The Work of Grace

O Gracious God, by your Son, Jesus Christ, you call us forth from sin and into the baptism of new life. Help us work out our salvation with the fear and trembling necessary for any genuine disciple. Forgive us when we imagine you are done with your re-creative work in us.

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

None of is done growing. God has more to do in us. But spiritual growth isn’t always easy. We have to be willing to enter into the process, become more self-aware, and be ready to do some hard work. As the late Dallas Willard once said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” Indeed, the above prayer draws on Philippians 2:12, where Paul says: “Therefore, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

For me, the last four or so years have been among the most significant of my life with respect to growing spiritually. Not because I have finally made it. Not at all. Instead, I would say that how I see the spiritual life has shifted in important ways. I have had a big change of perspective. But entering this process has meant being willing at times to deal with corners of my heart and aspects of my past that are painful to look at.

And it’s still true. Even now, there are areas of my life that need profound change. And what needs to change in the present is rooted deeply in my upbringing. Lifelong negative habits are often borne of emotional and psychological attempts to cope with other things. Who we are in the present, including the not so good stuff, is the end result of our personal history. This same stuff–habits, traits, proclivities, fears–is what God wants to go to work healing and restoring.

As a result, facing these habits, these things that need to change, can be very hard. It’s never only about the exercise of willpower. Though effort is needed. We also need to recognize that these things are spiritual. Because everything about our lives, especially as it pertains to how we relate to others and even to ourselves, is spiritual. Spiritual in the sense of having to do with the deepest part of ourselves, that image of God-ness, who God has made us to be. Spiritual in the sense of being re-made into the image of Jesus. Spiritual in the sense of needing to submit to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Spiritual in the sense of realizing that long before we began the hard journey home, our heavenly Father saw us from a distance and began running towards us, arms outstretched for an embrace.

In one sense, we go on that journey again and again. As soon as we find ourselves confronting another element of our painful past, or whatever it is that keeps us from being more fully ourselves or from growing, we need to learn to receive the Father’s love that much more fully. Because it’s his love, fully revealed in the person of Christ, that transforms and redeems us.

The question is always: Are we willing to let God into that space, into those painful areas of our lives? What’s more painful, the redemptive process of God doing his work in us or staying exactly where we are and allowing the guilt, fear, and shame have its way with us? Either way, life is going to be painful at times, at some level. But we have to choose our pain.

I’m facing a choice along those lines right now. I don’t even know exactly how to go about it. It’s an area of my life that I have struggled with for as long as I can remember. And while I know perfectly well that the pain of remaining as I am is much less desirable, making the effort again to change, perhaps at a deeper level, is not a prospect I necessarily welcome.

Part of God’s work of grace, I think, involves freeing us from all the baggage, the past hurts, that define how we deal with life in the present. He wants to break the chains that hold us back from experiencing the new life in Christ he offers. The spiritual life–life lived in the presence of God through Christ in the power of the Spirit–is not about holding on until we get to heaven, about just waiting until Jesus returns. No, it’s about the power of God at work in our lives in the present. Here. Now. It’s not an easy or comfortable process. There is some fear and trembling involved. But I’ve come far enough to know that the process is worth it. That God shows up in grace and love. And if I am going to keep growing, which he calls me to do, it’s knowing this that makes continuing this process possible. Not only for me, but also for you.

Praying for Forgiveness?

Forgiveness is a funny thing.

You see, as Christians we believe that when Jesus was nailed to the cross, he willingly bore the sins of the entire world—past, present, future. Transposing this into a more personal key, Christ’s gift of reconciliation covers every inch of my wrongdoing and brokenness. Nothing remains unforgiven. No wound untouched by his healing power. Everything I’ve done and will do that violates God’s will for my life completely covered.

And so when I came to faith in Christ, in that moment the Holy Spirit immediately applied this forgiveness to all of my sins. No exceptions. Not a one.

In other words, I have been forgiven. Past tense. Done.

It’s beautiful, actually. And profound beyond measure.

But it makes me ask a question, one that may sound silly but can actually lead us to a deeper appreciation and understanding of forgiveness.

