Every now and then, when driving, I realize that I’ve traveled a distance without being consciously aware of surrounding sights and sounds. (Does this ever happen to anyone else?) The radio is playing as usual, and my car traverses the intended course, and – as far as I know – I’ve observed all traffic laws. All of the senses commanding my vehicle, however, are seemingly on auto-pilot.
This time, the real action was going on inside my mind, driving me further down a regretful road of would-haves, could-haves, and should-haves, and a remembrance of all my shortcomings was buckled securely in the passenger seat.
When I “came to,” I heard O Holy Night on the radio and reached to change the station. (Though O Holy Night is a cherished hymn of Christmas ages, I confess it’s not a personal favorite. Who – except those with voices that belong in the heavenly chorus – can hit all those notes?) But my ears – and my heart – heard this, as if for the first time:
Long lay the world in sin and error pining, Till He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
As we welcome a new year, when we typically choose our resolutions or our “one-word,” I want this ‘the soul felt its worth’ – this reason for the incarnation – to inhabit my heart. This one phrase was a gift to me in the moment, yet my soul needs more than momentary relief. I need to re-open the truths of who I am in Christ every day.
I’ve tended to avoid new year’s resolutions because I fear setting myself up for more failure. But if we think of reviewing the year behind us and resolving for changes in the year ahead through a lens of grace, we might come to see ourselves less as achievers and more as receivers. For what could we possibly accomplish except for the grace of Christ within?
And I think of my daughter and my mother and my family & friends and you, dear readers, and I ask the Holy Spirit to transform us with the truth that we can’t achieve life in Christ. For life in Christ is only received. In the year to come, it remains true – our acceptance in Christ doesn’t depend upon our resolve to be better people. The Father purchased our souls with the priceless, life-giving blood of His Son. Once we’ve received this gift, there is no failure, no disappointment, no would-have, could-have, or should-have on our parts that can invalidate it.
Rather than resolving to fix ourselves, may we fix our eyes on the One who clothes us in His peace and righteousness. I wish for you and for me the kind of release that comes when we live for Christ, not under a yoke of compulsion, but with a heart compelled by love to worship and serve Him. May we always reach to change the station when our inner critics hit the airwaves. Let us rest in the understanding that our worth lies not in what we do but only what He has done, and may each day find us receiving more of His grace-gift.
What’s more, understanding the worth of souls is understanding that Christ died for our neighbors and the sex slaves and the orphans and the refugees and the people of a different color or nationality or faith. May that truth transform how we see and treat life – whether young or old; rich or poor; able-bodied or impaired; slave or free; weak or strong.
Friends, as beloved children of God, we are the receivers who grow more fully in God’s image when we are also the releasers. When we give bountifully out of our resources and our hearts, we reflect the generous character of Him who gave His Son. As Romans 5 says, God pours His love into our hearts, not only to satisfy us but to spill from us. Think of how different our world might be if our homes and communities were soaked with the overflow of God’s love.
And may worship happen as we live our lives as the image-bearers, offering our souls the space to breathe and receive grace, allowing God to design the canvas, yielding to the vision of the Artist, and ascribing all worth to Him. The weight of maintaining self-worth is more than we are meant to bear, and we will never have true peace or satisfaction until our souls turn to the purest, most-worthy Object of our worship. The beauty of our lives is drawn out of our response to God, and He meets us, not just on Sundays (and not only if our voices hit the high notes).
May our worship – our ascribing worth to God – be deeply drawn and offered from a place of receiving and honoring worth in our and every soul.
In the end, there are only two ways to live. We can live with either clenched fists or with open hands. You can’t have them both. Clenched fists are a refusal: a refusal to let go, a refusal to trust, a refusal to give up control. And unfortunately, in the spiritual life, clenched fists also keep you from being able to receive anything from God. Only empty hands can receive. Therefore, we must let go for whatever our hands are full of before we can ever expect to receive any of the fullness, or the life, that God wants to give us. Jim Branch, The Blue Book