Freedom in identity
We all want to matter. We all yearn to belong, to be loved, to be accepted. We all want our existence acknowledged by someone, somehow, and when we don't get that acknowledgement, we tend to try and earn it. When we do get it, we try to guard it at all cost, sometimes even with our fists …
Some people are very good at drawing recognition out of the people around them. Others less so. And then you get the kind of people who don’t seem to need acknowledgement at all. Like my friend Jan back in South Africa.
Jan was the worship pastor at my local church. I was one of the volunteer worship leaders and electric guitarists in the worship team. We became good friends shortly after he joined the church and I had the greatest of respect for him as a musician, as a person, as a follower of Jesus. He was so sincere, so talented, so completely free from the need of human acknowledgement that it showed without him even trying. He was a real joy to be around: friendly to everyone, welcoming in every way.
We decided to do a combined show at a small, 250-seat theatre in our town once. We spread the word, got publicity in the local paper, etc. On the night 15 people showed up (including us and the band). I was devastated, discouraged. Jan performed his songs with as much gusto as if it was a sell-out crowd at Wembley Stadium. If he was discouraged, he didn’t show it.
A couple of months later, on the afternoon before Christmas Eve, we were rehearsing for our Christmas Day service. When we finished, Jan asked me if I had any plans. I said no. He told me to grab my guitar and follow him in my car. We drove to a hospice for terminally ill and severely disabled people, and we sang carols for the staff and patients. After that we went to his house, had a beer and watched cricket highlights. His wife made burgers. It was an amazing afternoon.
Jan knew he was accepted and loved by God Himself. That’s why he didn’t need recognition from big crowds at his show. That’s why he wanted to share love with those who would be alone and mostly forgotten at Christmas time. That’s why he is still the same kind of person after winning the South African Pop Idol competition in 2010 and plays sell-out stadium shows and festivals all over South Africa. Jan’s identity is firmly rooted in the knowledge of God’s love for him, not in human acknowledgement or recognition.
I want to be someone like that. I want the people of this church, this community, to be like that. I’m already seeing it happen: people I admire for their courage, their faith, their unconditional love. Imagine the impact we as a church can have when we lay our fears and insecurities down at the foot of the cross of Christ, and take up our true identity: child of God. How much more generous will we be with whatever we have? How many more people will we invite to an Alpha Course or a Sunday Service? How much more courageous will we be about our faith at our place of work? How much more love will we be willing to share with a world in desperate need of love? How much more freedom will we experience by not being weighed down by fear, anxiety and discouragement when things don’t work out the way we planned? How much more will we get done to make the Kingdom of Heaven a reality in this world without expectations of parades, accolades and awards getting in the way? How much more freely will we be able to love without expecting anything in return, because God loves us? How much more generous will our prayer-life be when we realise we have the ear of the King?
Now imagine how difficult it will be to attain that kind of freedom … Actually, it’s not hard at all. It’s only a prayer away. And another one. And another … The truth of our identity becomes more apparent as we actively pursue Christ’s presence and let the Spirit do His will in and around us. We can’t make this happen for ourselves. We need God’s help and power. Fortunately He freely offers it to anyone willing to take up His cross daily. It’s as simple as turning the eyes of my heart towards Jesus every day instead of to myself. Trevor Hudson once said: “To believe something involves a readiness to act as if what is believed were so.” Do you believe you’re a child of God?
May we become a community of Christ followers who know Jesus intimately and follow Him courageously because we know and believe who we are in Him.
Nico Marais (24 March 2017)
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