Why do we need to continue asking for forgiveness? Hasn’t Christ already forgiven all my sin? Does asking for his forgiveness imply that he didn’t forgive me for everything already? Was his earlier forgiveness not sufficient?

So I think of it this way. When I sin today, the reason I confess and repent is that I need to appropriate (or make use of) the forgiveness already given. It’s not that Jesus needs to forgive me all over again; rather, I need to return to the one who has forgiven me. It’s not so that I can have Jesus forgive my newly committed sin, but so my current sin doesn’t continue as an obstacle to the relationship I have with him.

Put another way, my need for confession and forgiveness is relational, not transactional.

Or consider it this way. If Jesus had to forgive me again and again for each individual sin for me to be forgiven, what about sin I commit that I am not aware of? Because we are not consciously aware of all the ways we fail to love God and others. His forgiveness—the grace he extends from the cross—takes care of all that too.

But when we are aware of ways in which we have broken God’s commands, we confess not to elicit God’s forgiveness but to willingly and humbly receive it.

We pray for forgiveness, in other words, not to change God’s mind but to transform ours. It’s one of the key ways we invite Christ to continue renovating our hearts. And doing so also reminds us again and again of the gospel, at the heart of which is a Saviour who loves us so much that he was willing to sacrifice his life so we could enjoy the forgiveness he longs for us to know.

Sin, Church Conflict, and the Need for Confession in Public Worship

Over the last five years or so, I have had at least half a dozen pastor friends who have had to leave or resign from their churches on account of various kinds of congregational dysfunction or confict. Even though it’s true that I don’t know many of the details about these individual stories, it almost doesn’t matter. Because while I don’t doubt that there is truth on both sides, my concern is more about how churches and Christians handle these situations. In many cases, these pastors have walked away having to deal with a sort of spiritual PTSD. Whoever’s to blame, these situations leave a lot of wreckage in their wake.

For about 20 years or so now I have been pastoring small, rural Baptist churches. So far I have managed to avoid serious conflicts with the churches I have been privileged to serve. In that way, my family and I have been remarkably blessed. I hope and pray that this remains the case. Yet, I have seen and heard of enough shenanigans, in-fighting, and struggles for power to make me wonder sometimes why anyone still bothers with this thing called “church.” There are moments when it seems to be more trouble than it’s worth.

Then again, there are those who don’t bother with church anymore. A harsh word, a critical remark, or an insensitive comment is all it takes for some to turn tail and run. I can’t say I blame them. How much easier is it to disengage from Christian community than it is to keep pressing forward with it, especially if it’s going to be this painful?

The truth is, despite having said that I’ve not had to deal with serious conflicts in the churches that I’ve pastored, there are ways in which this is still a problem. Bear with me. My point is this: there are people who have left churches while I’ve been pastor, but for the most part I don’t know why they’ve left. Not really. As a pastor you can try to have those awkward conversations with people who have left, but quite often what you’re told is that it has nothing to do with you or anyone at the church. At least that’s my experience. It’s the classic break-up scenario where the one doing the breaking up tries to make the other person feel better: “It’s not you, it’s me.”

And I understand. Completely. No one wants a confrontation. No one wants to make anyone else feel badly. Or this is at least the case in the church culture that I’ve been a part of for the last couple of decades. Walking away quietly can seem like the more honourable and respectable approach. No one gets hurt this way. Presumably. Of course, as a pastor it can be incredibly difficult not to take such situations personally. Clergy beyond count have wrestled with these questions in the long watches of the night: “What did I do? What didn’t I do? What could I have done better?”

What this highlights for me is an issue that plagues churches (and I’m sure other communities too) and that is this: an inability to deal maturely with conflict. You can rest assured that whenever a conflict rears its ugly head in a congregation it will often be handled poorly. This is because growing in spiritual and emotional maturity has never really been that much of a priority in churches. Or we equate intellectual knowledge of theology and the Bible with spiritual maturity. Our discipleship has been largely from the neck up. So and so knows so much about the Bible. They’re such a mature and wise believer. Maybe. But maybe not.

