Redefining the way we define

“The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.” G.K. Chesterton

Once we thought the earth was the centre of the universe, and now we realise we orbit around a relatively minuscule star that sits on some spiral arm 2/3rds of the way out from the centre of our galaxy which is one of billions. Once we hoped to understand the ways in which everything worked, but now we realise things like quantum mechanics and life are infinitely complex and irreducible in nature. And yet the prideful headiness of Modernism still resides in our Christian faith.

Reducing the Irreducible
And so inside the church, I feel there is still a sense in which we try to reduce the irreducible Christian faith into propositional truths that we merely need to know and understand. Christianity has become an exercise of the intellect. We are like a group of mountain-top sunrise watchers who choose to dryly de-construct the way in which it happens (i.e. the earth rotating and orbiting a stationary sun), instead of staring in awe and drinking in it’s beauty and majesty. We try and make God and Christianity fit into our own boxes, and fit our own agendas and realities, instead of allowing them to define reality for us. We sit over the Christian God, dictating to Him where He needs to be instead sitting under Him and allowing Him to continually define, and re-define our realities.

So no wonder Christianity has become dry and irrelevant.

This problem plays itself out in the ways we think about the words ‘grace’, ‘gospel’, ‘humility’ etc. We treat these words as concepts that are boxable to a nice acrostic, or a few elegantly arranged sentences. We simplify them at our own danger, and to our own detriment.

Reversing our perspective
And so if we then begin to think of these concepts as eternal, broad and weighty; as ideas that we could never even begin to get our minds around; as massively pure and beautiful diamonds that we could only ever see one facet of at any point in time, then we might begin to ‘understand’ them rightly. And in doing so, we may recover a Christianity that is relevant, engaging, passionate and earthy. And in doing so, we will perhaps recover a message of Jesus and the Kingdom of God that finds expression and relevance in every decision of our lives, every job we do, every ice-cream we eat, every longing of our hearts, every thought of our minds, every cell in our bodies, every breath we breathe, and every song we sing. It is irreducible. It is uncontainable. It is unstoppable. Least of all by our minds.

Allow me to put another plug in here for humility – the foundation of this ‘redefining’ talked about – is humility.

P.S. The ongoing series on humility is along these lines, and I have one or two upcoming posts on ‘grace’ and perhaps a few posts on ‘the Gospel’. And this is the nature of my task – I am trying to provide another perspective on these beautiful diamonds – each post is an attempt at articulating the magnificence of one facet of each of these diamonds which I have seen and experienced, which has found an earthy application in my own life. I dare not think that I have the be-all-end-all of revelations about them, but perhaps such perspectives will help broaden yours and shed more light on these precious concepts.

Other posts in this series:

 

The Secret to Happiness

There is so much that is so good around us. And there is so much that is beautiful. The human heart is in a sense very easily satisfied. A beautiful afternoon, a blade of grass, an 8 yr old girl sharing without shame about how she struggles to smile because of her funny looking teeth. The moments in which you have the clarity to “smell the smells” so to speak, are precious and beautiful indeed. 

Where it’s not from
I don’t think it’s about wealth. Having it OR lacking it.  It matters nothing to human happiness. But if I was to judge on this factor alone, my travels around the world would conclude this easily: the poorest people are the happiest people. The more you have the more you have to care about losing. Though many poor people are just as unhappy because they are jealous of the rich. They want what they don’t have or can’t get.

It’s not even perhaps about having health or not having it. My observations of the disease and death prone 3rd world contexts would indicate that physical health  is not a key factor as thought by a culture that idolises it (and greatly fears not having it) and yet contains the healthiest population of human beings to ever exist.

Not having or doing, but ‘being’
But perhaps it has to do with being present in the moment. And to be  in deep and meaningful relationships. And so it has to do with not being distracted by a thousand flashing and noisy things vying for our attention. It has to do with not being distanced and disabled by fears of the future or regrets of the past. And not paralysed by a fear of what people may think or see in you.

Most of what makes us unhappy as human beings are not real in the sense that it is us wanting what we don’t have, or worrying about what has not come to pass or regretting what we cannot change.

