Re-Discovering the Awe

My 7-year-old daughter has this thing for toy unwrap videos. In case you’re wondering, toy unwrap videos are where people unpackage toys on YouTube while providing commentary throughout the process. (Confession: Sometimes, it is strangely satisfying to watch.) A few months back my wife and I noticed a shift in her behavior. Multiple times a day she would ask for various toys. More than usual it was, “Daddy will you get me this? Can I have one of those? Hey, I want that!” I know kids love toys, but this was uncharacteristic of her. After some conversation and investigation, we noticed her fascination with these videos and thus, traced her change in behavior back to these clips.

Then, in an unexpected way, God began to use this scenario to deal with me, graciously chastising me for the many things that compete for the affections of my own heart.

 Photo by:  J. Diego

Photo by: J. Diego

I became more aware of how this horizontal world can consume us. It could be a new job, a promotion, a fresh, new pair of kicks, or, perhaps it’s an unhealthy relationship, money, porn, revenge, etc. When our love is not aligned vertically, we chase after the horizontal. We aim to fill our affections with the objects of our obsession.

We seem so easily compelled to settle for a very human “second best,” when what God offers us is so much more. The temptation being to exchange the Creator’s glory for something created.

It’s in our nature to conform to the likeness of what we behold. In time, we come to care for the thing(s) we give our time, energy and attention to. Like a combustion engine, we have the capacity to fuel our tastes and motivations for life.

For Israel, God miraculously delivered them from Egypt. After which, He instructed them to craft a temple worthy of His glory (Exodus 24-31). Moments and chapters later (Exodus 32), God’s chosen people are crafting a golden idol, a god of their own making, to worship while Moses talks to God on the mountain.

Like this moment, our entire human dilemma comes down to one thing: worship.

As John Piper once said, “Missions exist because worship does not.” As creatures with sin in our DNA, we are not inclined to pursue God, only to seek self-satisfaction until we eventually destroy ourselves. Sin leads to death (Romans 6:23). This is the disease of the human heart.

But our hearts are made to worship, not things, but God. I challenge you to study the lives of those around you. Look closely and you will find everyone serving and loving something. Our worship is good, the things we worship, not so much. But only the one true God is worthy of being worshiped. Only God can absorb our praise. And in this, He uses it to turn our affections towards Him. It is His goodness that draws us to repentance (Romans 2:4). This captivation found in our creator has a name. We call it awe­­ - a complete and total captivation, an amazed wonder at the brilliance of who God is.

Worship begins with discovering the awe.

For the Christian, our daily pursuit is to re-discover the awe, where once again we revel in the majesty of our beautiful savior.

Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
— Romans 11:34-36

God has made us so that our affections will flow to and through Him. He wants to epitomize our worship. Since He made us to worship, our primary end is to uplift Him in our lives.

When God is not the ultimate aim of our affection, a problem arises. When He fails to imbue the fullness of our desires, our joy is short-lived. And so, as a human race, we find ourselves unhappy, chasing things, when all along it was God calling at our desires bidding us to come and find Him (Jeremiah 29:13).  

But think about it…only an eternal being (God) can handle the human heart’s deep yearning for joy and satisfaction. It’s only when our desires are set upon Him that we are truly satisfied. In Him, our contentment is certain, since only God can manage what He made - our hearts.

Do you see? Outside of God’s grace, when we steward the human heart, we destroy it. God completes it.

Application to the Believer & the Artist

Worship is equally central to the creative life. To be a creator is to share an element of the beauty we’ve beheld - to tell its story. When that most awe-inspiring thing or person is God, the creative works to translate these aspects of His revealed greatness through their gifts for His infinite glory.

This response (to God’s revealed glory) is what we call worship.

In other words, worship is our adoring response to the revealed glory of God.

When we behold the Creator, our hearts long to share the transcendence we experience. We long to capture these elements of the sublime and put them in front of the viewer as if to say, “Come look what I’ve found. Come see the glory and majesty of what I’ve discovered.”

Look around and you will quickly discover how God has crafted the world to reflect His greatness (Romans 1).

Is it any wonder that when we gaze upon God’s beauty, we long to do the same - reflect His greatness?

The same goes for what we craft with our hands. We want it to reflect the beauty we’ve beheld in what we make.

Look circumspect and take note, whether you’re a custodian or a craftsman, an artist or a homemaker, a coach or a designer, a thinker, a teacher, a dad or an entrepreneur, your first priority is to worship our great and glorious King.

 

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Learning to Live Open Handed

Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.
— Psalm 86:11 
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things, and give me life in Your ways.
— Psalm 119:37

Sticky notes with these two verses and one that says: “Give me singular focus,” sat on my desk for months. I needed the constant reminder.

 Photo by Sabine van Straaten

Photo by Sabine van Straaten

God has been slowly untethering my soul from things that I’ve held too tightly. By my actions, I would protest (at times I still do), “Can’t I have both?” And I knew the answer was no. But “no” came with a promise of a life that I could not, in my short-sightedness, conceive of. At the turn of the year, I made a resolution that I intended to keep. 

The resolution was to be more yielded to the Spirit of God than I have ever been. 

