My friend, Luis, shared with me a dream he had where he and Jesus were sitting on a park bench. Jesus asked him why Jonah did what he did. After Luis offered some of his thoughts, he finally turned the question back to Jesus. “Because he made it about himself.”
Those words have reverberated in my heart ever since, at just the right moments. In the difficult circumstance in which I find myself now, it is so easy to crash into the weeds of my grief and sorrow that are so self-focused. I hear his thought cross my mind when I do, “Don’t make it about yourself.”
Those words are like an updraft I talked about in our last podcast, Transformation 1: Windblown. The chaos of a fallen creation and the self-centeredness of our flesh are the gravity that draws us into darkness. I can feel it now in my sorrow. There’s an agony and distress that holds space for God’s work in my life and in the life of those I love, and there’s self-focused anguish that drives me into despair and overwhelming pain. “Don’t make it about yourself” have been words of life that lift me from the darkness of hopelessness and bear me upward into the realm of his Spirit.
And what’s even stranger. While I need those words about not making it about myself, I can see circumstances where Jesus would be speaking just the opposite to someone else. That would be especially true for those who hide their inner pain by serving everyone else around them. Jesus might say to them, “Don’t focus on others just now; we need to focus on you.” He may be wanting them to learn self-compassion for him to heal wounds they’ve long neglected.
That’s why following principles, even Godly ones, is not the same as following Jesus. It’s easy to sort through many principles, find the one we like, and implement it hoping it will fix our pain. However, until we know what he’s doing in us and follow him, we become the victims of our own limited wisdom. As we recognize the nudges that draw us into his work rather than fall victim to our wisdom, we can soar above the weeds into the wind of his Spirit. (For more on that analogy, listen to the podcast linked above.)
Throughout most of my life, I was told that if I followed Jesus, he would bless me. Of course, that’s true, but most of us assumed or were taught that his blessing would fix all of our challenging circumstances, meet our needs, and answer our unselfish prayers. It doesn’t take long to figure out he doesn’t work that way, and that mistake can lead us to doubt his character or question our performance.—two terrible outcomes for the journey he invites us down.
Following Jesus does not save us from the chaos of a broken creation. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us that the sun and rain come upon the just and the unjust. He also told us not to consider those who died in the tower’s collapse at Siloam were any more deserving of death than those who escaped. God’s goodness and the world’s chaos fall on those who follow him and those who don’t. His blessing allows us to navigate the chaos that would allow his glory to be more fully formed in us and make us more compassionate for hurting people.
Live by the Spirit, and you can soar with him through the most brutal events life can hurl you. Fight for your way, and you’ll crash into the weeds, angry and disillusioned.
I was with a friend recently going through a stressful time with challenges and uncertainties in his circumstances. As I often do, I asked them what Jesus was showing him?
As most respond, he told me he was praying the answer would show up and trying to apply some Scriptural lessons he had learned.
“But what is Jesus revealing to you about this particular circumstance and how he wants you to go through it?” I asked again.
“I haven’t heard anything from him,” he answered awkwardly.
It’s a conversation I have too frequently. At the heart of the Gospel is this reality: God is coming to find you and invite you into a relationship with him to reveal his glory to you and then through you. That’s the trajectory of a transforming life. Somehow, we’ve traded the incredible adventure of following his ever-present direction for desperate prayers that often go unanswered or cling to our own best wisdom as we apply the Scriptures we think will work for us. On our best day, those won’t be enough.
We need insight from him that shows us a way through the chaos to the life he has for us. It reminds me of something someone said on a podcast with me about dealing with darkness. When the night begins to surround us, it’s easy to chase after the light hoping to catch it. Think of trying to do that with a sunset. You can pursue the sun westward all you want, but you’ll never catch it. The fastest way through the darkness is to turn east and run toward the rising sun you can’t see yet. Jesus is the only one that can show you how to do that.
So, when the world’s chaos crashes against you with all its fury, don’t think “escape at all costs.” Instead, look to the One who wants to deliver you from its clutches and shape the trajectory of your life through it to his greater glory.
Find that thought he’s giving you that draws you out of the chaos and follow it to the rising sun in the eastern sky.