Identification with Christ

One of the things I feel being lead into at the moment, in my walking with God, is the theme of identification with Christ. I feel I have only scratched the surface and so this post won’t do justice to the work I think God wants to do in me.

It was a couple of weeks back when I started reading New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. In it he talks about ‘contemplation’ as this mysterious state where it is no longer ‘I’ who live but Christ who lives in me.

My heart throbbed upon reading that.

I’m only a couple of chapters into Merton’s book and still have a lot to learn (it’s one of my slow reflective reads).

And then I was on a walk recently, listening to an audiobook by Watchman Nee ‘The Spiritual Man’. Which had been recommended by a man whose walk with God captivated me in my teenage years. He’d recommended this book to me years back, and I’ve tried on multiple occasions to read the book. And I never made it through the first third.

Not finishing a book is really really weird for me! I usually read over 52 books each year. Most books I start, even if they’re really bad, I finish! And yet, it’s been at least five years since I was recommended the ‘Spiritual Man’. I’d bought myself the paperback, and failed to finish several times, got the audiobook and failed to finish.

But here I am, in a season of my life where I feel God is nudging me towards praying about this theme. To experience and know-deeply, the truth that my ‘self’ is hidden in Christ. And I (almost) randomly put this audiobook on, to accompany my walk one day. It ‘picks up where I left off’ and… BAM!

He’s talking about it too! Living by the Spirit and not by the flesh. Living by the regenerated, new nature and not by the ‘soulish’ intellect, emotions and volition.

It makes me think that God’s been preparing me for this season to teach me something new. Maybe it will sink in this time.

I’m a little nervous, it feels like I’ve got some ‘dying to self’ to do. And I’m scared. What will I have to give up. What will I have to lose. Can I really go on without looking back?

My hope is that God who has started this work in me will lead me through it. I remind myself that my God is good, He cares for me and loves me. Where He asks me to die, I must trust that He will raise renewed.

Anyway, here’s a slightly less coherent blog post than usual. Just what’s going on in my walk with God.

BRT – 1 Corinthians

I love this book so much! There were four things to pick this week. One of them will be a really short blog post later this week (or at least that’s the plan), because it came up last year.

  1. 9.24-27…This one fits in very well with another post I made earlier, and a theme I have been thinking about for a while (without any real answers) the tension between making every effort and doing everything in God’s strength. In this passage Paul talks about “strict training” and “striking a blow to my body”. How good Godly discipline is to our maturity. Lord please help me understand what it means to do this in a way that doesn’t lead to pride, but allows You shine brighter through me. 
  2. 15.10 “By  the Grace of God I am what I am…” This verse later goes on to talk about working hard but that work being God’s grace! But it was this line in particular that stood out. Paul’s acknowledgment of God’s Grace to make him who he was. Let me always be pointing to Jesus and bringing Him glory! Paul’s identity is found and so tightly tied up in God and His Grace. Lord whether I am at Sainsbury’s or Uni, with friends or whoever may I always acknowledge that I am who I am because of You.
  3. 16.2 My wife and I, have really struggled with tithing this year. Not because we can’t afford it, but because our pay has not been fixed. She got payed on a weekly basis rather than monthly, and I got paid a different amount each month according to how much overtime I did or didn’t do. Plus: Sainsbury’s pay every 4th week rather than on a set day of each month (which means we get 13 pay days a year). Because of these things, setting up a direct debit every month was not very practical. However 1 Cor 16.2 gives some really practical advice to us: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made”. Here we see very short accounts, weekly, setting aside of money. 

The Driven Dilema

Excuse my mess as I try to present God’s work in me.

I read a couple of books last summer which have had a major impact on my life. Largely because they challenged my thinking about driven-ness.

Firstly The Spiritual Man – Watchman Neeadmittedly I didn’t finish this book. (In fact I barely got half way.) Watchman Nee as far as I know, is a 20th Century Chinese Theologian, and therefore does not have an extremely westernized version of Christianity. He points out (in the first half of the book) that a lot of what we do – we do out of the “flesh”, rather than the Spirit. Basically a large part of the message to the Galatians. And that when we do good works and “kill sin” from the strength of the flesh, it can easily lead to pride rather than sanctification. (Or at least that’s how I understood it, like I said still have to read the other half…and I want to do it with someone else).

Secondly, was a Gordon MacDonald book: Ordering your private world. MacDonald has yet to write a book which hasn’t been helpful for me in terms of understanding the state of my heart. In the first section of this book MacDonald points out the difference between a life which is “called” and a life which is “driven”. According to him a driven person is one who works really hard in order to feel called, and a called person is one who knows with confidence that they are called by God (loved, accepted…) and their work flows from that. And as I read the descriptions, I realized that my life definitely rode on the driven tracks!

Therefore I began a process of stripping away some of the unhealthy driving forces in my life: desire for recognition, affirmation, success, appearance of holiness, security. All things which in their proper place probably aren’t too bad but when they become the driving force behind your actions, any progress doesn’t lead to God’s glory but yours. This was a surprisingly painful thing to do, and I’m not convinced I am on the other side. I still spot new reasons why I seem to need recognition and approval, and have to pray about them, soak the lies in the truth of scripture, and ask for help from friends.