I think when it comes to sorting out our thoughts on this stuff, there are a few points that need to be made. One, there will be conflict in churches. Let’s face facts. Stick enough people in a church community and have them spend enough time worshipping and working together, someone will eventually get bent out of shape, annoyed, frustrated and, yes, even hurt. This is going to happen. Count on it.

Facing this is important. Think about it. How many times have you heard people express dismay or disgust at how Christians have behaved? How many people have left churches precisely because someone else in the church has been mean or unkind to them and the shock of this pushed them away? To say nothing of unintentional slights or careless words spoken in haste from otherwise caring people.

Years ago, I was sitting in Tim Horton’s and I overheard a conversation. One person said to another, “You should be in church on Sunday.” The other person said, “Why? I’m just as good as anyone in church.” As if being in church is supposedly for those who are better than others or if the point was simply outward behaviourial change.

But being a Christian and therefore going to church is not about sin management. If it were, the church writ large would have to be judged a spectacular failure.

However, this leads us to the second thing: we are sinners. 1 John 1:8 reminds us: If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Accepting Jesus, so to speak, does not change this reality. Now, this reality is not an excuse. We shouldn’t sin so that grace may abound, no. Just because we are tempted to sin is no reason to throw up our hands in resignation, proceed with our sin, and presume God’s forgiveness. But neither should we be altogether surprised when someone who confesses Christ as Lord actually sins–and perhaps against you.

Being able to acknowledge that we are sinners in constant need of grace, mercy, repentance, and forgiveness, even outside of specific conflicts, positions us to anticipate those moments when even followers of Jesus fail to love one another. Expecting the Christians around us to be perfect is a recipe for disappointment in the church.

Think of it this way. When we sin, heinously or not, God is not surprised. Our sins of action or inaction do not take him off guard. Why? Because he knows who we are. He knows who I am. He knows who you are. And when it comes to churches, he also knows how the combination of these people in this place will lead to problems. Jesus knows your church, both its strengths and failings.

All this to make clear that my sin reverberates through the church much like a rock thrown in still water. There is, pardon the pun, a ripple effect.

Indeed, that is in part why we gather as a church. We need constant reminding of the good news. We need help to live as Jesus calls us to live. We need confession and absolution when we fail. We need brothers and sisters in Christ to uphold us in prayer, to admonish us, and to encourage us. It is through the ministry of the Body of Christ that God intends to heal us and make us whole by his Holy Spirit. Simply put, we need ongoing repentance and forgiveness. Thankfully, God is more than willing. 1 John 1:9 assures us: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

But when we are unwilling or unable for whatever reason to own our sin, and to accept that our fellow Christians are also sinners, conflicts in the church, big or small, become the very thing we are ill-equipped to handle with honesty, mercy and wisdom.

It strikes me as revealing that in many churches, we speak much about the cross, about redemption, even forgiveness, but we never actually confess sin to God, much less to one another in our public worship. Yet in James 5:16 we read: Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.

This is a problem. Much of the church culture with which I am familiar is deeply uncomfortable with the biblical practice of confessing our sins to one another, primarily, I think, because we largely don’t feel safe doing so. But I think this is because we simply haven’t found ways of doing so that are genuine and safe.

This is my next point. I think there needs to be some means of acknowledging in public worship our sins against God and one another.

Now, it’s fair to ask: Is confessing sin in our public worship important? Why can I not confess my own sins in the quiet of my home, away from the judgmental gaze of the person sitting behind me in church on a Sunday morning? More to the point, doesn’t Jesus tell me to pray privately?

Yes, Jesus does instruct his followers to pray in private. Here’s what he actually says:

Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Matthew 6:5-6

But the context, as always in Scripture, is vital. Jesus was contrasting sound spiritual practice with the sort that sought the reward of public recognition. And there is a world of difference between praying for the applause of others and confessing our sins to one another. Consider what Paul writes:

Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

Colossians 3:12-14

We can’t obey Scripture like this in the privacy of our home away from other believers.