This was not something to try. There was only yielding, dying and somehow living. It required constantly acknowledging my propensity to want to go my own way. And I’ve realized this year that this process, this steady constant returning, this well-worn path of repentance, is a gift. Every time I open my hands to Him in surrender He takes the thing that threatens my worship and replaces it with affection for Him. 

I have to remind myself that there is no merit to me finally acknowledging how lost, wounded, and broken I am, when God is the one who has revealed my need. What merit is it to me to lay every hope and dream out on the table and to say, “God, do with this what you will” knowing that He alone can make my life worth living? 

God has been showing me areas of self-deception and ways I’ve been short-changing my life from lasting character formation. One of those areas has been social media. 

A couple of weeks ago, I came home from a meeting grieved over my own sin and the struggle I suspect many of us are facing. I wrote the following thoughts.

I’m sharing this because maybe, just maybe, it will speak to a work that He’s already begun in you too. 

***

Oh Jesus, have we forgotten? Or did we ever really know that our lives are not our own? We know all the right words and we feel this deep ache. We ask ourselves why and then we fill ourselves up with doing. Doing makes us feel better. Slowing down just makes us realize we’re deeply dissatisfied and the doing will never really fix it. So, we fill the still moments up with other people’s doing. At the heart of it, we know there’s a daily dying that we can’t quite bring ourselves to embrace. What will our lives mean if we can’t show and tell people what we should mean to them?

What if? It’s the question that haunts all those being drawn deeper.

What if I stopped caring? What if they misunderstand?

What if they don’t care?

What if I slip through the cracks and I’m never really seen, never really known?

At times we begin to see shafts of light breaking through the clouds because God is pursuing us. But then we try to capture this unfinished business in moments that are fleeting. “I have to share this with the world, this is what everyone needs”. We tell ourselves that it’s for their good, but really it’s so that we can prove we have something to say. Something real. Something tangible. Something that, if we truly embraced it, would change our lives forever. But we don’t think about it too hard because laying everything out on the table feels a little too risky. We let Jesus close enough to make us appealing but not effective. I think Jesus wants to build His church by building our character. But the things that could really make all the difference in us we peddle for praise. So, rather than becoming who we know deep down God is calling us to become, we settle for the version of ourselves that will fool everyone, even us.

***

Friends, He wants so much more for us than we want for ourselves. 

Christ is all, 

Casey

 

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Stewarding Grace

We are constantly trying to make sense of the world around us. Our lives are a journey of discovery. “Who am I?” is a question we’re consistently asking and this leaves us searching for our identity wherever it might be found.

When we stop and think about it we find that circumstances are perfect for us to adopt our gifts as our identity and to forget that we did nothing to merit them. But the gifts we’ve received are what God has called us to use to serve Him and to serve one another, not tell us who we are. 1 Peter 4 tells us they are a reflection of God’s multi- faceted grace. When we steward our gifts we are stewarding grace.

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As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
— 1 Peter 4:10 & 11

Because it’s so hard to determine sometimes where our gifts end and we begin it’s intensely personal to offer our gifts back to the One who entrusted them to us, as if to say, “These gifts are not my identity. My identity is found in You alone. You are the One who gives me value and worth. Therefore the grace I’ve receive is the grace I’ll extend with everything I have, with every gift You’ve given.”

Here are some signs that you’ve surrendered your gifts to the Gift-giver:

1. You’re happy for the success of others in your area of giftedness.

In other words, the success of others doesn’t intimidate you. It’s understandable to feel a tinge of frustration when you see people move ahead and you seem to be standing still, but reminding yourself Who you’re doing this for should realign your heart to the One who graciously gave you the gift in the first place.

2. You don’t dwell on past mistakes.

God has already seen where you’d fall short and He called you anyway. You have to give Him your failures and trust Him with them. He is the redeemer of every lost opportunity and every missed chance if we will let Him be.

3. You can surrender your idea of what using your gift means.

Our culture paints a very specific picture of what using our talents is supposed to look like and it has snuck it’s way into the church. Do you trust God enough to let Him lead you down whatever path He chooses, whether it looks like what you envisioned or not? We sometimes put a ceiling on how far God can take us because we think it needs to look a certain way.

4. You steward your gift faithfully no matter what.

Whether you’re having an opportunity to use your gift publicly or not, if God gave it to you He is telling you to steward it. You steward that gift for Him because He is ultimately the One you serve.

5. Jesus is enough.

If everything changed tomorrow and by the world’s standards you had amazing success, if God asked you to, would you leave it all behind because Jesus is enough? If you were called to disciple the people on the stage rather than be on the stage yourself would you do it because Jesus is enough? If God asked you to use your gift in a place where no one would ever know your name would you do it because Jesus is enough?

If you have a gift, use your gift. Walk it out in the fullest expression possible. God will make up where you lack because He’s to One who is glorified, even in our weakness. ALL the glory belongs to Him. He invites us to be partakers in that glory but not for one second are we intended to try to take it for ourselves. When we find ourselves deceived into thinking this might all be about us, the Holy Spirit mercifully reveals that no amount of achievement or notoriety will bring the kind of satisfaction that offering our gifts back to God could ever bring.

The satisfaction we all long for is found in the Gift-giver, not the gift itself.

You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
— Psalm 145:16
 

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