(As far as possible, I have been trying to do all this “in the Spirit”, rather than in my own strength. I am learning that this is much more about the posture of my heart than effort, (but it would probably help if I finished Watchman’s book).)

Trying to keep this blog post readable and short-to-the-point is a challenge. It has been almost a year long process, with many different roads of thought contributing to the discussion in my mind..So, long story short, where am I now?

As I stripped away the driving forces in my life, I became more and more aware that I wasn’t replacing them with anything. But what was there? My mind told me that I should be driven by a desire for God’s glory, let my life be driven to lift Him high – anything else seemed to fall short. But in my sinfulness, I couldn’t muster the level of driven-ness for God’s glory as I had for my own…

And so a lot of things stopped still including, frequent workouts, my reading of a book a week, my early mornings, even my punctuality and attendance at uni. I became a disorganized person (ironic given that one of the books was: “ordering your private world”). Maybe my private world is more ordered now, and its a matter of bringing my outside in order again – this time with a healthy motive. I am unsure. Maybe I need to have a greater glimpse of His beauty…

 

 

Why so serious?

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It has been a few good days since I last blogged, the main reason for this is because it is a half term holiday. So a lot of my schedule has been temporarily put on hold. My wife is a teacher and so we’ve tried to make the most of this week-off, in order to catch up and spend time together. We spent the first few days meeting up with our parents and siblings.

On one evening we were at my parents and my wife asked my Mum, a good question,  “What is God teaching you at the moment?”. Inevitably that resulted in the question being turned back on her and then my Dad and myself. So what was my answer?

Not to take myself too seriously, learning to laugh at myself – particularly around people I don’t know too well. Be willing to look the fool.

I think it’s quite self-explanatory, but here are some examples. Around community group and other various Christian meetings (or even social gatherings), I like to appear “clever” and “thoughtful”. So I am often quiet and withdrawn, admittedly a large part of this comes from my inclination towards introvert-ism, however there is also a sinful cause that I want to have a particular appearance. I want people to think I am clever, thoughtful, “mature”. I believe this is rooted in/from pride.

In worship I may feel like clapping, singing very loudly, raising my hands – but I don’t want to have the appearance of one of those “emotional Christians”. At work, I want to have the appearance of being a “hard-worker”, who doesn’t joke around but always works hard. (Again, there is an element in this which comes from my desire to “whatever you do, do as unto the Lord”.) However this striving for a certain image, severely restricts my ability to form meaningful friendships at work.

Aside from feeding my pride, this attitude affects my relationships: as I limit the sides of me which I allow people to see.  It affects my ability to evangelize: because telling someone about Jesus risks looking stupid.

Jesus as God, You did not take yourself too seriously or consider Yourself above “looking-like-a-fool”. Thank You for giving up Your heavenly position in order to rescue me. I ask that I would receive and grow a healthy perspective towards myself, as a result of looking towards You, and be able to laugh at myself more readily. Help me put to death pride in me, and let me only ever boast (inwardly & outwardly) of the Cross! Amen 

 

Sanctified through Sainsbury’s, pt. 2

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Continued on from the last post, where I shared some of the different ways in which God has used my workplace to show me weaknesses in myself, and grown me as a Christian. These things, I am slightly uncomfortable sharing because they reveal a lot of my weaknesses, namely unhealthy stereotyping, snobbish-like beliefs etc. I say them so that God may be glorified, in that He chooses to love me even though I’ve thought really badly about people and people groups.

Value – In my white middle-class bubble, a job loading delivery-vans at Sainsbury’s isn’t considered a career. When I first joined, I remember being slightly overwhelmed that this was some people’s “full-time” job – to get to work at 4 am! With very little potential for climbing up the career ladder. However as I stayed I began to enjoy the actual work, even though it more physically challenging than mentally. I began to think about staying there longer, after I finished my degree, full time!

When I shared this with people their opinions/comments quickly put the idea to the grave. “What a waste”, “you can’t be serious!”, “God has given you the ability for…” (“For what” I can’t really remember I just know that it wasn’t Sainsbury’s -according to person x).

I began to question these opinions one day when into our department came 10-15 business-looking people. They all were dressed in nice suits, shirt and tie, all carried pens and notepads. They observed us at work… I felt a bit like a lab rat to be honest, I was sweating and dressed in my scruffy-uniform, picking up boxes and putting them down. I imagined that they were on a graduate-scheme, observing how stores operated in order to one-day-soon manage their own. I felt a deep injustice as I compared them to my colleagues who arrived extremely early that morning, were repeatedly picking up heavy boxes and had worked for 3 years within the store. The men and women in suits, had a qualification, therefore they were “above us”….(PAUSE!!! I have just made some serious judgments and assumptions about the guys-in-suits. These have may all have been false, plus if they did get qualifications – I bet they worked hard for them. But this paragraph reveals my thought processes – however wrong.)