Moreover, the problem with restricting all confession to our private prayers is that this neglects the very real fact that my sin doesn’t only affect me. We tend to have a very individualistic outlook even as Christians, given we are called to accountability with other believers. So we conclude: If no one knows my sin, how can it affect anyone else? Yet, even my most private sin impacts others. I don’t exist in a spiritual vacuum. My relationship with God is not cordoned off from the relationships I have with the people in my church. Whenever something is off between myself and my Lord, things will be off in how I relate to people in church. All of our sin is relational, both vertically and horizontally.

Take, for example, a sin of omission: the neglect of prayer and Bible reading. I would think of this as sin because I am failing to avail myself of two primary means of grace God provides so I can draw nearer to him and become more Christlike, which is his will for me. And if I am not doing this as a member of Christ’s church, then I am also unable to bless other people in the church. If I am not a prayerful person (or hopefully and gradually becoming a more prayerful person, which is where most of us are), then this will profoundly affect my participation on any church committee, board, or ministry team. For instance, I may want to push for a decision that needs more prayer. Or to put it another way, someone who is being more deeply formed by their time in Scripture may bring wisdom to the table someone who neglects time in Scripture cannot.

One means of this is to include a unison prayer of confession. Of course as I say this, let me confess: as a pastor I have not yet led our congregation to do this. In my pastoral prayers, I have often (but not always) included such words of repentance, an acknowledgement of our sin, and an assurance of forgiveness. This is not the same, however, as giving the congregation an opportunity to say such words themselves. That matters.

Take this prayer from the Book of Common Prayer as an example:

Almighty God and Father, we confess to you, to one another, and to the whole company of heaven, that we have sinned, through our own fault, in thought, and word, and deed, and in what we have left undone. For the sake of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon us, forgive us our sins, and by the power of your Holy Spirit, raise us up to serve you in newness of life, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer (2019)

Praying this or a similar prayer in public worship is not only a matter of confessing particular sins of which we are aware. I sin without always being aware of it. I don’t always decide to sin; I am sinful. Since I am a sinful person, everything I am and do is tainted by sinfulness. That is, sin concerns more than discrete sinful actions; it concerns my innate tendency to choose sinfully.

I think such congregational prayers would allow us to acknowledge before God and one another that we are sinners and our relationships with one another stand in regular need of spiritual repair. Incorporating prayers of confession and assurances of forgiveness into our public worship also means we needn’t divulge personal information in an indiscrete way. There may be occasions when confession of specific sins during times of public worship is actually important and necessary, but in such cases leaders need to act with sensitivity, wisdom, grace, and discernement. Confession is meant to lead to healing, not to deeper shame or embarrassment.

Here’s the thing: I am not saying that simply praying such words, however we choose to do so, in our congregational worship is a silver bullet against the poor handling of sin and conflict in the church. But we are still responsible as brothers and sisters in Christ to cultivate a spiritual environment where we can have a mature assessment of our mutual sinfulness and deeper appreciation of God’s grace in Christ. Doing this in community is how we work the gospel into our relationships. The church needs the leaven of humility and honesty to be healthy and effective. Because it’s simply not enough for those of us who are Christians, who confess Jesus as Savior and Lord, to try and deal with sin outside of congregational life. This risks an evasion of the very reality we are seeking to acknowledge: that we are indeed sinners against God and one another and that God in Christ has made possible reconciliation.

Making Every Effort When There’s Nothing You Can Do: More Thoughts on Spiritual Formation

The process of Christ being formed in us, the process of maturation every believer is called to undergo, is called spiritual formation. In other words, the process of transformation, of growing in Christ, is the work of the Holy Spirit. Through the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord told his people, “I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live” (Ezekiel 37:14). And God fulfilled this promise in the upper room at Pentecost (Acts 2:1—4). And while there is an indicative sense in which this is true, that the believer lives by the power of the indwelling Spirit, such truth can also be expressed as an exhortation. As Paul says, “Live by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16). What this exhortation tells us is that there are two related aspects of the work of the Spirit in the process of spiritual transformation. On the one hand, we cannot grow as followers of Jesus without the power of the Spirit; on the other hand, we are also called to cooperate with the work of the Spirit in our lives in order to see transformation take place.