The beauty of what Jesus teaches, besides other things, is that it enables a human being to simply ‘be’. “Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself.” “Give us this day our daily bread.” And the seemingly contradictory statement: “lose your life and you will find it.” His teachings enable a person to love with vulnerability: “forgive a person 70 x 7 times”

And in that ‘being’ there is then an ability to see, to smell, to taste, to laugh, to smile and to cry, to engage, to be silly, to love, to dance and to mourn. To be truly alive. To be in relationship, in fullness of vulnerability and acceptance. In that ‘being’ there is also an ability to not take yourself so seriously. To be human involves a fullness of being present. And Jesus seems to know the way.

Humility is such a key factor in bringing about this ‘being’ and vice versa. In some ways it lies at the foundation of being able to ‘be’. Certainly it is foundational for healthy relationships in which there is acceptance and vulnerability. Perhaps I’ll try to expand more on this in a later post.

And so as you walk more and more in all that Jesus calls, it’s not that you necessarily will become richer, and it’s not that you necessarily become healthier, though that is my testimony, but you do become a lot happier. But it’s not exactly that, because happiness, to me, implies something that is external and can be faked. It’s deeper. It’s a deeper joy and a deep peace. Nothing can take it away. At least nothing that I’ve experienced in my short experience of it. Perhaps the title was a bit pretentious, and cheeky.

 

This post is part of an ongoing series on humility:
1. Redefining humility
2. The Freedom and Purpose found in Humility

The Beautiful Person

In a Christian world that consciously or subconsciously exalts the pastor/celebrity, the one with the big and booming ministry, who has it all together, I believe the men and women whom God is most pleased with are perhaps mostly unseen in this age.

What matters to God is not the works of our hands and bodies, but the measure and posture our hearts. And these men and women are not all healthy, or wealthy or necessarily ‘wise’, but perhaps they all are marked by a dependence, a leaning and a longing. For these people – health or lack of – is a reason for dependence. Wealth, or lack of, is a reason for dependence.

And perhaps a genuine mark of God’s work in your life, is not seeing more success or health in your life, but it is seeing Him shift your life into a place where you are more dependent upon him. 

(As an aside) I don’t say the following to be critical, for the human heart is one so prone to idolatry, so “prone to wander” – and so our Christian world is a context that is as riddled with idols as the world from which it was supposed to be separate from. And we find so often, that Christian activity involves seeking to use God as a means to getting these worldly realities of health, wealth, and fame. We are ultimately taught to lean on these worthless, lifeless idols for security and life and purpose. The funny thing is, on one level, we all know the dangers of these things – deep down we know that if you worship wealth and health, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, they will eat you alive.

Back to dependent people – we now see the sustainability of such lives, because health and wealth and reputation make terrible masters, and they come and go in a blink of an eye. But the heart lasts forever and God and his kingdom are eternal.

We see the beauty of such lives, because though these people may or may not have all that the world tells us we need to be happy and content, if you have met one of these people, you might notice that their countenances are beautiful. They are beautiful for the fact that their souls are quiet, not continually trying to get recognition from you while they talk or listen. If you have met one of these people, you would notice that there is a deep and abiding contentment, and they have a joy and a peace that nothing in this world could ever take away, and it might probably bug the crap out of you. But the world cannot take any of it away because their lives are built upon the only good and lasting reality from which we can draw meaning from. They are beautiful because they are truly humble.

And there shall be a generation who are marked more than anything else, by their dependence. They are marked by their complete and utter need for God for their every breath, for their every heartbeat, for their every step, for their every meal, for their every dollar. A generation Jesus would call “blessed” for they are “poor in spirit”.

 

This post is part of an ongoing series on humility:
1. Redefining humility
2. The Freedom and Purpose found in Humility

 

The song of the redeemed is not one that heralds
constant victory or perpetual prosperity or perfect health.
Our testimony is this: that in the midst of both suffering and blessing,
sickness and health, poverty and wealth:
There is a constant and an unmovable rock,
a joy and a peace that rises from deep within,
there are rivers of grace and mercy that flow from above.
And so we can sing:
“You are more than enough for me. Jesus, you are enough.”

