18 September 2013

Paul's Story, Your Story

I wrote and read this devotion for "Gathering Day" for our church's morning women's Bible study (called Women of the Word). The devotion theme for this year is "God's Story, Your Story, My Story, Our Story." (I would have had fewer "stories" but it was a team decision.) Anyway, I got some good feedback on it, so I thought I'd post it here.

Hello, my name is Jennifer, and I am part of God’s story. And so is every one of you. Today, we’re going to look at Paul’s story, and how it might speak to us as we begin a new season together,  seeking to follow the call of Christ.

Here is Paul in Philippians, telling his story. This is from The Voice translation.

If any try to throw around their pedigrees to you, remember my résumé—which is more impressive than theirs. I was circumcised on the eighth day—as the law prescribes—born of the nation of Israel, descended from the tribe of Benjamin. I am a Hebrew born of Hebrews; I have observed the law according to the strict piety of the Pharisees, separate from those embracing a less rigorous kind of Judaism. Zealous? Yes. I ruthlessly pursued and persecuted the church. And when it comes to the righteousness required by the law, my record is spotless.

But whatever I used to count as my greatest accomplishments, I’ve written them off as a loss because of the Anointed One. And more so, I now realize that all I gained and thought was important was nothing but yesterday’s garbage compared to knowing the Anointed Jesus my Lord. For Him I have thrown everything aside—it’s nothing but a pile of waste—so that I may gain Him. When it counts, I want to be found belonging to Him, not clinging to my own righteousness based on law, but actively relying on the faithfulness of the Anointed One. This is true righteousness, supplied by God, acquired by faith. 10 I want to know Him inside and out. I want to experience the power of His resurrection and join in His suffering, shaped by His death, 11 so that I may arrive safely at the resurrection from the dead.

Paul had every credential of success according to both the world and the religious establishment. He was born into a respectable, even prominent family. He was well-educated. He was faithful to his religion—he was detail-oriented in obeying Jewish law. He was so dedicated to the well-being of Judaism that he persecuted those troublemakers and rabble-rousers who had the gall to preach that Jesus was the Messiah. He was secure in himself and his own righteousness. Until Jesus knocked him to the ground—literally—and turned his life upside down. Paul heard the call of Christ, and nothing was ever the same. He threw it all away—his comfortable religious practice, his reputation, most likely his family and friends, even his personal safety.

But he didn’t throw away his life for a cause, a way of life, or even a new religion. No, what drove Paul, his ultimate goal, was knowing Jesus. We might say that Paul devoted his life to spreading the Gospel. But what Paul says is “I want to know Jesus inside and out.” To Paul, the prize is not success, or self-improvement, or even doing great things for God. The prize is Jesus himself. And to know Jesus more and more, Paul is willing to leave his comfortable life behind him, to go through hardship and suffering—even death—if it will bring him closer to Jesus.

Maybe you have a story like Paul’s. Maybe you grew up in “the church”—whichever church that might be. You went to Sunday School, to youth group, maybe even a mission trip or a Christian college. You were the good girl, the one who followed the rules, the person all the moms wanted to babysit their kids. As an adult, you went to church faithfully, brought your children to Sunday School, maybe sang in the choir or went to Bible studies. You’ve been trying your best all your life to live up to the expectations of what being a good Christian looks like. And maybe all those expectations are tiring you out.

Or maybe your story is not like that. Maybe the only time you walked into a church was for weddings and funerals. Life in your family was good, but God didn’t figure much into it. Or maybe life in your family wasn’t so good, and you still carry scars from it. Perhaps you’re still haunted by mistakes you’ve made, or by dark paths you’ve traveled, either because of your own choices or someone else’s.  Maybe some days you’re struggling just to keep your head above water.

I’m here to tell you that no matter what your story is, God wants to be a part of it. Not just a part—God is calling you—calling me—to stop holding onto our own story so tightly, and allow ourselves to become a part of His story. The world tells us that we should be masters of our own fate, we should take control of our lives, pursue our dreams, achieve our goals. But God calls us to surrender our fate, to give up control, and most of all, to pursue Him. Life with God is not about following rules or living up to expectations—our own or anyone else’s. It is about following the gentle call of Jesus and allowing him to heal and shape us.

When God’s story intersected with Paul’s story, Paul was completely and utterly changed. Not all of us will have a dramatic Damascus road experience (although some of us will). But all of us can seek to know Jesus more and more, to ask Him to shape our story. That’s why we’re here. That’s why Women of the Word exists, as a way to seek Jesus together.

Over the next few months, will you allow God’s story to intersect with yours? How will your story change—how will my story change—as we open our hearts and our lives and ask God to tell His story through us? I can’t wait to find out.

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