For something to happen, there needs to be power; for someone to be formed into the image of Jesus, they need “the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:13). In fact, in the New Testament there are several instances where the words “power” and “Spirit” are used interchangeably or in conjunction with one another. The point is simply that the person of the Spirit is the one who enables a follower of Jesus to grow as a follower of Jesus. Peter points us to this reality when he says, “His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Everything needed. Commenting on these words from 2 Peter, author Mark Buchanan, in his book Hidden in Plain Sight, writes: “Everything you need for life and godliness you have already. In full. You actually don’t need any more. Not one thing—not a cotter pin or flat washer, not a doohickey or a thingamajig; nothing’s been withheld. Everything required for zoë—abundant and flourishing life—and eusebeia—a deep and real commitment to what matters most—is intact.”

During his final hours with his disciples, Jesus used more organic imagery to say essentially the same thing: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Particularly if we conceive the fruit Jesus mentions as the fruit of the Spirit, Jesus puts a more relational spin on the same idea, but the point is the very similar. To become more like Jesus, we need to be in relationship with Jesus. The power of that relationship is the Spirit. Apart from me you can do nothing. Our nothing is more than sufficiently met by Jesus’ everything.

Despite this, our role in spiritual transformation is not passive. Even Jesus says, “Abide in me,” which, if it means remaining in intimate communion with him, is hardly an effortless endeavour. Like any other relationship, ours with Jesus requires nurture, cultivation, support, and, yes, even effort. Speaking of effort, therefore, in the same passage where Peter speaks of God as giving us “everything needed” for becoming mature in Christ, he then goes to tell his readers to “make every effort” (2 Peter 1:5—8). The effort he encourages his brothers and sisters to expend is effort in adding to their faith a number of virtues that are quite similar to Paul’s list of spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22—23).

So clearly, there is a biblical expectation that those seeking to become mature in Jesus will, to paraphrase the subtitle of Barton’s book, Sacred Rhythms, “arrange their lives for spiritual transformation.” And this biblical expectation is not low, either; Peter does say, “Make every effort.” God calls believers to do everything they can do to become more like Jesus. The Christian life is active and intentional. Just as God does not force his saving love upon anyone, neither does he force our progress towards spiritual maturity. He has his role, we have ours. When we “make every effort,” we are, in effect, living by the Spirit.

It is interesting to reflect on the process of spiritual formation in the context of some of our more prominent, i.e., newsworthy, political stories. For instance, the unfolding train wreck that is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford throws into sharp relief the importance of considering character (especially but not exclusively in political, public life). The dissonance of a leader behaving in the way that Ford has yet who also insists on the quality of his leadership—itself debated by many—serves as a reminder that what we do and who we are intimately related. It’s in this respect we see a connection between the fruit and gifts of the Spirit. In a word, character counts; and character is a crucial aspect of having Christ being formed in us.

Biblically, Christian character takes shape through specific virtues. Paul provides a list of virtues he calls spiritual fruit. Found in Galatians 5:22—23, they are as follows: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Peter does something similar with his list in 2 Peter 1:5—8: “You must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.” These lists of virtues give shape to the kind of people we are called to be as followers of Christ.

Together the fruit of the Spirit give us a picture of the character of Jesus. And so for a believer to grow the fruit in his or her life is, de facto, to grow in Christlikeness, to become more like Jesus. But the obvious problem is that we cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit, as one author says, “through sheer willpower and personal discipline.” Therefore, we have a quandary. We are told by Scripture to “make every effort” to do something we cannot do by our own efforts. Apart from me you can do nothing. Apart from abiding in Jesus, attempts to be like Jesus will prove useless.

Our own inability to produce spiritual fruit is itself our starting point and the key to understanding the kind of effort we are called to exert in the process of having Christ formed in us. Thinking we can do it, that we can accomplish our own spiritual transformation, guarantees either frustration over failure or pride in our good works. In other words, the first step in making every effort toward maturity in Jesus is realizing our own utter helplessness in his presence, a helplessness defined by our limitations and our sinfulness. We must make every effort to understand what it is we cannot do.

