On August 21, 2017, Columbia, South Carolina enjoyed almost three minutes of a total solar eclipse. What majesty, to stand in the twilight on a summer afternoon, glancing (carefully) at a blazing sun that was completely obscured by a black ball, the moon.
Remembering that once-in-a-lifetime experience spurs me to think about things that eclipse my view of the Son: things that obscure His brilliance, that keep me from seeing and savoring Jesus’ beauty.
Can you identify with these three things that have, at least for a time, eclipsed my view of the Son?
I’m not referring to heinous sins that, if exposed, would disqualify me from vocational ministry. Nonetheless, impure thoughts, wrong motives for ministry, a habit of complaining, excessive TV viewing, and a tendency to stretch the truth in order to make myself look better hinder intimacy with my Savior. (Admittedly, not all of these vices are secret. For example, those close to me usually hear my complaints.)
Of course, no sin is a secret to God, yet sins that are relatively private in relation to other people provide the fertile soil in which unfaithfulness to God grows. Indeed, men love darkness rather than light (John 3:19).
I yearn to make David’s prayer my own: “Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12). This verse implies that not even I am conscious of some sins in my life. I need the Holy Spirit to expose them. I need people who love me enough to point them out when my sin patterns are observable. I must regularly pray, “Lord, don’t let me sin successfully. Either break my heart over these sins, or let me get caught and pay the consequences.” (A rather bold and dangerous prayer, I admit.)
More often than not, I maintain a relationship with an accountability partner. A couple of times a month he goes over a series of questions I gave him, covering aspects of my walk with Christ, my thought life, use of time, and more. I see the Son better when others come alongside me and nudge me to greater intimacy with Him. As Charles Swindoll said in relation to accountability, “There is grave moral danger in too much privacy.”
Excessive Reliance on Achievement as My Source of Identity
Despite extensive study of God’s Word as a seminary student and throughout my lifetime of ministry, I still struggle with applying what I know concerning the source of my identity and significance as a person. I often fall into the trap of basing my significance on how many compliments I receive when I preach, how well students rate my university classes, how many copies my latest book has sold, or how many readers respond to a blog. Yet these are worldly measures of worth, not God’s evaluative criteria. When I’m preoccupied with human recognition or applause, it means that earthly values have usurped eternal ones, obscuring the real source of my significance.
Instead of what I do for Jesus, my identity actually stems from what He has done for me. God bought me with a high price: the precious blood of His Son (1 Cor. 6:19-20; 1 Pet. 1:18-19). A key principle of Marketing 101 is this: the worth of a product depends on what someone is willing to pay for it. Nothing I achieve comes close to matching the worth of God’s Son, the price He paid for my salvation. (Anytime I employ the cross to validate human worth, I must qualify my remarks. Ultimately, when I meditate on the cross, I should make much more of Jesus and His worth than I do my own value. Essentially, the cross was necessary because I do not measure up to God’s standard, yet Jesus did.)
When my grandson, Tate, was four, my wife showed him a photo of me on the back cover of a book I had written. She told Tate, “Your Papaw is a writer, a teacher, and a preacher!” Tate looked annoyed rather than impressed. He vigorously shook his head and blurted, “No! He’s not a writer. He’s not a teacher or a preacher! He’s just my Papaw!”
Tate rooted my identity in who I am in relation to him. Similarly, my primary identity is relational in its origin, who I am in relation to God: I am “Abba’s child” (Romans 8:15). I grasp that truth whenever I see the Son on the cross correctly, basking in the Son’s achievement rather than my own.
Lack of Discipline in Utilizing God’s “Means of Grace”
Entering a relationship with God depends entirely on His choice of me. He thawed a cold heart and made me receptive to the gospel, enabling me to put faith in Jesus’ sacrificial death for me. I was spiritually dead before conversion, unable to put my faith in Him, when “God, being rich in mercy….even when we were dead, made us alive together with Christ” (see Ephesians 2:1-5). Yet when it comes to spiritual growth, I have responsibilities, too. No, maturing is not merely a human endeavor, yet God has provided certain “means of grace” that I much choose to use, avenues through which He meets and enables me. Experientially speaking, I am not zapped from on high with holiness from day to day just because I believe in Jesus.
These means of grace, often called spiritual disciplines, include, but aren’t limited to, Bible study, prayer, close fellowship with other believers, fasting, solitude, worship and service. Growth in holiness requires pursuit, or effort (Heb.12:14). Paul told Timothy to discipline himself for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). God’s grace and my personal discipline are not at odds with one another. As Dallas Willard put it, “Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning.”
Passivity does not cultivate an intimate relationship, whether the other person is a human being, such as my wife, or Christ Himself. This sin of omission, failing to cultivate my relationship with Him, keeps me from seeking, savoring and seeing vividly the Son of God.
Here are ways to practice the required discipline of nurturing a closer walk with Jesus:
*Find a template for reading through the Bible in a year.
*If your prayer life is feeble, reserve just 10 minutes a day and work up from there.
*If you’re burdened over a teenager or adult child, fast one meal a week and fight for him or her with more intense prayer.
*Read a good book on spiritual disciplines, such as Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines, or Don Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.
Which of these three factors most often obscures your view of and intimacy with the Son? .
What other things eclipse your view of the Son?
Seeing the Son better won’t damage your eyesight. Your spiritual vision will nudge closer to 20-20.