. Not nearly enough.
So, help me, Lord Jesus, to identify these idols of reliance in my life and rid myself of them, one moment and one iteration at a time.
The beatitudes of Jesus reveal His upside-down kingdom. Strength in the world’s terms is disadvantage in His kingdom. Being happily weak shows great strength. Just don’t expect the world to understand. We, ourselves, do not understand, unless by faith we choose to see as Jesus sees.