The link between our own powerlessness and God’s infinite capacity to transform us according to the imago Dei is the person of the Spirit. “Indispensable to the life of virtue,” Buchanan says, “is the presence of the Spirit. If the Spirit does not stir, fill, and direct both our life of faith and our quest for virtue, all our virtues will grow stunted and bitter, like fruit from hardscrabble ground. Such virtue is usually no more than a repertoire of self-serving gestures.” Beginning the journey toward spiritual formation means acknowledging before God that we stand in complete need of his aid, that nothing we are called to be is something we can accomplish. Practicing spiritual disciplines means placing ourselves in the position where God is free to be about his work of forming us after the image of Jesus.

If, for example, someone struggles with impatience as I do, becoming more patient is not going to happen through my own attempts to act more patiently in relation to those around me. But placing myself more thoroughly at God’s disposal can indirectly produce the quality of patience in my life. “When we come to terms with the inability to change ourselves,” Buchanan reminds us, “then we allow the Lord to be our source.” Apart from me you can do nothing. Think of the prophet’s words: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6). Such words lie at the heart of spiritual formation.

Who Am I Really?

Husband. Father. Pastor. These are roles I currently have, roles that constitute both my responsibilities and relationships. They define my activities, my routine, what I do from day to day. And sometimes I can allow these roles to define who I am; and in the process I can forget that there’s more to me than the sum of my obligations, more to me than meets the eye.

I can imagine other sources of identity, too. I may fancy myself a writer, a cartoonist, or someone deserving of attention because of talents I possess. Why would I do this? Is it because I find my primary roles overwhelming and I am looking for an escape hatch, a place to hide from time to time? Or is it because I occasionally find these primary roles unsatisfying, and end up indulging in personal fantasies? In a moment of honesty, I might even admit to fantasying now and then about being a more successful pastor. Sometimes who I wish I was becomes the enemy of who I am.

Who am I really?

A question for the ages.

I have found that it can be deceptively easy to replace my identity in Christ with my role as pastor. It isn’t always conscious. It’s not like I want it to happen. But when professional obligations and duties push personal worship to the periphery, not only does ministry become hollow but so do I. Ironically, focusing only on ministry drains my ability to be effective in ministry.

Spirituality can seem counter-intuitive. Letting go to receive. Relinquishing to have. Detaching to gain. Dying to live. He must increase, while I must decrease. By becoming less, I actually become more; that is, if I am allowing Christ to be the primary source of my identity. But I realize, too, that I am impatient with Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit. Becoming who we are in Christ is not a quick-fix; instead, it is a slow, sometimes painful process.

All the same, one of the things Adele Calhoun says in her book, The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, really stands out to me: “Imagine the kind of person you would like to become in your old age.” And I can even imagine the kind of person I would like to be in five, ten, or fifteen years. I think this stands out to me because I think of the Christian mentors or people who have had an influence on me over the years—because of their character, because of the roles they had, and how part of me would like to become more like them.

What I can say is that I am not altogether who I want to be, much less who God no doubt wants me to be—though I hope and pray that the trajectory of each is similar to the other. I want to be the kind of man who has his children’s respect, even though they are getting older. I want to be the kind of husband who enables his wife to thrive and grow and become more fully herself. I want to be the kind of pastor that has both a heart for God and a heart for the people. I want to be the kind of Christian that is growing in biblical wisdom and able to translate this wisdom into the context of relationships, of simple conversations, of everyday life. I want to be more than the roles I have. I want to be who Jesus wants me to be.

Like anyone else, I am a mixture of things, a messy combination of holy desires and sinful impulses. Hopefully the former are gaining on the latter and will eventually outrun them. The truth is, I don’t know myself as well as I should. I can be a mystery to myself, a puzzle, a frustration. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Indeed.

Thankfully, God knows me. He truly does. And perfectly, with a completeness of knowledge I will never have of myself. O Lord, you have searched me and known me . . . you discern my thoughts from far away . . . Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it . . . Search me, O God, and know my heart . . . and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:1a, 6, 23a, 24b). And mystery of mysteries, wonder of wonders, he still condescends to love me, to rescue me, and, thankfully, to transform me. Work best left to him, especially since as my Creator, as the one who made me in the beginning, he knows not only who I am now but who he wants me to be.