How was Paul the Apostle so confident? So active, so joyful, so sure of his position in God?
How am I so insecure? So easily discouraged, so doubtful of my position?
As I asked those questions, I heard in my head, “because you make it about you.” I make it about how I feel, what I think, what I’ve done, who I am.
When I woke up Friday morning I felt a kind of inner turmoil- like there was something rotten that needed attending. As I sat down to write in my journal I couldn’t really think of anything to say and I couldn’t figure out what my problem was. Because I’ve been slowly learning this lesson about the fact that my identity is not swayed by whatever my current emotion is, I just asked God in my head, “Is my heart in your hands, Lord?” and he simply responded, “It is.”
As I study Philippians, I’ve been kind of astounded by this statement, “If I am in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.” (Philippians 1:22)
Paul knew that his work would accomplish something because he was doing God’s work, following God’s call, living in obedience. He was sure that God would make it fruitful.
He even says later in chapter 3 that he puts no confidence in himself and his abilities – it’s not about what he can or cannot do. He counted all of his former trophies as garbage so that he could cling to the sacrifice and perfection of Jesus. He strained toward identifying with Jesus in love and suffering – looking to position himself firmly in Christ…
Paul didn’t want to just do good works, he wanted to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus such that people no longer saw Paul, but they saw Jesus, encountered Jesus when Paul was near. Not so that he could be right with God (that had already happened) but so that Christ would be lifted high. All of it was out of love and devotion to the one who had already accepted and loved him.
“I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Philippians 3:12
I often still have that old judgy voice in my head which tells me that I’m not doing enough, I’m not good enough. But that is all about me. The truth is that my position in God is already established. I don’t have to do any penance. My old habit has been to give myself a kind of “time-out” when I’ve done something wrong. The time-out involves feeling bad about myself for some undetermined amount of time. It wasn’t until recently that I even realized I do that. Once I recognized what I was doing I realized something really freeing;
Shame or guilt as a penance is not a real thing.
What does that mean practically?? It means that when I fail (as I will inevitably do several times a day), I say, “God, I’m so sorry. Is there something I should do about that failure?” and if there’s nothing to be done? I move on. I don’t waste time worrying and feeling guilty, I simply get back up and walk forward in total gratitude for God’s unfailing love and unmerited forgiveness.
In the middle of feeling guilty about something you really shouldn’t have done, that might seem like cheating. But there is nothing cheap about grace. Is there a person you’ve wronged? Make it right. Is there doubt in your heart that you will ever change? Start by accepting God’s love and then realize that continuing to beat yourself up is actually another act of disobedience. Sorry Jesus, your death and resurrection wasn’t enough for this particular sin.
That last comment sounded kind of snarky, but it is essentially what we say when we refuse to accept forgiveness and move on.
And what do you think will produce better results? More guilt? Or more acceptance and forgiveness? It reminds me of Jean Valjean (from Les Miserables) when he steals the silverware from the bishop. Instead of prosecuting him, the bishop actually gives him more silver from his cabinet and he says, “Jean Valjean my brother you no longer belong to evil. With this silver, I have bought your soul. I’ve ransomed you from fear and hatred, and now I give you back to God.”
When we accept forgiveness, we are set free to walk forward in obedience.
I think this was Paul’s “secret” to success. Not only did he stop relying on himself to make good things happen, but he was completely motivated by love and gratitude. He didn’t work to be accepted by God, he worked because he was accepted by God.
(The title of this post is part of a quote, something said by Dan Baumann, “Failure loses its sting in the light of who Jesus is.”)