Jonah Sage is one of the pastors at Sojourn Community Church and he lives in New Albany, Indiana with his wife Allison and son Booker.
*This is a follow up to a post shared a few weeks ago.
Realizing my relationship with Jesus was superficial was not easy for me. Initially, all I felt was indictment. Self-clarity will often brings with it a sense of conviction. In 1 Samuel 7, Samuel the miracle child becomes the prophet of Israel and calls them to reform. “Put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you,” he tells them, “and direct your heart to the Lord” (1 Sam. 7:3). Clarity came in two movements: They see God and then they want him. Seeing God convicted them of their idolatry. Seeing God as beautiful made them want him more. Ultimately, this transformed not only what these people did, but who these people were.
Seeing the shallowness of our own souls is a gift from God. This realization is not an indictment but rather an invitation into the deep end of the pool. It is a journey into being the people God says we already are. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing a few key moments from my journey to where toes can’t touch with you.
Leaving the shallow end required me to own my story. Most of us prefer fantasy over reality. The fantasy I had created of who I was supposed to be kept me from deep intimacy with Jesus. People in the Bible did this, too. A little while after their miraculous rescue from slavery, the people of God recreate the god of their slave masters and worship it instead of the Lord who saved them. They were in a fantasy, thinking the whips of Egypt were better than Sinai. (Exodus 20)
We try to hide the ugly parts of our story, hoping to perform a re-write after the fact. Egypt wasn’t that bad…they could have whipped us harder… I was living like my story never happened and this kept me from experiencing the gospel as good news. The really tricky part was that I had built my fantasy world around activities that looked really good. How often do we say, “that dude needs Jesus,” about the guy leading Bible studies and quoting verses?
My “godly” activities were coping mechanisms, not the genuine overflow of a new identity. Jesus sent me violent grace me in the form of betrayal and an emotional melt down. It was not a pleasant experience. Pain is what it took for me to see that I was hiding wounds and suffering behind my so-called Christian life. My wounds, not Jesus and not the Bible, were driving my actions. This is why I could read the Bible for years and still feel like Jesus was a stranger. I had disowned my story, acting like it never happened.
Owning my story meant I had to:
- Share: I had to share the ugly parts of my story, the parts that made me think people wouldn’t like me.
- See: Clarity is not just understanding what has happened, it is seeing why you live the way you do. Seeing meant sharing with someone else and asking for help connecting the dots. If your present destination is filled with sideways, shallow living, there’s a good chance that the route there began from a place of brokenness in your story. Own your story by seeing the connection between who you are today and what happened to you yesterday.
- Seek. Looking back through our story can be incredibly frustrating because there is literally nothing we can do to change what has happened. I believe this is another severe mercy of God, though. When we are faced with a situation beyond our control, we become just desperate enough to seek the Lord. The gospel finally became good news for me personally when I began to understand my particular brokenness. As you receive clarity, bring your brokenness to the Lord and say, “show me where Jesus was in this.” From there, close your mouth and listen for the voice of your Father.
I had to seek Jesus in the broken places of my story. I had to seek him until I could see that he was there in that brokenness. Somehow, seeing Jesus with us in our suffering actually heals our souls. I know this sounds mysterious and strange. That’s because it is. Check around the scriptures, though, and you’ll only find one antidote to the pain and suffering of our lives: the presence of God.
Ultimately, the road out of the shallow end is the journey towards wanting God more than our coping mechanisms. Own your story and experience the good news of Jesus’ love for you in the midst of it. You’ll see God is better than anything else and you’ll find yourself ever more forgetful of Egypt and ever more longing for Sinai.