Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Radiance Instead of Shame

Those who look to the Lord are radiant, and their faces are never covered with shame (Psalm 34:5)

I had been pulling my weary self up by my own spiritual bootstraps for so long, I didn’t recognize how very weary I was. I mean, I knew I should be joyful (didn’t Christ die for me, after all?) that I shouldn’t obsess about my problems (shouldn’t I be setting my mind on things above not on earthly things?), I shouldn’t fear all the things that could go wrong tomorrow (didn’t Jesus say each day has enough trouble of its own?).

I just couldn’t figure out how to do all that.

So I would scold myself. Look at all God has done for you, given you, blessed you with! How can you be unhappy or depressed or anything less than joyful?! I shamed myself into setting my mind on the better things - yes, there were many of them! Whenever my doubts and fears would bubble to the surface, I would stuff them down again under that list of things I truly was thankful to God for, hoping God Himself would not even see them. But inevitably, they would rise again — along with my shame over not being more grateful and joyful.

And then in 2007, God brought a conflict and a crisis of faith into my life, which turned my shame upside-down and inside out. It’s taken me this long to figure out how to write about it, and put my finger on it more precisely. Because it’s all about things I would have said I knew five years ago - but now I really know them. About Scriptures I’d memorized and comprehended - but did not understand as deeply as I do now. (Do you find the Christian walk to be like that? It’s not a matter of learning something brand-spanking new every day, but learning it more deeply, making it more real.)

Here’s just one example:

I’d been treating Philippians 4:6-7 as a formula of sorts:
1) don’t worry or be anxious
2) pray about those things and make sure you offer thanks, too,
3) God’s peace will relieve me of my uncomfortable emotions and feelings of guilt.

In fact, God’s invitation to come to Him with those fears and worries, and with thanksgiving, are anything but a formula for “How to Get Peace.” Instead, God’s Word — in this passage and every other one — is an open invitation into relationship with God, honest interaction with Him with everything in me, the good, the bad and the ugly. He does not shake his finger at me when I come as I am, tattered and torn and dirty; He listens and encourages with truth and love. And the next thing I know, I’m looking not at my own failures, but into the face of Jesus Himself — the Living Perfect Peace who guards my heart and mind. The more my vision fills with His perfections, the less room there is for anxiety and fear over my imperfections.

What a mystery is the gospel! That Jesus would literally take my place in the courtroom of God. That the One who never sinned suffered the penalties of my sin. That faith in Christ acquits me of shame and guilt before the throne of the Most High God. That God would judge me not on my imperfections, but on the perfections of Christ.

That God’s greatest desire would be for me to know Him and fellowship with Him. And that He did all that was necessary for that to happen — leaving me only to respond in faith and awe to His compassionate, costly initiative.

My shame is dead and gone. Not because I am without sin, but because God has declared me clean and pure in Christ. Not because I have no cause for guilt, but because He Himself has put it to death by his death and resurrection. Not because I am perfect, but because Jesus (I in Him, and He in me) is.

What has God taught you more deeply in your walk with Jesus?