The Freedom and Purpose found in Humility

A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven (John 3:27)

The bondage and exhaustion of self-promotion and pride
There will be seasons of productivity and seasons of quiet. There will be seasons of ministry and seasons of quiet. If we are so caught up in the quiet seasons, the times God has ordained for us to be small and unseen, then our energy is all expended in our desires to be seen and heard, in inflating our status before men to match our inflated egos. Rather than sitting and receiving, we strive for something that is not sustainable or deeply satisfying, and moreover, will become a cruel master. If you hold anything with a measure of idolatry, including ministry, giving it more significance than it deserves, it will consume you. Not only that you, you miss out on what should have been a God-ordained restful, joyful and peace-filled season of recharging.

The only deeply sustainable thing on this earth is our character and who we are (big statement, and I haven’t thought through it enough, but there it is), and God is always at work on that, everything else comes and goes. The test of the purity of one’s heart – is how you hold ministry/money/status when you have it, and how you hold these things when you don’t have it. On our character will this rest. On the purity of our hearts will this rest.

So the most important thing continually, is steadfastness and obedience. Do to all things well (including the small and secret and unseen things), at all times. I believe this is what it means, in part, to be a humble person. And in His time, we will be lifted up, not that that even matters any more. Following Jesus was never supposed to easy, but it is remarkably simple – it is simple steadfastness/faithfulness and obedience.

Here we see the nature of Jesus’ testing in the desert – Satan wanted to give Jesus his destiny, but not in the way or timing that God would want it. Instead Jesus quietened his soul, rested in complete obedience and trust in God’s plan. And perhaps it was more costly (in the short term), but it was also infinitely more beautiful and right and produced fruit that will last an eternity. So the humility of Jesus – his obedience to death on a cross was used by God to redeem a race from the ashes. Something which we will wonder at for 10 000 years, and 10 000 after that.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul (Psalm 131:2)

The freedom and identity and rest found in humility
And so begin to see that the humble person is not someone that does not have a sense of identity or purpose or worth. But rather he/she is someone whose identity/purpose/worth is rooted and grounded in something far more substantial, far more sustainable, far more steadfast than the prideful, striving and idolatrous person. Neither is the humble person someone who cannot be successful or productive. Actually, he most probably is very successful…or he mightn’t be, and it matters to him not an ounce. And in that, there is so much freedom and so much peace to be had for a person walking in fullness of humility.

At risk of introducing too much, but for the sake of clarity, here is a statement that may seem contradictory to everything said so far, but it really isnt: the humble person will pursue the fullness of their passions and deepest desires with a fullness of tenacity. To do anything less is to live under a false humility which is ultimately prideful because you are saying that you know better than your Creator how you were supposed to live and function. To do anything less is selfish because you are depriving the body and the world of the critical part you were supposed to play in it’s redemption and perfect function.

May he give us the grace to walk in the steps that only he has walked in before us. May we see a generation living in fullness of humility, with quiet souls, living in fullness of trust, and fullness of simple obedience to the only wise and good master.

A primer on humility: (mis)Conceptions in beginning to think rightly about humility

Redefining humility

I am but a baby in understanding and walking in this thing: a little over 2 years ago I began to ask the Lord for humility. Boldest and at the same time dumbest request ever. If you ever want to be humiliated, if you ever want to be crushed, then do just that: ask for humility. If you ever want freedom, if you ever want peace and joy, if you ever want clarity, then do just that: ask for humility.

It’s something I have had a bit of an obsession with. Oh the depth of this thing! The beauty and depth of this thing astounds me every step I take towards in understanding it/walking in it. As with a subject like the love of God, to try and articulate or describe this thing would be like trying to describe the beauty of a mountain-top sunset over the ocean with clouds and colours and all, using only grunts or hand actions, with no fingers/thumbs.

