Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room: Opening, Dec 23
As Jesus taught and ministered to others, He was misunderstood and therefore criticized routinely. One of the most prevalent critiques was for spending time with tax collectors and sinners. Interestingly, it was the theologically informed who brought these evaluations. Those who should have known the priorities of God better than anyone else viewed Jesus’ priorities as being “off.”
In response, Jesus said:
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)
Two observations about what Jesus said:
- Jesus was not saying that some people don’t have need. He was speaking tongue in cheek about the self-perception of the religious leaders. Clearly, the Bible teaches “no one is righteous” (Romans 3:9) in their own right. So, those who have a perception of being “well” don’t have a sense of need. In other words, there is no room in our hearts for God when we believe we’ve got it together.
- While God is always present in our lives, we experience Him as near and enjoy His presence when we identify with our need. Indeed, we prepare Him room when we are aware of the void in our lives without Him. Part of this is being aware that we all have a tendency to self-righteousness. It can feel very threatening to embrace our need. It can feel shameful and embarrassing. So, we ignore evidence that we’re flawed. We convince ourselves that our motives are good. We compare ourselves to others in areas where we can be self-congratulating. Whatever the means, we are all have propensities toward this kind of internal dialogue.
Yesterday, we began looking at Jesus’ counsel in Revelation 3 to those who have a tendency to think that they have it all together:
“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” (Revelation 3:16-18)
The first encouragement was to acquire gold refined by fire and this spoke to pursuing the riches of doing life with Him by using our resources to be a blessing to others. Space in our hearts is opened because “things” are no longer something to be possessed but something to be shared. So, they can’t occupy space in our hearts.
The second encouragement is to “buy white garments so you can cover your shame.” Shame is a sense that something is wrong with us and that we are unacceptable. Because we are born into sin, we inherently have a sense of shame. Whether or not we’ve ever identified it like that, we are embarrassed and we might even develop a harsh exterior to hide it but it is there. We feel worthless and so we attach ourselves to creating an image for ourselves.
The “white garments” are a reference to the righteousness of Christ. The idea is this: rather than creating an image or hiding, we accept that we don’t have it all together and allow Him to be the one who defines us. Because of Christ’s death on the cross, His righteousness becomes ours if we’ve trusted Him as our savior. When we come to know Jesus as savior, this identity is ours but we may not be living in it. The beauty of it is that we can let go of shame and rest in Him … not because we have it all together but because we are loved by Him. If we are not careful to cultivate that sense of need for Him in a balanced way, we can go back into self-righteousness. However, as we are receiving His love and acceptance, our identity moves from self to Him.
One of the most damaging images that we can attach ourselves to is “being good” or doing the “right things.” There is a “goodness” that has nothing to do with God because it has everything to do with others thinking we’re good. We can try to take away our own shame but it never works.
Esther de Waal, in her book Living the Contradictions, shared:
“This is the mystery of the Christian life, to receive a new self, which depends not on what we can achieve but on what we are willing to receive.”
We do not have to attain but simply live in the awareness of all that is ours in Christ. It is not performance but reception that is necessary. All kinds of shame can crop up in our lives during the holidays. We can feel as though there is something wrong with us. It may be a sense of loneliness or frustration over broken relationships or even the absence of relationships in our lives.
The place where shame most forcibly shows up in our lives is in whether we believe we are lovable and significant. If we live with a sense of shameful unlovableness, there is not room in our hearts for God to occupy. If we live with a sense of “look at me, I’ve got it together,” there is not room either. Our self-perception and performance issues will take up space where God would normally take up residence. It is God alone who can answer the question of our worth.
Henri Nouwen, in The Inner Voice of Love, counsels himself by saying:
“Be patient. When you feel lonely, stay with your loneliness. Avoid the temptation to let your fearful self run off. Let it teach you its wisdom; let it tell you that you can live instead of just surviving. Gradually you will become one, and you will find that Jesus is living in your heart and offering you all you need.”
Do you struggle to experience the love of God in your life? Are you feeling your need and letting Him meet you there? Take a few minutes right now and ask the Lord to help you see places in your life where you are not living with a balanced sense of self. Next, let go of that self-perception and sit in the emptiness or loneliness. Finally, listen to the Lord. What does He want to tell you about who you are?
Pray this prayer throughout the day …
Father, I open myself to you. Letting go of all else, I come to you with empty, open hands. I entrust myself to You, believing that true riches, true worth, and true vision come only from You. Yes, Lord, have Your way in me. Thank You for Jesus who redeems me from the pit of self and into the joy of You. Amen.