I received an incredibly courageous comment from a reader on the topic of identity in the previous entry on generosity. The gist was that she struggles with the dynamic of affirmation and praise from others as a source of identity rather than receiving from the Father.
This is so profoundly human. Yet we all feel shame over the realization of this heart posture. In my younger years I was a master manipulator of others to receive their affirmation, approval, and any scraps of praise I could squeeze out of them. I continue to repent of these behaviors. But this is so much deeper than mere behaviors. This is a heart issue through and through.
Do You Believe Your Father’s Voice?
A friend of mine shares the story of being at a retreat in which two Benedictine sisters were present. Each morning he and the sisters would watch the sunrise and one of the sisters would take my friend’s face in her hands, look into his eyes and say, “The Father loves you, but you don’t believe him.” My friend said he wept everyday.
Adoption First, Shepherding Second
The core reality of the Christian faith is our adoption. We are united with Christ and in Christ’s Sonship we experience the reality of being sons and daughters of the Father. The Father loves us with the same love with which he loves his Son (see John 17:20-26).
“I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:26
There are many expressions of my sonship. I am a husband, father, and friend. I also happen to be an organizational leader, a shepherd-teacher, and a caregiver. Those roles are the ways God expresses his Presence, Love, and Life to others in me. They are not my identity. I am not merely a shepherd-teacher. I am a son. Period.
The most liberating, freeing truth in my life is that I am beloved by the Father. He has been growing this awareness in me. Not only do I believe I am loved by my Father, it is a palatable experience. I know in a relational way. Please note, this is a life-long process.
Essential to Shepherding
I can imagine you are way ahead of me on this next point. It is imperative that we are open and teachable toward God on this matter of our adoption and knowing his love. Why is this so? I will list some principles:
I cannot give love if I am not receiving love from Another first. God pours his love into me. I receive it as a daughter or son. That love overflows to others.
I cannot lead sheep to pastures I know not of. If I am sitting with a person who does not know their Father’s love (this is thematic in our work) and I am not growing in my knowing of God’s love, how can I lead them there?
The world is longing to know the Father’s love. Our primary concern is that those we tend to are growing deeper in their communion with Jesus that they may be growing deeper in their experience of the Father’s love so that this is what flows from them to a world in need. Shepherds guide sheep to these places in their journey.
There is no more of a formula in growing in our knowing of the Father’s love than there is a formula to be a great spouse or faithful friend. This is all relational. It’s very messy. So how do we proceed? Let’s start with this prayer:
Father, thank you for making me your son/daughter. I long to know your love; for your love to well up within me; for your love to overflow in my life. Please, Father, teach me. Show me your ways that I might walk in them. Open my ears that I might be able to listen to your voice of love. I repent of the ways I seek to manufacture love in my life. I repent of my own efforts to figure this all out. I look to you, as a child to a Father, to take me deeper into yourself and to grow me in love. Amen.
I’d love to hear from you on this subject. I will also post some helpful resources on this topic soon.
If you would like to listen to my original sermon on generosity, you can obtain it here.
The “life for God” paradigm described by Skye Jethani appears to be at the core of so much of this problem. We may be willing to believe that God wants us to receive, but often we feel that we’ve either got to earn it or that we don’t deserve it. My failures have done more to teach me otherwise than anything else. When God makes it clear that he still loves and accepts me in spite of my screw ups I (slowly) become more convinced.
Thank you so much for sharing from your experience. God does take us “as is.”
A few thoughts not just for you but for all eyes….
One train of thought that seems to trip us up is when we objectify “love” (or grace, peace, truth, etc.). Love is not a “thing” we get from God. God is love. Love is a “who”, not merely a “what.” God gives himself to us. He is a self-giving, self-sacrificing God. It is who he is, an expression of his character. He invites us to turn ourselves toward him, receive him, and partake of his divine life (2 Peter 1:3-4). The Triune communion is opened up and we are invited into the circle. As Jethani writes in his book, God desires that we live life “with” him. Thus, I am not trying to get something from God, like love, by what I do. He loves. Any sin on my part becomes a distraction, a barrier, and hinderance to to me receiving, but it does not change who God is, how he extends himself toward me, or how he desires for me to turn (again) toward him. Everyday, I am reminded by every thing around me, especially the Word, that I am loved. Will I receive? Will I allow my desire to be drawn toward him or turned in on myself? It has been a life-long journey for me to learn to experience his love (which is to say, experience him) and grow in communion with him. We are all on the same journey in that regard.
Thanks again Dave for reading and sharing – very encouraging. SS
So true, Scott. I was just reading in The Soul of Shame and reminded of the core principle of allowing ourselves to be known. Relationship depends on it. It also requires vulnerability. So the receiving I need to do is 1)receive God’s invitation to relationship, 2)receive him as all that I could ever need/desire (as opposed to receiving his “stuff”) and 3)receive my position as his beloved (the core of my identity).