In some ways, talking about humility is antithetical to it’s nature, but in other ways it really isn’t. In understanding it better, perhaps we can hope to walk more and more in what I would regard as one of the most central and beautiful pillars of redeemed human nature. To name only a few of it’s benefits/perks/relationships – you need humility to experience joy, peace, clarity, progress, productivity and teachability, leadership, healthy relationships, and awe. It is deeply at the core of what it means to be a human being. You can probably work this out backwards – because at the centre of human sinfulness and brokenness is pride. IMO two core things have plagued humankind since the fall – greed and pride (Jesus deals with both ALOT – money and dying to self). Related with, or at the core of most sins I can think of, is pride. And so it follows that humility is SO beautiful.

We are living in a society and a generation, a culture that is deeply narcissistic and prideful and our conceptions of humility are hence affected in ways we probably don’t know or fully realise but here are some starter (mis)conceptions in beginning to think rightly about this glorious diamond of a thing.

A few misconceptions
1. humility is not primarily or secondarily or ever really a sense of brokenness or sinfulness or unworthiness
2. humility is not thinking less of oneself or having low self-esteem or having any sense of self deprecation

A few conceptions
1. humility as dependence
2. humility as self-forgetfulness
3. humility as the death of self
4. humility as freedom
5. humility as weakness AND strength (at the same time)
6. to have humility is to have a sense of self/identity/purpose

My brain is quite dead at the moment, but let’s leave this primer post here in the hope that your appetite for this thing has been whetted sufficiently. I would like to keep develop this thing and perhaps post a long series on humility at some point in the future to help crystallize and broadcast my thoughts and meditations and experience of it.

To the only truly humble and beautiful man be all the glory.

 

More posts in this series

Singing as a picture of beautiful humanity (humility and unity in diversity)

I sat in an incredible worship set 2 hours long on Friday morning 21st March at the Tauranga House of Prayer.

It was a harmony of peace and passion and rest, and as it waxed and waned in the highs and lows we were drawn in with melody and rhythm and song. Like shifting ocean currents with the volume to consume and push wherever they please, so this morning’s worship ebbed and flowed and peaked and troughed. The male lead was complemented throughout with a myriad of female voices around the room.

There is something unexplainably beautiful and irresistable about corporate singing.

To try and deconstruct it: there is so much ‘human dynamics’ in corporate worship, that is, there is so much in singing that is fundamental to living and thriving as a human being.

It strikes me, when ‘done rightly’, as an incredibly beautiful picture of humanity. And utterly irresistable.

 

5 observations about singing (with greater general application to humans and human relationships):

1. Leading and following with each person performing and knowing their part. The leader leads well, and there is never any competition as to who does the leading and who holds the melody, nor does there need to be – and so there is freedom to do what you are supposed to do.

2. Awareness – everyone is intimately aware of where the other is in pitch and rhythm and voice. There is an intimate awareness of each other and of the part that each person has to play, with no overstepping of boundaries.

3. Harmony (In community and with distinct individuality) – When a skilled male leads, and a skilled female harmonizes as we heard today, the sound is breathtaking.

4. Full engagement and ‘life in the moment’ – there full engagement in the moment. each individual’s heart is engaged, the mind is engaged, the body is engaged (the vocal chords and fingers on the guitar, the lungs mouth and tongue, inevitably the body moves in ‘dance’).

5. Synergy. There is a synergy that happens in the singing. The resulting aesthetics is more than a mere sum of the parts.

 

And the incredible thing, is the way in which this dynamic, this harmony (in so many dimensions than just the pitch) just flows. The music and melodies and harmonies.  Without the need for each person to think about what they are really doing. There is no sense in which there is competition. There is freedom from the need to compete because each has their own role and part to play and are able to be fully expressed. And there is an awareness of the greater goal of the whole sound rather than each individual sound.

I am at risk of sounding idealistic here – but let me say that such singing is a glorious glimpse – a taste of what could be and what can exist for a world of 7 billion people who coexist not in conflict or overinflated egos that rub up and bump, they coexist not in tension or repetition but in perfect harmony and union, in distinctiveness, and yet complete individuality, in perfect consideration and awareness.

And a generation of young men and women will sing. They will raise their voices and join the beautiful global song (in more ways than one) that arises from the ends of the earth.