He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. –Colossians 1:17
As I detailed last week, I often pride myself on being prepared and having a plan. I also pride myself on doing what I say I’m going to do. When preparations aren’t enough, and you fall short, what is your typical “A-type” personality to do? As I was challenged last week, I again find myself challenged this week. Being challenged like this raises the question of whether our image and evaluations of ourselves are what God really asks and expects of us. Is God hung up on us having it together, as we normally account for such things? Does God take pride in how well we have things planned out? How effective we are or seem to be?
In the midst of God’s challenge this week, I ran across this wonderful little quote from the theologian John Howard Yoder, taken from Stanley Hauerwas’ Gifford Lectures entitled, With the Grain of the Universe:
“People who bear crosses are working with the grain of the universe. One does not come to that belief by reducing social process to mechanical or statistical models, nor by winning some of one’s battles for the control of one’s own corner of the fallen world. One comes to it by sharing the life of those who sing about the Resurrection of the slain Lamb.”
Let me put the quote another way. Being a Christ follower isn’t necessarily defined by our ideological predispositions on the pressing social, political or economic issues of our day. Being a faithful disciple isn’t correlated to whether we are “Employee of the Month” material, nor is it tied to how relevant we make our message or the methodology we employ in our endeavors. Following Jesus is never about control. No, being a Christian is defined by cruciform, or cross-shaped lives. Faithfulness to Christ is a life lived with other redeemed sinners who fall short, just like us, who, nevertheless, sing God’s praises amidst adversity, convinced that there is nothing that can ever separate us from Christ’ love which shatters the powers of sin and death. (Romans 8:38-39)
In short, Christian life must be defined by whether or not Christ occupies center stage in our thinking and actions, as Paul shares with us in Colossians 1:17. Christ’s redeeming love which sets us free from our inherent inadequacy — that love alone! — is the center, ought to be the center of how we evaluate our lives, inspiring dreams of who we want to be. Not effectiveness, not expediency, not proficiency, but standing in a constant and unrelenting posture of giving ourselves away is the litmus test of belonging to Him. When we learn to release control over our present situation to the One who truly has the power to redeem, we act “with the grain of the universe” because we are in tune with true power as God has defined it in a Son who surrendered himself so that we might have life.
I find these conclusions both consoling and, yes, challenging. Putting down the typical measuring sticks of how I view the success of my life is scary because, at the heart of it, we all like to wear the mantle of a righteousness of our own making. Christ’s call to pick up our crosses and follow Him (Luke 9:23) is not the call to whip ourselves or others into submission, but instead, the call to die to what we once called life so we can experience the real thing. (Romans 6:11)