When I was a teenager and in my early 20s, I was pretty miserable most of the time. For years, I flailed around in search of meaning and purpose for my life. I explored and studied, seeking to find meaning in some philosophy, political system, or great idea. I thought I was willing to sacrifice anything for the truth. Yet, throughout my experience of darkness, loss of meaning and despair, I never let go of the illusion that I was in control of my own destiny. The fortress of my life may have been burning down around me, but I was king of the castle!
When I made the decision to follow Jesus, I encountered a whole new kind of fire. I began to perceive that my choice to surrender my life to God would involve a kind of agony I had never allowed myself to experience before. Startlingly, when I told Jesus that he could have control over my life, he took me up on the offer!
One moment that drove this reality home for me was a conversation that I had shortly after committing to become a disciple. I had done something thoughtless. I was careless with the feelings of another person. I acted selfishly. And when they confronted me about how my actions had been hurtful, I wanted to shrug it off. It wasn’t such a big deal, really, I told myself.
Then came the words I’ll never forget: You talk so much about Jesus, yet you act this way!
At that moment I knew that I could never make excuses again for my own bad behavior. As those words hung in the air, I realized that my life was no longer my own. I now belonged to Jesus, and any silly, stupid, selfish thing I did to hurt another person reflected not just on my own character, but on his. For the first time in my life, I realized that I was capable of denying the resurrection through my own faithlessness.
Since that pivotal moment years ago, God has continued to reveal the darkness within that I don’t want to see. I am really good at fooling myself, at pretending that my motives are pure when in fact I am behaving selfishly. God reveals this, shining light in the dark places, showing me the ways in which my thoughts and actions betray Jesus.
This is a strange, humbling process. While I do have the sense that God is making progress with me, I am also regularly reminded that there is so much refinement yet to be done. I still hurt others through my self-centered words and actions; I am still a cracked and tarnished mirror who fails to reflect the full radiance of Jesus’ character.
Though at times transformation feels unbearable, I remain committed to the process. Just as John the Baptist explained, as Jesus continues to manifest his presence in my life, he must increase and I must decrease. The fulfillment of my life is to become a reflection of the radiant love, mercy and justice that we encounter in the face of Jesus. There are times when this does happen, and the joy and power this brings is inexpressible.
But, more often, I fail to live up to the full measure of Christ’s love. Far too frequently, I let my own self-centered desires get in the way of how God wants to use me. I can get so fixated on what I think should happen that I wear myself out trying to control the flow of living water. Why do I still sometimes resist being moved by the Spirit, allowing her to fill me and blow through me as she heals our people and restores the creation?
God, please forgive me for all the ways that my half-baked faith has served as a stumbling block for others. Jesus, please help those whom I meet to look past my own failings and to see who you are – to see the work that you are doing in my life, in spite of me. Holy Spirit, come and fill me with your refining fire. Burn down all the strongholds that distance me from the fears and pain of others. Let my life – with all its weakness and limitations – become an instrument of your loving, transforming, reconciling power.