Like the message of modern women’s ministry it arrives clothed in good intention, never meaning to go too far or stay too long. But it has stayed too long – in our churches, and in my heart.
We hear it in the shifted center of the songs we sing:
I don’t want to go through the motions, I don’t want to spend one more day…
When you feel like you’re alone in your sadness
And it seems like no one in this whole world cares…
You and I were made to worship
You and I are called to love
You and I are forgiven and free…
A change of emphasis has taken place. The words, the affirmations, the identities and monikers – many of them are biblical and true. The problem lies – once again – not in whether or not the message is true but whether our overt focus on it has handicapped our spiritual maturity.
I believe it has. It is the millennial gospel – good feelings, good music, real people, and “rawness”. The not-so-good news? It’s incomplete.
The Usurpation of “I Am”
There’s been a shift in the conversation of the church over the last few decades. It’s not entirely the fault of millennials like myself, but we’ve confirmed the tone of it. It is both subtle and obvious, depending on who you ask. It’s the shift from a celebration of God – His majesty, kindness, greatness, and grace – to the celebration of man.
It is, in essence, a usurpation of “I Am”.
In the well known story of Exodus 3, Moses meets God for the first time. God gives Moses a mission: to set the people of Israel free, to be His representative to Pharoah, and to help reveal God’s goodness to the nations. When asked in what name these things should be done, God responds: “I AM has sent you.” (3:14)
I AM. There is no better way to describe Who He is: the very essence of Being, incomprehensible, held accountable to love by His own perfect justice. He both defines Himself and fulfills that definition. He is the Beginning and the End of the universe; the Alpha and Omega of our very breath.
Yet the millennial gospel spends more time talking about our weakness, our struggle, and our habits than it does about preeminence of God’s character. We know a lot about being relevant; we know a lot about discipleship and church planting and being “real” with one another. But that’s the problem. Our new, Christian “reality” revolves around… us. Jesus is there in name; yes, He’s part of our lives. But the “I Am” of our conversations is more often “I am learning…” and “I am struggling…” than an active acknowledgement of I AM THAT I AM.
The Great “I AM”, or “I am Great”?
Who is the greatest – God, or us? We say “God, of course!” but do our worship services, actions, and thought patterns reflect this? Is He really the central Person in the church today, or is He simply the vehicle for more Christianized conversation about… us?
I love the songs I quoted at the beginning of this post. I don’t think any of them are “bad” or ill-willed, and I can praise God as completely with those words as I can with Before the Throne of God Above. Yet true worship has little to do with music; as Jesus said, “the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23) We’re all about inviting the Spirit to enhance our worship “experience”; but are we emphasizing the truth?
The truth is that God is God, and we are not. When we sing songs that start with “I”, we need to really consider – is this “worship” centered around the character of God Himself, or only my response to what He’s going to do for me? Am I seeking Him for Him?
My fear for millennials is that we have turned God into a spiritual Pez dispenser. Our worship is full of good motives and feelings, but we wonder why those emotions come and go; why we struggle to sense the Spirit’s presence on a consistent basis. May I suggest a solution?
If we were to focus our full attention on the greatness of God’s character – the I AM THAT I AM – would we not respond like Moses? Would we not be so overwhelmed by the Spirit of God, by His magnanimity and power, that we would recognize just how holy our lives are supposed to be?
When we start the gospel with “I am…” instead of “I AM THAT I AM”, we’re starting in the wrong place. Yes, there is a time for who we are in Christ; but it’s the outcome, not the cause. The Alpha and the Omega is the beginning and end of true worship. And where the truth is, the Spirit will be.
Who He Is is Who We Are
We don’t need Jesus to tell us more about us. We need Jesus. Period.
Paul learned who he was as he lost himself in mission for the gospel. He didn’t spend days navel gazing – his was an active faith, a faith fulfilling the Great Commission, and in doing so embracing the identity God had for him. Likewise, if you’re dissatisfied with your faith, the church, the relentless mundanity of “being Christian”, you aren’t exposing yourself to the real gospel, and probably not living it with the passion of a heart that sees God.
Gospel truth is not a one-time stop for salvation. It is a daily reality. It is a morning choice to “come and adore Him” and in so doing, find who we are.
We are free because He bought us.
We are chosen because God sought us.
We are loved because He is righteous.
And we should respond – not with “tell me more about me!” – but with “Holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” (Rev. 4:1-8)
Worship Him. Bow your knees, bow your head, bow your heart. Stop using Him to find yourself and simply seek His face.
Moses started with “Who am I?” and God never answered him (Exodus 3:11). He simply said, “I am with you.” The power of that statement was enough for Moses to do the impossible. Like Moses, we ask, “Who am I?” – but unlike Moses, we never stop asking. The culture of modern Christianity keeps us in an endless circle of self-reflection. We think that – by asking God to tell us more about us – we’ll find freedom from the things that burden us. All this, while our loving Father stands – arms spread wide by what was done on the Cross – inviting us to put down the mirror and behold His face.
We do not glorify God by learning more spiritual facts about ourselves. Those who look to Him are radiant (Psalm 34:5). Those who look to Him are never ashamed.
We will not find freedom by learning more about ourselves, but by learning more about our Lord. It is by seeking God first and only that our hearts grasp our Christ-won identities, but even then this identity is not the concern. In the throes of true worship, it is not our “I am” that matters; it is His.
We all will ask “God, who am I?” at times in our lives. But that question should not characterize our walk, nor should it be the center of our gospel. Rather, we can be rooted in the true gospel: the one that both asks and answers, “God, who are You?”
And there, where the Spirit of the Lord is, we find freedom.