We live in a culture that is vain, of that most people would agree. We spend inexcusable amounts of money on overpriced clothing and enhancement products. We speak aggressively about dieting and exercise (not that those are bad, but militant legalism is never a great quality and it isn’t isolated to the church). We plaster our skin and fashion heroes and heroines on the fronts of magazine, in full high-definition televisions, and 4 times their normal size on movie screens in theaters that dot the American landscape. We like to look good, and where we don’t look good we like to cover with cream, spray, or fabric to give the illusion that whatever unsightly thing could be there is not really there.
In Robert Mulholland’s book ,”Invitation to a Journey”, I was forced to stop, re-read, and then pray over a particular sentence within a very encouraging section. Mulholland’s book is about spiritual formation, which is a fancy way to refer to the life of discipleship to Jesus. It is about the structuring (and restructuring) of our inner lives, our souls, with the goal being an ever-growing resemblance to the image of Jesus. In this process Mulholland writes:
How much of our devotional life and our worship are designed simply to affirm, for ourselves, other and perhaps even God, those areas of our lives that we think are already well along the way…If, indeed, the work of God’s formation in us is the process of conforming us to the image of Christ, obviously it’s going to take place at the points where we are not yet conformed to that image.
– Robert Mulholland, “Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation”
What was interesting about this statement is not just that we need to know where we are weak. Without trying very hard we can figure out where we are weak. Pains of failure and the subsequent guilt let us know where we have failed. But this doesn’t seem to be what the author is talking about at all. He specifically references our “devotional life” and “worship” as the venues where we typically try to gloss over our weaknesses. And to be sure we do this because who wants to take a perfectly peaceful morning and spend it bringing up the things that will almost certainly haunt us for the rest of the day. But Mulholland is clear, the place that we must deal with our greatest areas of failure is in devotion and worship. If we choose to drive ambulances and attempt to perpetually deal with the aftermath of our failures we will basically doom ourselves to failing over and over again. But, if we will wipe off the make-up, remove the flattering garment in our spirit that we typically come before God in, we just might find freedom and grace instead of condemnation and disappointment.
To a certain degree the issue here is not one of performance but of love. If we trust the love of God we will know that, in part, because when everything is going well we won’t be afraid to ask Him to expose the weakness that is still in us, though perhaps not actively plaguing us in the present moment. The more we understand His love for us, the way it actually shimmers and glistens off of our exposed souls, the way that it covers a multitude of things, the way that it shines brightest in dark place…when we begin to really catch a glimpse of His true love for us we will be less apt to come before Him with our souls dressed in “Sunday best”. Sometimes, more often than many of us would like to admit, we need to wake up in our Saturday night clothes and go right into His throne room to ask for help. If our devotional time is spent looking to generate affirmation from God then it could mean that we’ve failed to grasp His 24-hour love.
We can be confident in approaching God, even in weakness. But maybe that statement should be made this way: We can be confident in approaching God ABOUT and BECAUSE OF our weakness. He already knows, and He already has a plan to craft us, form us, shape us, and mold us into something that looks more like Jesus.
So, friends, remove the scarf, comb the spray out of your hair, wipe off the eye liner and come before God warts and all. It is in this kind of authenticity that we find just how loving He is and how much He has considered us and our lives. He loves us.