Thursday, March 06, 2014

Why you may need to stop working for God

I can't get this conversation out of my head. It's from Matthew, chapter 16 and my Bible study touched on it a couple weeks ago. Here's my paraphrase.

Jesus: Who do people say I am?
Peter (still Simon at this point): Well, some people say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, some say a prophet...
Jesus: Actually, what I'm more interested in is who YOU say that I am.
Peter: You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.
Jesus: Yep, and you're blessed to know this. God in heaven is the one who has revealed this to you. And now, I'm renaming you Peter which means 'rock'. I'm going to use you to build my church and you'll have great power to release my will on this earth.

There is a specific order here that I keep pondering. Look at these four steps:

1. Jesus presses Peter for a choice.
2. Peter correctly identifies Jesus.
3. Jesus redefines who Peter is (literally renaming him).
4. Jesus gives him a mission and purpose.

Here's what I'm learning, a confirmation of something said at church a few weeks ago:

God will never tell you what to do before He tells you who you are.

If you let it sink it, it's a radical statement. It rubs against our very performance-oriented natures. Our instinct is to see our religion, our righteousness as defined by doing, effort, productivity. We are great at working for God, secretly believing we are earning something from Him. That's just what makes sense to us. We believe that the Bible is a book of rules and our biggest job is to follow them.

And even more, we are so quick to ask Him to give us a mission and a purpose before we have ever listened to Him tell us who we are. I have prayed countless times for Him to increase my ministry or bless my mothering or use me in "divine appointments" regularly. But I don't think I've ever once prayed for Him to tell me who I am. I don't remember the last time I asked God to show me what He sees in me, to root my identity more deeply in Him and His view of me.

I guess it's because I think I know who I am already. I'm not aware of how badly I need Jesus to redefine me. The attitude reminds me of my children, how they feel quite certain they are already complete. I know in my brain that I'm not complete. Yet I am never aware of struggling with identity.

Peter doesn't ask either. Jesus just gives, because He sees his need to be redefined. He sees the lies to which we grip that mar our identities. He sees exactly how to prune our false beliefs about ourselves. I would bet a dollar that Peter felt weak, ineffective, and insubstantial, and so Jesus calls him ROCK, a name to shock awake and demolish the misconceptions Peter held inside.  

I think, too, of the woman caught in adultery (from John 8). She is literally dragged through the streets and no doubt called horrible names by the community and her accusers. Whore. Slut. Witch. Temptress. I'm sure the culture back then had a whole host of curse words to describe a woman such as she. But Jesus, this unexpected Savior, follows the same pattern as with Peter: redefinition followed by instruction.

He asks her where her accusers are (after He convicts them of their own sin and causes them to leave), and says, "Aren't any of them going to condemn you?" When she says, "No, Lord," he replies, "And neither do I. Go and sin no more."

While she is probably covered in more lewd names than actual clothing, Jesus breaks in and does not even address her bad choices until He makes it clear how He sees her. In so many words, He calls her Accepted. Forgiven. Loved. And only then does he address her behavior.

So why do we expect Jesus to call us out as soon as we make a mistake? Why do we think He is primarily concerned with our behavior modification? Perhaps because WE are primarily concerned with it. And we so miss the point.

Jesus seems to care much more about whether our identities are grounded in Him. If they're not, He goes there first, way before He gives us a mission or tells us to go to work for him.

It seems to me that fear and anxiety are excellent indicators of a shaky identity. We absolutely cannot be strong in identity and be gripped with fear and anxiety at the same time. That's why I John 4:18 says, "Perfect love casts out all fear." When we understand our incredible value to God and know His love, that kind of fear will not hang around. It can't.

Where is your identity right now? Wait, you probably don't know. I don't, really, either. But I do try to listen and be aware of the signs that I'm not grounded in Him.

If you struggle with fear and anxiety regularly, then you may need to stop trying to perform for God and start listening instead. He will not give you a job to do or a behavior to correct until He tells you who you are, and until you are settled in being redefined by your Creator. Friends, it is not the other way around; we do not have to shape up or work harder before Jesus claims us as His and sees our worth. That you grasp your own inherent worth is so much more precious to God than your labor or your efforts to prove something to Him.

Real, Christ-centered identity is found in the undoing. The stopping. The listening. No one can rename us but Jesus. And somehow, that new name He gives - the one that shocks awake the lies - washes away every other name we've ever been given.  



  1. Love this. It's something I really needed to hear. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Loved every part of this! Gosh, why does identity have to be such a struggle?! I often think that I have a good sense of it but the fact that I'm flailing around on the 'works' side of things is a pretty good indicator that I don't truly have it figured out.

  3. Wow - this is so good! I never thought about asking God who I am. I just assume things about my identity and hit the ground running. This makes so much sense and gives me a lot to pray over. Thank you for sharing this!

  4. This is great! I may need to come back and read it again. A few times :)