This experience taught me that it is worldly and wrong, to deem a job more valuable (and the person who does it) just because it pays better, dresses better or is in a better location. I could only have learnt this from my position as someone without reputation in that situation. I have now learnt (to an extent – I wouldn’t say I’m finished on this one) that whatever the work, pay, status (white/blue-collar) I must see it as a gift. Whereas previously I held respect only for those who earned a lot doing what I deemed “dignified” work, now I appreciate that this ascribing of worth to individuals based on their work is WRONG!

Progression – Finally, this job has made me question the importance of progression within a career. Before I held a view that said something like: If I work really hard, if I honor God in my job, I will be promoted. Sometimes this just doesn’t happen. Sometimes, we are called to be God’s witness with no status, title or position.  A biblical example of this is Joseph who served Potiphar with diligence and faithfulness yet was sacked and falsely accused. Work is not about getting to the top of the ladder. Progression is great, and it should be celebrated, but I don’t think God wants it to become the primary motive/agenda.

In these ways, and probably more, God has allowed my time at Sainsbury’s to shape my thinking and understanding of work.

Sanctified through Sainsbury’s, pt. 1

Since the end of August 2015 I have held a part-time role at Sainsbury’s. I took this job as a husband & student, in order to help pay the bills.Initially my shift was 4am-8am on Fri, Sat, Sun…4AM!! When term started again in September, I had to get this changed my sleeping pattern would not adjust that frequently to be an effective student. I moved to working, 7am-3pm on Fridays and 7am-12 noon for Sundays. (Our church meet on Sunday afternoons so this worked well, plus it gave my wife and I an opportunity to have a day completely off work together. 

The truth is, I have found this job very challenging for several different reasons. Yet because the money has been necessary, I have kept at it. I wanted to share some of my story with it, and some of the lessons God has taught me through my time there. Some of these lessons reveal a lot about my pettiness and weakness, but also how great God is to walk me through them to the other side.

Uniform – as a young person and someone who exercises fairly frequently, I have built a lot of my identity on how I look. Dressing in very baggy trousers and t-shirt, isn’t usually my style, and immediately strips me of this foundation. When I first started it became blindingly clear how much I relied on my appearance for confidence. At work I became quiet and unsociable, even the way I spoke was nervous and insecure. If you saw me on a Monday night leading a Bible study, and then again at work on a Friday afternoon, you’d think “two different people”. The  Sainsbury’s uniform revealed to me, whereas before I was blind to it, how much of my identity and confidence was built on appearance. The reason for my different levels of confidence, wasn’t because on Monday I had built my identity on Christ and on Friday it was on appearance. No! Rather the opposite. On Friday I no longer had appearance as a possible foundation, therefore I am forced to turn to Christ.

The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart – 1 Samuel 16:7

I am by no means on the “other side” with this issue. But God has opened my eyes to this issue.

Glorifying God – one question that I think about a lot, is how does my role here bring any glory to God? In my head, before I worked at Sainsbury’s I believed that whatever work we were called to do, we should seek to glorify God. This was achieved, I had thought, through some very neat and straight forward things: 1) Work hard as though for God, then people will see you good deeds and glorify your Father. 2) Don’t grumble, 3) Submit to authority, 4) Give credit to Jesus when things go well, 5) Don’t be ashamed to talk about Jesus.

So from the beginning, I have worked hard every shift. Not slacking. Not taking longer on my shifts than I’m allowed. When asked to do the “dirty chores” do them without complaining. Be honest about being a Christian, try and explain my faith etc…

But to be honest a lot of the time (if not all) of the time it seems my work goes unnoticed or unrecognized. My submission often gets me taken advantage of. By not slacking and working hard, I miss out on casual conversations (because I haven’t got the tension right between socializing and honoring my employer). I rarely get credit, so there’s not much credit I can pass on to God anyway. (I don’t mean this to sound like a complaint, or to get pity – I REALLY DON’T want it, I say this to explain my dilemma.) Faith conversations rarely come up, and when they do they are usually stunted by my insecurity or desire to be working hard instead of chatting. So, How do I glorify God at work?  

Reading Tim Keller’s book: Every Good Endeavor, a couple of months ago, was really helpful with this. I will probably be reading it again soon. Here are a few ways in which I believe my work at Sainsbury’s glorifies God:

  • I am being transformed through my experience here, as I hope this post explains, and as I am refined at the workplace, this overflows into other arenas of my life.
  • Although I am limited in my interaction with customers, I understand that the shopping I load onto vans will be part of someone else’s lives. In this way by replacing damaged items, rather than ignoring them, I can make a small difference to someone’s week.
  • As I get to know my colleagues, even though it is twice a week, I learn about their lives and begin to love them. I can pray for them. I trust that the Spirit is putting words in my mouth, even if their not always “gospel-related” conversations, He cares about them.

There are a few more ways and things that God has taught me, but I realize that this is a long post already. And I have exams I should be revising for. Maybe I will continue this another time.

Lord I am so reluctant and find it difficult to say but THANK YOU for putting me to work in Sainsbury’s. I am grateful that I can trust You to be working all things together for my good and Your Glory -even if I don’t see how.  Please continue to tear down the false foundation, however painful, and build my identity upon You my Rock! This is more important. Lord, let me be your light at Sainsbury’s, even if I appear so broken. Amen